Not such a rebel after all
Posted on July 27, 2009
I’d like to think that I was a feminist from the moment I was born, but I was searching through some things this morning looking for something totally unrelated to this post, when I stumbled upon my old Brownie badges. Now these came as a surprise to me for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I don’t remember being in the Brownies for long enough to actually earn any badges!
My memories of the Brownies are of desperately wanting to join because all my friends were in it; of trying to persuade my mum that a) I really would stick it out so her claims that it was a waste of time and money because I wouldn’t last five minutes were completely unfounded, and that b) I didn’t care if I had to wear my sister’s old uniform, even if you could see the marks where her badges had been and where mum had carefully unpicked the stitching on them and taken them off.
I also remember being dead excited because my brother was in the Cubs and he got to go camping and do all sorts of other interesting things, and I thought being in the Brownies meant I’d get to do the same.
And finally of course I remember the crushing disappointment when I realised it meant nothing of the sort.
Instead, back in the 70s, being a Brownie meant the same old same old: it meant learning your place in the world as a girl. So rather than camping and learning to build fires and leaping around on assault courses like the boys did in the Cubs, we learnt to cook, to wait on other people, and to clean.
Obviously it took me a bit longer than I’d originally thought before the penny dropped and I finally understood that the Brownies really wasn’t going to get any better than that. But once the reality of what I’d signed up to did sink in, I left.
In the meantime, these are the badges I earned:
My cook’s badge
My hostess badge
And my sweeping the floor/housekeeping (otherwise known as my Cinderella) badge
But what shocked me this morning even more than this evidence of my very early capitulation to the patriarchy, was the fact that at some point after I’d seen the light and rejected the Brownies’ attempts to indoctrinate me with their sexist gender stereotyping, I’d sat down and meticulously sewn all these badges onto a piece of brown fabric, so I could keep them for posterity.
As you can see, there’s a reason I never earned my sewing badge:
Still, in the same rummage through my box of long-forgotten things I came across this badge, which I was wearing only a few short years later:
So it’s not all bad.
I agree, being a Brownie was totally rubbish for me too. I never got to go to the IoW camping, which is what my brother the Scout did! I don’t think I even achieved any badges at all.
I went to Brownies once to see what all the fuss was about but couldn’t deal with the militaristic aspects so didn’t go back. Also it was really boring.
No team spirit I’m afraid.
Camp Fire Girls for me, cuz yanno, camping and fires! Nope. Selling mints door to door. Faugh!
Oh god, I also got the House-keeping and Hostess badges – I remember I had to polish a candlestick! (this was probably in 1992)
I was also a Guide. But that was pretty cool. We went camping, visited Switzerland, did voluntary work, went abseiling and I learnt loads of useful skills like wiring a plug, making a fire from scratch & orienteering. Plus I learnt loads of really lewd songs.
To be fair, I think the organisations have gotten a lot better. The badges you can get now definitely don’t have a Hostess amongst them:
Just had another look and I may be wrong…there is a Party Planner badge:
I would totally take the Circus Skills badge though!
Well you can always send your kids to the woodcraft folk for the hippie alternative like my brother did….They have a tolpuddle martyrs festival.
I was lucky that way- my mom started her own brownie troop because all the other ones in my unit/district thingy spent EVERY meeting doing arts and crafts.
We went camping and hiking instead. We did also learn to sew, but that was more because my parents think everyone should learn to sew so we can fix our own clothes (my dad teases my brother about his lack of skill here).
I was in the cubs. I have to say that, at 58, I wish I’d been in the brownies. The capacity to camp, to build fires and (especially) to leap around on assault courses seems distinctly unappealing compared to cooking, cleaning and sewing, which undoubtedly better suit my needs.
Still, as they say, grass is always greener on t’other side.
Now, of course, if there’d been a sex workers’ badge…
Well never mind Stephen maybe they’ll introduce a kerb crawling badge: to get it you have to harass and frighten women who are just trying to catch buses.
Yes I did live in a red light area once.
I was in the cubs too, and lasted about three weeks. I was terrified of going because of the militaristic aspects: I thought I’d just be beaten for not being good enough and letting my pack down.
All I actively remember is some Halloween story-telling event where my parents said I should go out if I started to feel scared – and so I spent most of the evening in the toilet pretending to be ill. And they said I didn’t have to go back after that.
I guess some of the stuff that’s taught, on both sides, could be useful, but the whole framework looks fairly lopsided and rotten from a distance.
Polly, it must be absolutely dreadful to be a respectable lass in a red light area and to be solicited by men every time you walk down the street.
Almost as bad as being a respectable lass in a red light area and never being solicited by a man when you walk down the street.
But not quite!
But back to the cubs. All I seem to remember was lots of games, a bit of very sloppy first aid and tying knots. I was never particularly addicted to gaining badges, and in the end gave it all up for choir practice, as the nights clashed at church.
Can’t ever remember camping, building fires or (thank God) assault courses, so I don’t think you’ve missed out on that much, Cath. There was a lot of games as I recall.
Cumann na mBan was the Irish thing.
While my experience at Brownies (1997-ish) did embrace gender stereotypes, it doesn’t seem quite as bad as what it was when my mum was a member.
I know a half-dozen female bikers, and they all bought the same bike which is often described as ‘stable’, it does 140 MPH, it is not slow, in the kamikaze bike magazines, it is described as a ‘learner’.
What is going on there, when 140 isn’t fast enough?
When I grew up a gender stereotype was just another consumer article my family couldn’t afford.
The 1950s TV table we inherited from my grandmother, was destroyed in a recent explosion. I kept it, to remind me of the time, when getting BBC2 seemed like beyond our reach.
I would eventually come close to buying DECCA and PYE.
I tell young men, not to own ‘stuff’ because ‘stuff’ is unmanly, and I am right and the greatest attribute for a male, is to be ‘kind’.
I am a nice gender stereotype,
i wasn’t allowed to join the brownies – i joined rainbows after my parents split up, and had to leave as when my mum would go away i’d get upset (i was 4 or 5 and as i say, a bit nervous post divorce of parents leaving the room!). but when i was older i was over this phase and wanted to go to brownies, but they wouldn’t let me, as at the age of 5 i had betrayed the brownie way or whatever by leaving rainbows.
so i used to go to beavers with my brother and build dens and things. but when he went to cubs i wasn’t allowed to go coz i was a GIRL! so i formed my own club. it was much better that way.