Buy the Cookies!

I was an active Girl Scout through third grade, and I hated almost every minute of it. I hated being told what to do, so I hated the uniforms and the badge-earning activities, and I just wasn’t touchy-feely enough to enjoy the singing or promises of friendship forever. My mom forced me to stay enrolled in a troop until high school graduation, but from the age of nine I did not go to meetings or earn a single badge. However, when Girl Scouts come around my neighborhood (or, more commonly, when the solicitation emails from old babysitting clients and family friends flood my inbox), I pay $4 a box for some Thin Mints or Samoas. While I may have hated being a Girl Scout, I love the Girl Scouts.

How could I not? Girl Scouts gets right what everything else seems to get wrong. It has an official policy of nondiscrimination [PDF] (unlike the Boy Scouts). It fosters leadership, individuality, teamwork, service and both physical and intellectual achievement. Girl Scouts actively supports racial and ethnic diversity, and as early as 1956 Martin Luther King, Jr. described them as a “force for desegregation.” Every year, Girl Scouts celebrate “Thinking Day,” when different troops represent different countries and learn about cultures around the world.

Admittedly, badges once skewed toward typically gendered activities such as cooking and sewing, but today girls can earn patches by learning about aerospace technology, conflict resolution and archery. Scouts also toughen up by going camping (I still remember learning how to build a fire at the tender age of 7, all the while complaining bitterly about how cold I was).

Girl Scouts talks about sex and puberty—perhaps in a more informed way than some of the school systems do. It fosters an environment for girls to learn who they are and what they are capable of: 55 percent of Girl Scouts believe they have a high chance of becoming President, as opposed to only 35 percent of non-Girl Scouts. More than 50 million women in the United States can call themselves Girl Scout alumnae, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Ms. founder Gloria Steinem and CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric.

Miss America might claim to recognize scholars but Girl Scouts creates them. And if all that is not a good enough reason to shell out four bucks for a box of cookies, how about this: They’re absolutely delicious.

Photo from Flickr user yuki80 under Creative Commons 3.0.


  1. Ellen Maddy says:

    One is silver and the other gold…just like all of Ms. Litman's journalistic endeavors and writings

  2. So glad to see an article like this. I've been a Girl Scout for fourteen years now (since 1st grade), and I am registered as an adult member now. After many years of selling those cookies door to door and doing cookie booth sales, I can tell you that is tough selling those. All our troop funds come from selling those cookies, and we only make a certain percentage, which increases only a little bit with each mark of how many boxes sold. I think maximum we get $0.75 to $1.00 for each box. That money is used to fund trips for the girls, and also to do community service. It is important to support this organization that does build strong women.

    • the funds also get used for scholarships for girls who would otherwise not be able to go to girl scout camp and for programs like Girl Scouts Beyond Bars and P.A.V.E the way.

      so glad to see another GS lifer on Ms!

  3. My experiences with the GS' have not been like this. In fact, I see them as standard-bearers for the status quo, especially where girls are concerned. But perhaps I extrapolate too much from my own experiences. Still, no cookies for me. When I see the Girl Scouts in my area getting badges for things other than sewing and dressing dolls, maybe.

    • Not sure where you are but I'm not even sure there IS a badge for sewing anymore.

    • in my experience the badges can be done in many ways. one badge may be for sewing, but different troops or leaders will approach it differently. some might focus on the stereotypically feminine aspects of it, but others may use it as an exercise in learning practical activities that allow for greater independence, such as how do you repair or make your own clothes? how do you make gifts, or create art in traditionally feminine textile crafts such as embroidery or quilting to allow for greater self-expression?

      i have a huge bias towards the girl scouts, i had an immensely positive and empowering experience in my troop. my favorite badge we earned was in the 10th or 11th grade (around '96-97). we worked on the automotive badge and one of my troop mates' two mommies owned her own garage, and gave us a great workshop.

      the scouting experience depends heavily on the leaders who run it. if i had the time i'd love to volunteer with the girl scouts more and take on my own troop. a strong, smart, feminist, fun leader can be absolutely life-changing. it was for me, and when i worked at girl scout camps throughout college i tried to keep that model in mind, and be that awesome leader that i myself was so lucky to have.

  4. Julie Carlson says:

    What people sometimes don’t realize, those cookies not only support the troop activities but are the primary source of income for councils all across the United States. Girl Scouting does build girls of courage, confidence and character that make the world a better place. That’s worth the price of a box of cookies, for sure!

  5. Girl Scouts was my first Wimmin's Group, where I learned leadership and friendship. Not only did we camp, but we attended a Pete Seeger concert – in our uniforms. Not only did we sew, but we also volunteered at a braille book publisher's. When I buy cookies, I make sure to ask for stories of their current projects.

  6. Thanks for the lovely article on the Girl Scouts.

    A few years ago, I visited Juliette Low's birthplace in Savannah, Georgia and was deeply disappointed. There were no exhibits about the history of the Girl Scouts, there was very little information about Juliette Low's great leadership talents, and there was no mention of women's rights (or quelle horreur, feminism).

    We all know that if Juliette Low had been a man, we would have heard all the time that he was a great leader, we would have gotten a zillion exhibits about how he founded the Scouts and so on.

    The Girl Scouts still owns Juliette Low's birthplace and if it REALLY wants girls to grow strong (and yes, feminist), it needs to treat its founder with the respect that she deserves.

  7. Several years ago, The National Review said that the Girl Scouts was a liberal feminist organization.

    Unfortunately, the president of the Girl Scouts gave a very "safe" political response to that "accusation." She said that "some people may think the Girl Scouts teaches feminism, but we think we're teaching survival."

    Please, we need to say the obvious. Feminism is survival.

  8. Love it! I am experiencing GS for the first time with my Daisy daughter who is in kindergarten. I’m the troop leader because I want to help shape her world, and the world of her classmates who already are learning that “girls can’t”—and about how they are different as my daughter is a minority in a very lily-white suburban town. I regret that we don’t still live in the midst of the diversity of the Bay Area, and that we’ve come to the extra-specialness of the South, but through GS, I’m determined to focus these 5 and 6 y-o girls on teamwork and learning how to assert themselves and truly live up to the girl-led ethos of GS… I don’t care how the other Daisy troops operate… we’re going to start now and build our girls up with the security they deserve, and confidence that they can be whatever they want to be!

    My girls will learn early that Feminisim isn’t a dirty word, that they can be and do anything that catches their eye… that we are a safe, non-cliquey place… because, sadly, I’ve learned that the MEAN GIRLS start in kindergarten… and that boys and girls are already telling mine that she is different and not as good as they are. NO. NO, and NO. My troop is about empowerment, and showing the girls that they have a voice–already, at age 6, when no one wants to think of it in those terms!

  9. Juliette Gordon Low sent money to the NAACP as a young woman in Savannah Georgia, not carring what her family/friends would think.

    And she had a hearing impairment in an era when people with disabilities were traditinally locked away in institutions. She proved that we were productive capable members of society.

  10. Using child labor to sell junk food — oh, yeah, the girl scouts are great!

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