A sure to be controversial study suggests Scout manuals deliver gender stereotypical messages to the 5 million American kids that participate in Boy or Girl Scouts.
According to researcher Kathleen Denny, a sociology graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, girl scouts are steered away from scientific pursuits while boys are discouraged from pursuing artistic interests.
The topic of gender perception has been reviewed in children’s books and television, although it has rarely been examined in scouting manuals.
“The disproportionate and gendered distribution of art and science projects aligns with the large body of research that finds girls being systematically derailed from scientific and mathematical pursuits and professions due to cultural beliefs and stereotypes about their relative ineptitude in these areas,” said Denny.
Her findings are published in the journal Gender & Society.
Among Denny’s other key findings:
Denny believes the names of Scout badges convey strong messages about gender.
“When boys speak to others about their ‘Geologist’ badge, they have a legitimate career title to use and are likely to be taken more seriously in conversations than girls discussing their achievement of a ‘Rocks Rock’ badge,” Denny said.
She also found that the types of activities the badges entail are “the most explicitly gendered dimensions in the girls’ handbook.” Examples of badges that have to do with stereotypically feminine activities include “Caring for Children,” “Looking Your Best,” and “Sew Simple.”
In addition to activities about personal hygiene and healthy eating, the “Looking Your Best” badge offers activities such as a “Color Party” that asks the girls to “take turns holding different colors up to your face [to] decide which colors look best on each of you.”
That same badge also offers the activity option of an “Accessory Party” where the girls “experiment to see how accessories highlight your features and your outfit.”
These badges are not offered in the Boy Scouts; the boys’ “Fitness” badge, the only one approximating a personal-style badge, offers activities such as completing a weeklong food diary and telling a family member about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.