‘Chances are, if you’re naming your blog after a Taylor Swift album, your judgment’s already suspect.”
That’s how two teen girls were dismissed by a Salon magazine piece on the Girl Scouts’ liberal-feminist tendencies. And, as it happens, the gratuitous line itself actually speaks to the heart of the problem.
Fully aware that there is an army of glossy magazines pining for the day Taylor goes wild on camera — stomping on all pretense of and desire for preserving innocence — I mean that what many of her songs embody is something Salon doesn’t understand: a rooted goodness, and higher expectations than instant gratification, both for herself and for those she loves.
The girls Salon dismissed, sisters Sydney and Tess Volanski — a soon-to-be high-school sophomore and freshman, respectively — left the Girl Scouts after eight years because the organization’s current values — signaled by its ties to Planned Parenthood — clash with their own. And, yes, they set up a website about the Girl Scouts that is a little hat tip to their favorite singer: Its name, “Speak Now,” is the title of one of Swift’s songs.
The beginning of the rude awakening for Sydney and Tess was a graphic pamphlet produced by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Healthy, Happy and Hot, which was reportedly distributed at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts meeting last year. The pamphlet talks about satisfying urges — and if necessary procuring a “safe abortion” — while living with HIV. But the concerns go beyond that — to the worldview of the present-day Girl Scouts. This may not apply to the mom running your local troop, but it assuredly does to some of those making the key decisions about the organization’s publications, programs, alliances, and even polling.
Rather than be anti–Girl Scouts, however, the Volanskis want the Girl Scouts to be better, to be who they say they are — and who many people still think they are.
“We were part of a great troop,” Sydney says. “We had our Bronze Award and were in the process of planning for our Silver Award. It was a great experience, only marred when we found out that GSUSA is not what it says it is. We were saddened by the fact that we were associated with a group that had moral viewpoints in direct opposition to ours.”
Sydney tells me: “Many Girl Scouts are good, wholesome girls. The problem lies within the national organization’s leadership and its lack of adherence to its promise of neutrality.” She adds that girls often need and “should get help, but Planned Parenthood and abortion — what GSUSA is directing them to — are not help. Abortion has serious risks for women, including breast cancer, infertility, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide. Does this sound like help?”
“If we had a say,” Sydney continues, “we would make it so they were truly neutral about a girl’s health and sexuality, abortion and birth control, and political affiliations, as they promise to be. We would put the focus where it should be, on character-building and leadership activities.”
When I ask the girls if they are just doing the bidding of their pro-life mom, Sydney replies: “We have passion for the pro-life cause on our own. We are old enough that we can form our own opinions. Teenagers are not all as apathetic as society seems to think; we can care enough about something to take action. This is something that we cared about, so we took action and made this website because we wanted to.”
Sydney and Tess are finding their voices at a time when many young women are doing the same. Tess points to Lila Rose, the 22-year-old who has already made a name for herself doing independent pro-life undercover work. “I am inspired by the many amazing women who fight for life in our culture today,” Tess tells me. “One who stands out is Lila Rose. Her commitment and courage are very motivating. Sydney and I had the wonderful experience of meeting Lila Rose recently and hearing her story. We found in person that Lila is not only bold and courageous, but also very kind and compassionate.”
The Volanski sisters’ rude awakening about the Girl Scouts puts them in a growing crowd. Patti Garibay is the national executive director of American Heritage Girls, which has grown in the years since its 1995 founding from simply an alternative to the Girl Scouts to being recognized as the more fitting sister group to the Boy Scouts. Just this year the Boy Scouts joined the American Heritage Girls in a joint “Memorandum of Mutual Support.” Garibay explains: “AHG and BSA are both centered on a duty to God. We are ‘owned’ by our charter partners, thus allowing our programs to serve as a ministry of the church. We are structured the same — [e.g.] AHG leaders use the BSA youth-protection and outdoor-skills training.”
And she adds, in response to some of the critics of those concerned about GS mission creep: “Yes, girls need to know about sexuality; but why not within a moral framework of faith, family, and church?” You can’t build character without a moral barometer, Garibay argues.
Anna Halpine, who founded the World Youth Alliance, adds: “A lot of good organizations affiliate with Planned Parenthood, nationally, locally and internationally, since they are the big banner organization that is promoting women and girls, and claiming to advocate their health and healthy lifestyles. I think that many of these groups would find their members agitating to form alliances with other groups if those were available to them. In essence, we need an alternative to the current options.”
It can be hard to be a good girl in our over-sexualized culture. But it looks as if the girls — bolstered by parents, church, and other prevailing bastions of sanity — might just blaze the paths themselves.
You go, girls! And, as in a Taylor Swift song or two, the guys might just follow — and appreciate it more than you know.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.