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:
- • Girls are more likely than the boys to be offered activities involving art projects; girls’ art activities make up 11 percent of their total activities.
• Scientifically-oriented activities make up only 2 percent of all girls’ activities, but boys science activities take up 6 percent of their scouting time.
• Girls are offered proportionately more communal activities than boys; 30 percent of the girls’ badge work activities are intended to take place in groups, either with or for others.
• Boys are offered proportionately more self-oriented activities than girls; less than 20 percent of the boys’ activities are intended to take place with others.
• Interestingly, despite her findings of stereotypical notions of femininity, Denny also found that the boys’ handbook “fosters intellectual dependence and passivity.” Boys are routinely instructed to look for answers in the back of their guide, while girls are encouraged to do original research.
Denny believes the names of Scout badges convey strong messages about gender.
- • Some 27 percent of girls’ badge titles use playful literary techniques such as alliteration and puns, while none of boys’ badge titles do so.
• All 20 boys’ badges (100 percent) have descriptive titles without using any playful wording, while only 73 percent of the girls’ badges have descriptive titles. The boys’ badge dealing with rocks and geology, for example, is called the “Geologist” badge, while the comparable girls’ badge is called the “Rocks Rock” badge.
• Denny found boys’ badge titles use more career-oriented language (such as “Engineer,” “Craftsman,” “Scientist”), whereas girls’ badge titles consistently use more playful language with less of a career orientation. (Instead of the boy’s “Astronomer,” the comparable girls badge is called “Sky Search.” Instead of “Mechanic,” a similar girl badge is called “Car Care.”)
“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.