I received the latest Guiding Essentials this week, the annual catalogue of Girlguiding uniform and merchandise. I was looking forward to it because I was expecting the Senior Section Spectacular stuff to be in it (I am a Senior Section leader and my beloved Senior Section turns 100 next year) – not overly impressed with the selection of half a dozen grey items on a single page, compared to three double pages of blue and yellow stuff for the Big Brownie Birthday last year but that’s another subject (and for crying out loud, the Brownies have got a double page spread of new owl-themed stuff this year just because) – but I found a new range of Adventure stuff.
Girlguiding has an image problem. We know it and we’re doing our best to combat it but the general public persist in thinking “the Girl Guides” still do much the same stuff that we did in the 1950s. We still get “dob dob dob!” and my best friend’s husband, a self-professed feminist, refused to let his daughter go to Brownies because he didn’t want her “to just do things like sewing”. It’s 2015, we’re not training girls up to be good little housewives anymore. The Big Gigs are very regular features in the Girlguiding social calendar – at least two massive arena pop concerts a year, exclusively for Guides. I last went in 2009, when the headliners were JLS, at the absolute peak of their fame at the time, which resulted in 50,000 teenagers screaming so loudly I had to hide under my seat until they’d gone. Wellies & Wristbands – two big Guides-only festivals held every year. And as well as big fun things events like this, we’ve shifted our interests and concerns towards things that are relevant to girls in this century. Two of our newest resources, Free Being Me and Hear Our Voice are all about body confidence and engaging girls with democracy, respectively. But we also have badges – and therefore programmes – about less serious things. Guide interest badges include Chocolate, Circus Skills, First Aid, Outdoor Pursuits, and World Traveller. Brownies have Hobbies, Science Investigator, Writer, Entertainer and Crime Prevention. These are a teeny-tiny sample of the total range, plus we have multi-section resources on every subject imaginable.
Most importantly, we do girl-led Guiding. The girls are in charge. The girls tell us what they want to do and we just help them do it. Of course, depending on the age, some need more help than others. I will let my Rangers tell me everything they want to do and just rein them in occasionally (“No, we can’t go to Paris. I don’t have an international licence and I don’t know anyone who does.” “No, we can’t go trampolining because under-16s aren’t even allowed in the room and a third of this unit is under 16 and that’s not fair on them” etc) but with Brownies, you’ll maybe pick three badges and get them to vote for the one they want to do. It depends on the age and level of initiative of your girls. Our strapline used to be “girls in the lead” and that worked quite well. I’m not at all keen on our current on – “we discover, we grow” because that makes us all sound like toddlers.
The Scouts had the image problem for a while and somehow they’ve turned it around. I have no idea how, other than recruiting Bear Grylls as their Chief Scout. The uniforms haven’t really changed dramatically – they still wear khaki-ish buttoned shirts with badges sewn down the sleeves, while Girlguiding is deliberately updating all the uniforms to make them look modern and practical and interesting, so the trick isn’t necessarily to make them look good in 2015. We lose so many girls to Scouting. Parents still believe Guiding is all about sewing and cooking and girly things and they want their girls to do the exciting things the boys do.
That’s a really long introduction to the new range of Girlguiding merchandise. But I really think this is a step in the right direction. It’s a range of mostly outdoorsy things, with a big footprint encircled by the words “Girlguiding – giving girls adventure since 1909”. This is what we want! I want to expand the range, I want hoodies with that logo in huge letters on the front, I want it to be slapped on the front of any Girlguiding building in the country, I want it to be our message first and foremost. Forget “we discover, we grow”, I want the world to know we’re “giving girls adventure since 1909”.
This is just the small selection that’s currently on the website. There’s also a t-shirt coming soon, there’s a folding sit mat, a folding hairbrush, a wash bag and a thermal mug. I want the badge for my blanket, I want the bag for proclaiming this in public and I want the handwarmers. I may even invest in the mug, since my own mug has lost its lid and is therefore pretty useless.
Mostly I just want everyone to spread this message. Girlguiding – giving girls adventure since 1909.