High Adventure or High Disappointment?

Since the Girl Scouts have existed for over a century, their organization has seen many changes in function and focus.  Juliette Gordon Low founded the first troop in 1912 in order to give girls opportunities similar to what boys were receiving in the recently-founded Boy Scouts.  Although Juliettle Gordon Low herself was very radical in how un-feminine her Girl Scout troop was, with badges like “Athletics” and “Boatswain” (“Early Girl Scouting”), by the 1940’s Girl Scouts had evolved to also embrace more typically feminine activities like “Dressmaker” and “Dancer”.  While more adventurous badges were still being made and circulated throughout this time period, the Girls Scouts of America gained a reputation of being a more feminine organization.  For decades, the general public tended to picture Girl Scouts doing “girly” activities like selling cookies and making arts and crafts.  In the past few years, Girl Scouts of America has started launching large badge campaigns to encourage interest and participation in less feminine activities.  These campaigns are very interesting in how they challenge traditional female roles as well as the feminine stereotype that the Girl Scout organization has lived with for decades.

One badge campaign in particular, the Move Mountains initiative in 2019, is especially interesting in both its timing with events of that year, as well as how it defies traditional gender norms.  This campaign partnered with The North Face to introduce many new badges to the lineup, including “backpacking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing, trail running and more” (“The North Face- Girl Scouts”).  By promoting more unusual activities that girls may never have the chance to experience otherwise, Girl Scouts of America is taking steps to move away from the feminine stereotype and to encourage girls to try and pursue interests outside of traditional feminine expectations.  However, there are some weaknesses in the way that this initiative was pushed, which can affect how genuine their intended message may seem.

The Move Mountains initiative is presented on the official Girl Scouts website in the section that discusses The North Face’s partnership with Girl Scouts.  The website states that they are “collaborating to enable the next generation of women to push boundaries and move mountains” (“The North Face- Girl Scouts”).  It briefly describes The North Face company and what it does, and how their multi-year partnership is going to benefit the Girl Scouts organization and give girls new and unique opportunities to gain confidence and leadership skills.  It also states that “The North Face will enlist its roster of outdoor athletes and leaders for speaking engagements” (“The North Face- Girl Scouts”), and that The North Face will be hosting Girl Scout events in its stores throughout the US.  The North Face has many resources and opportunities they can offer to Girl Scouts through this partnership.

The North Face’s page on the official Girl Scout website is very effective at using strong and positive words to show the kind of impact they hope to have on the lives of Girl Scouts throughout the nation.  They use encouraging phrases like “educate and inspire” and “shared purpose of encouraging exploration” to help readers visualize their enthusiasm for this initiative, as well as the effects they want to have on these girls’ lives.  The North Face promises that this badge initiative “will introduce an entire generation of girls—regardless of socioeconomic status—to the benefits of exploration and adventure in the outdoors” (“The North Face- Girl Scouts”).  Both the content of the new badge initiative, as well as the way they describe it, is effective in showing the kind of impact they want to have on girls across the nation.  Partnering with a company that already has so many high adventure resources available allows Girl Scouts of America to provide a wide array of opportunities that their organization alone wouldn’t be able to run.  Without looking any deeper at this badge initiative and business partnership, there doesn’t seem to be any downsides to them, but it’s the details left unstated that somewhat undermine their message.

One of the biggest detractors from the perceived wholesomeness of this badge campaign is the fact that Girl Scouts, a non-profit organization, is partnering with a for-profit company.  There is a long list of company sponsors on the Girl Scout website, so partnering with a large commercial company like The North Face isn’t new or unusual, but it still takes away from the kindness that The North Face may wish upon young girls who want to explore their world.  By helping to give Girl Scouts the opportunity to try outdoor activities like backpacking, snowboarding, and rock climbing (“The North Face- Girl Scouts”), they are also heightening the chances that these girls will buy equipment from their stores in the future.  Giving girls the opportunity to explore the world and try new activities is a very admirable thing to do, but as a company who needs to make money to stay in business, every decision they make and cause they support comes with the expectation that they will receive profits or increased goodwill from the general public in exchange for their actions.  For high adventure activities in particular, the majority of these events require special equipment that is often very expensive.  Even backpacking, which is one of the more easily accessible activities for the average person, requires items like special backpacks, sleeping pads, hiking shoes, and more, all of which are definitely not cheap.

Another important detail that can detract from the sympathy people have towards this campaign is the timing.  In February 2019, the Boy Scouts officially started allowing girls to join their organization.  In July 2019, the Move Mountains initiative was launched.  Even from the very beginning, Girl Scouts have been heavily affected by Boy Scouts.  They were first created because Juliette Gordon Low was inspired by the Boy Scouts to create a similar organization for girls.  Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are very similar in many aspects, and have influenced each other a great deal over the years.  It’s a little suspicious that the Girl Scouts launched a big badge campaign promoting outdoor high-adventure activities, a prominent aspect of the Boy Scouts program, mere months after girls were first allowed to become Boy Scouts.  By introducing these new badges a few months after this major change for Boy Scouts, it seems like a preventative measure to try to keep girls in Girl Scouts instead of joining the Boy Scouts.

As mentioned earlier, the recent measures to include more non-feminine badges acts as a counter to the feminine reputation that Girl Scouts have gained over the years.  Although the original Girl Scout troop led by Juliette Gordon Low embraced many non-feminine activities, Girl Scouts quickly started including a large number of typically feminine activities as well.  By the 1950’s, although there were a number of non-feminine badges that follow the founder’s vision of encouraging girls to live beyond the traditional female role of housewife and mother, there were many traditionally feminine badges as well.  These included badges like “Needlework”, “Child Care”, “Clothing”, “Cook”, “Good Grooming”, etc. (“Girl Scout Badges 1938-1962”).  Many Girl Scout troops throughout the years have focused mainly on traditionally feminine activities like cookie sales and arts and crafts, rather than the more adventurous activities that Juliette Gordon Low envisioned.

By partnering with The North Face and launching a new outdoor high-adventure badge campaign, the Girl Scouts have begun more blatantly countering the feminine stereotype of the Girl Scout organization.  Although there are some aspects of this initiative that might make people slightly question Girl Scouts’ and The North Face’s motives, this badge campaign was overall effective in sharing its message and spreading encouragement for girls to try these new activities.  Girl Scouts is a very well-known and well-trusted organization for women and girls in the United States, so by taking this more vocal stance against traditional feminism, they are giving girls the confidence and encouragement to break through gender norms now and in the future.


Works Cited

“Early Girl Scouting.” Georgia Historical Society, Georgia Historical Society, georgiahistory.com/education-outreach/online-exhibits/featured-historical-figures/juliette-gordon-low/early-girl-scouting/.

“Girl Scout Badges 1938-1962.” Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum, Vintage Girl Scout Online Museum, www.vintagegirlscout.com/badges38.html.

“The North Face – Girl Scouts.” Girl Scouts of the USA, Girl Scouts of the United States of America, www.girlscouts.org/en/about-girl-scouts/our-partners/the-north-face.html. 

“Support Girls’ Success – Girl Scout Cookies.” Girl Scouts of the USA, Girl Scouts of the United States of America, www.girlscouts.org/en/cookies/all-about-cookies/support-girls-success.html.

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