Kudos to Eliza Barclay of NPR for raising the Girl Scout cookies issue. Except, everyone continues to miss the point. Girl Scouts is about teaching girls, not about selling cookies. Three years ago approached my local cookie table and ask if they had a healthy cookie. The experience so shocked and saddened me, in response, I wrote this story for the book, reprinted for anyone interested in different possibilities for future girls.
Cookies – the story
What if different leaders really led differently?
Last year, 2012, the mothers and daughters were out again in force selling boxes of cookies. I buy cookies faithfully every year and this year was no exception. Neither was the fact that I typically spend the previous months trying to manage my weight. Unfortunately, most, if not all, of the ingredients in these cookies are on the bad-for-me list — processed white flour, check; unrefined white sugar, check; hidden artificial flavor, check. As I like to support what might be budding female entrepreneurs, this year, as I went to purchase the cookies, I thought I’d go and find out if they finally had a cookie I could happily eat.
I approached a group set up in front of my local health food grocery store, an irony not lost on me. With a smile on my face and a light tone to my voice, I asked the young girl if she had any healthy cookies this year. I was answered, by the mother, that no, they didn’t. Upon expressing disappointment, she further added that they did have one that was sort of healthy, but they didn’t have it at their table. As I expressed further consternation, she continued to explain. It seems there were two distribution branches for cookies and the one for our area wouldn’t supply them with this other version.
I then asked the mother if she could request them. Her answer is best summed up by the phrase, ‘You can’t fight city hall.’ Well aware that the young girl was following this exchange intently, I next suggested to the mother that maybe she could start up a grass roots effort to get healthier cookies. She gave me a dirty look. Sigh, another opportunity lost. One in which Mothers can use cookie sales as a tool to teach good lessons and role models to our future women in business. Status quo, check.
That same day, needing cat food, I went to my local pet store and there was another cookie table. Approaching it with the same question, this time one of the girls picked up a box and proudly stated it had less sugar. This was a good start, but not quite as ‘healthy’ as I had in mind. Though healthy cookies are arguably an oxymoron, I asked her how we might get healthier ones. She paused to think for a moment and then excitedly said, “I’d invent them!” Now this was more like it. Wow! I was surprised and ecstatic. Here was a sharp, intelligent girl, just what I was hoping to find. I gave her a big smile.
During our exchange, a man had walked up to the table. As I started to congratulate the young girl and encourage her to expound on her idea, a mother put her hands on the girl’s shoulders, physically turned her away from me and towards him and said to the girl, “Serve the man.” Needless to say I was shocked and disappointed. Ok, I was even angry.
Here are my thoughts on these sad incidents. First, as mothers, supposed guardians of hearth and home, protectors of our health and welfare and teachers of our girls, I shouldn’t have had to ask. There should already have been a variety of healthy cookies on those tables as a model for proactive behavior and good intent.
Second, with these instances still occurring in 2012, the future for women looks very dim. The same old will still be the same old for the next generations of girls. Those tables didn’t sit in an underprivileged area where educational access was limited. Nor did they sit in an old-school, ultra-conservative part of the country with populations tied to old industries and institutions. They sat in one of the wealthiest towns in one of the highest ranked school districts in California, smack dab in the middle of what is presumed to be the poster child for creativity and innovation, the Silicon Valley. What are the mothers of our future ‘leaders’ teaching their girls there? Follow and serve, don’t make waves, you can’t fight city hall and men always come first. We are in deep doo-doo. Status quo, check.
The third is about our continued duplicity and mixed messages for girls and women. Buy and sell food that is for a ‘good cause’ but bad for your health. Be super ‘healthy’ but be death-rail thin. Be athletic but wear six-inch heals that keep your feet bound like a concubine’s. Speak up but never have an independent opinion someone might not like. Buy cookies to support the girls but don’t eat them. I guess we’re supposed to spend the money and then throw them out. Or eat them and then stick fingers down our throats and throw them up.
We still set up women with an impossible set of parameters and goals to achieve while berating them for being less than. No wonder women are still second-class citizens, unequally paid workers, subservient, compliant and confused about how to be a good role model for girls. Status quo, check.
Unfortunately, the saddest part of this tale is how women are still actively engaged in keeping the next generation of women down. Women do not set the standards, but it is women, previously in families and now also in the work arena, who are the enforcers of tow-the-line and status quo. It is no mistake that the legions of Human Resources workers are now women, employed not in revenue producing positions, but in enforcement roles of policy and propriety, the secretarial pool transferred to the personnel pool. Jobs most men are happy to sit back and have the women do. And women are seemingly happy to comply, eating the crumbs thrown to them because, as I’ve been repeatedly told, “at least they have a job.”
Do all women who come into the workforce spend their time keeping other women in the lower places, hindering promotions? Or tear down those who do manage to rise up, with manufactured excuses such as their clothes and hair aren’t right or they just aren’t liked? In my experience, the answer is, unfortunately, yes, the majority still do.
Women bring into the workplace the same weapons and rules of engagement used for millenniums by their non-empowered gender to get ahead in whatever societal circle they are stuck in. Employing unprincipled competition and peer pressure, they enforce with a critical or shunning glance, backstabbing words and unfounded rumors that are now even easier to spread via social media and promote an impossible to meet version of womanly perfection. Women who are still setting up woman to fail and is yet another example of the downtrodden exploiting their own kind by rioting in their own neighborhoods.
Today’s current manifestation is a warped cross between Barbie, June Cleaver, Snow White and a Stepford wife — the perfect but ‘educated,’ blow-up doll, avatar. Tall, extremely slim, broad-shoulders, small-waists, flat stomachs with perky breasts and wrinkle-free, ageless faces, they must always be benignly good humored, never have a bad or opinionated word to say, always wear a smile of perfect teeth and have a motherly, nurturing, facilitative demeanor, thus ensuring women never climb the ladder to the top.
Of the people who read drafts of this story, by far the majority reaction was a sympathetic comment about those poor mothers and how much they hated selling those cookies. Not a single one commented on the job the mothers were really supposed to do — teach the girls lessons about business and commerce and be good role models. Except, of course, those girls were being taught, the same old lessons and models. Status quo, check.
They must be carefully taught, to paraphrase Oscar Hammerstein II, before it’s too late, before they are six or seven or eight by neglect, indifference, fear and bad example. Congratulations cookie mothers for doing the same old job of raising girls. Ensuring only the boys will do the inventing and leading of the future and the girls will follow and serve, again. Status quo, check.
“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year
It’s got to be drummed
in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight…
You’ve got to be carefully taught”
Excerpt from “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” from the musical South Pacific, 1958, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Coda: Unhealthy cookies are just a representative outcome of same-old, unhealthy lessons. Teach girls how to live lives full of different and infinite possibilities and they will turn out healthy lives. This includes leading by example with healthy cookies.
I have more on the reaction from Mothers and others who have read this story in the Endnotes of my book. Sorry. You’ll have to buy the book to read them.
And: Girl Scouts take notes. Others are way ahead of you. Here are some healthy recipes you might use! There are lots more on line.