"Chances are, if you're naming your blog after a Taylor Swift album, your judgment's already suspect."
That's Salon dismissing two teen girls, in a piece on the Girl Scouts and its liberal feminist tendencies. And, as it happens, the line itself actually speaks to the heart of the problem.
Think about what the young country star's songs often embody: A rooted goodness, and higher expectations than instant gratification -- for herself and for those she loves. Are those things that should be so scornfully patronized by the liberal chattering class?
Sydney and Tess Volanski, about to be a rising sophomore and high-school freshman, respectively, started the aforementioned Taylor-named website, Speak Now, when they left the Girl Scouts after eight years because of the group's values clash with their own -- namely, its ties to Planned Parenthood.
The rude awakening for the sisters was the reported distribution of a Planned Parenthood brochure, entitled "Healthy, Happy and Hot" -- which dealt with satisfying sexual urges and procuring a "safe abortion" while living with HIV-- at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts meeting last year. But Volanskis' concerns go beyond that -- to the worldview of the Girl Scouts as a whole.
These girls are bent on reform, rather than destruction, however.
"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 who they say they are. We were saddened by the fact that we were representing a group in name and financially 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's lack of adherence to their promise of neutrality," on abortion. Further, she adds, 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 asked them if they were just doing the bidding of their pro-life mom, as Salon accused, Sydney told me: "We have passion for the pro-life cause on our own. We are old enough so 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 they're far from alone among young people, and young women. Tess points to Lila Rose, the 22-year-old who has made an early 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. One who stands out is Lila Rose. Her commitment and courage are very motivating. We found in person that Lila is not only bold and courageous, but also very kind and compassionate."
The Volanski sisters' new attitude to 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 the more fitting sister group to the Boy Scouts. Just this year, the Boy Scouts joined American Heritage in a joint "memorandum of mutual support." Garibay explains some commonalities between the two groups, "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, AHG leaders use the BSA youth protection and outdoor skills training to name a few."
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) both 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 local and national chapters 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 often over-sexualized culture. But it looks like the girls -- bolstered by parents or church or other prevailing bastions of sanity -- might just blaze the paths themselves.
You go, girls! And like in a Taylor Swift song or two, the guys might just follow -- and appreciate it more than you know.
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