I have a confession to make: I was a Girl Scout until I was 18 years old. I'm going on 24 now, and I'm still a little embarrassed to admit it. It was something I kept almost entirely secret in high school; our troop barely acknowledged each other in the halls at school. On meeting days, I would make some excuse about chores for my parents and sneak away after class while the rest of my friends went downtown to giggle over romance novels at Barnes & Noble or play cards and smoke cigarettes at the only cafe open past 8:00 pm in our suburb. Most of the time it wasn't an issue — but then there was the whole cookie thing. Troop 3912 would huddle at our table outside the Blockbuster at the furthest edge of town. We didn't have any friends in common, but we all lived in mortal fear of our classmates finding out the truth. Once I dove behind a parked car because I saw a boy I liked approaching Blockbuster with his mom.
So why would anyone subject themselves to such potential social suicide? My official answer was college applications. I saw Girl Scouts as something I had to get through; I'd been in it so long that I figured I might as well stick it out. I barely ever thought about Girl Scouts after graduating — my current boyfriend didn't even know about it until about a month ago, when one of the girls from my troop contacted me about a reunion. At first I kind of dreaded the idea of reliving this part of my past I had basically repressed. But once the five of us were together, squeezed into a booth at a bourgie diner and eating overpriced ice cream sundaes, I was happy I'd come. After we all went around the table and gave the obligatory life updates: one is now designing women's yoga clothing; one is a nurse; one is a brand rep for French lingerie; one is studying psychotherapy. Someone took out old pictures and we had the just-as-obligatory nostalgia sesh.
We were never a very typical troop; we were less into racking up badges and competing in knot-tying than we were into shopping and hanging out. I got to know other girls very different from myself, outside the pressures of my social circle and within the (slightly hokey) terms of respect, courage, and strength. We were given a space to share the trials of growing up without feeling judged. We would go our separate ways, live our lives, and come back together each month to talk about what it meant to be a teenage girl — and here we were doing it again, years later, all grown up.
Seeing them all again got me thinking: Why was I ever so embarrassed to be a Girl Scout in the first place? Was it because it seemed so wholesome, and being a teenager means hating anything that mom-friendly? That was definitely part of it — I was trying hard at the time to reconcile being on the volleyball team with the fact that my first boyfriend was a punked-out kid who was skinnier than me and sometimes drank Robitussen for fun, and Girl Scouts was just another confusing weight on the wholesome side of the scale — but I think it was more than that. Boy Scouts, for example, is all kinds of wholesome, and even though being a Boy Scout requires a certain level of nerditude, the general consensus is that what they do has real value. If Boy Scouts was nerdy, Girl Scouts was nerdy and prudish.
The Girl Scout Law, recited while holding three fingers up in the Girl Scout sign, ends with the dictate "Be a sister to every Girl Scout." I think the real problem was that I was actually afraid of being associated with any sort of institutionalized sisterhood. The girl power I felt with my closest friends, however important, was always acted out under some ultimately bullshit idea of what it meant to be a teenage girl. We were taught to be afraid of aligning with other girls because it was threatening — but who were we afraid of? A bunch of weenie high school boys making us feel prude?
My troop members are no longer the girls I knew in high school. They are strong, awesome women. They may be on completely different paths than me, but we'll always share that sisterhood. As we were reminiscing the other night, one of them mentioned that she thought we were overreacting by being so embarrassed in high school. "Thinking Girls Scouts wasn't cool made it that way," she said. It seems so simple now, like many other things we go through in high school and look back on. The road to empowerment is different for every woman — mine just happened to be a little more paved in Thin Mints.
Laura Fettig lives in San Francisco. Her favorite Girl Scout cookie is the Samoa. You can follow her on Twitter.
Image via Duettographics/Shutterstock.