I was volunteering at an Eagle Board of Review, helping a boy transition to the pinnacle of Boy Scouts. His resume and interview were perfect.
I had the last question: “Have you ever done any projects or backpacking trips with a Girl Scout troop?”
He answered casually, “No, but I wish we had.”
Afterward, I was chatting with the Scout leaders when one of the men rolled his eyes and, in a patronizing tone, said, “Dr. Joe! Girl Scouts don’t backpack. They make bracelets!” My first inclination was to put my foot in his mouth — but I remembered my wife’s mantra when instructing our girls: “Use your words!”
I looked right through those guys and asked, “Can your scouts orientate a compass and follow an azimuth?” They hesitated but acknowledged not everyone could. In my typical Bronx tone, I replied, “The girls in my troop can.”
They got the message. However, there’s nothing better than putting your foot down someone’s mouth to get your point across. I don’t tolerate male chauvinistic attitudes. Such attitudes are debilitating not only to women, but to men as well.
I have a confession: I am a recovering male chauvinist. I have been in withdrawals since I married Kaitzer and our daughters were born. I’d like to think that I’m completely recovered. However, when you’re socialized on the streets of New York and fermented in the Marine Corps, there’s always the possibility of regressing. The perspectives of a male-dominated culture are suspect. I now navigate moments of regression by conceptualizing an intellectual and pragmatic understanding of equality. Walking the walk of equality is intellectual honesty.
Plato’s Republic is a Utopian dialogue about a society that is ruled by a philosopher king. Plato includes women as productive members of the society who share similar roles as men. This view of gender was similar in Spartan society. The women of Sparta were granted an equal stake in the success or failure of their state. With the men constantly away training or at war, the women of Sparta were responsible for all else in Spartan society. Throughout the emergence of Classical Greek thought the concept of equality between men and women was one of the revered virtues.
You would think that in our more sophisticated world we would not have to legislate morality to insure equality.
Persistent sexism makes adolescence more confusing for girls by projecting mixed messages about the worth and role of women in society. A lack of female role models may make their dreams of future careers in male-dominated fields seem unrealistic. The culture of adolescence demands that while young women may achieve, they should be careful not to look too smart or they may appear less feminine.
Adolescence is a difficult passage for many girls, even those who have a strong safety net of support at home and in school. The physical changes of puberty coincide with enormous emotional and psychological challenges. During the teen years, girls begin to separate from their families, assert their own identity, identify with their peers, redefine their relationships with nurturing adults, explore their sexuality, develop their own moral and ethical sense, and prepare for the responsibilities and challenges of adulthood. It's seldom a smooth or easy metamorphosis. Thus equality is of essence.
I’m not a social scientist; I’m a street kid from the neighborhoods. But we have to do a better job establishing a mindset that treating boys and girls equally is the right thing to do. I’ll provide some further perspective in Part 2 next week.
I keep thinking of Rosie the Riveter’s picture in that famous World War II poster. As she’s flexing her bicep, she seems to be saying, “Girls can do anything.” That’s more than rhetoric.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com.