Hi. We don’t know each other, but we do have a link. Your daughter is currently attending my old school. I hope she’s loving it just as I did. Grey Coat taught me to be an independent, confident woman, and I’m so grateful for that. Watch out for stains on the grey jumper though – they never come out!
That link is part of what makes me so confused about your recent article on the “Girl’s Matter” report from Girlguiding UK. The article raised a number of emotions in me, but I think the overwhelming one was one of deep sadness. Let me try and explain why, if I can…
I wear three rings. Fairly ordinarily, one is my engagement ring and one is my wedding ring. One of them is a bit more unusual though. It’s nothing special to look at. It’s a cheap mood ring, brought back in the days when I honestly believed they worked! The colours have long stopped working and it’s a kind of sandy, sludgy colour. Not beautiful in any way, except to me.
This ring was originally one of a pair. A dear friend and I bought them for each other, in one of those sickeningly meaningful moments that happen when you’re 14, when you hold hands and stare into each others eyes and vow to be Best. Friends. Forever…
In our case though, it worked. We were seperated by thousands of miles after a while, but the rings reminded us of friendship and love and a “sister” who was rooting for you. And it wasn’t too long before I needed that. When a relationship that should have been perfect became controlling and manipulative and violent and downright abusive, I needed all the power of that sisterhood to remind me that I deserved more than this.
The ring I wear though isn’t mine. I lost mine years ago – I think it’s actually somewhere at the bottom of the river Wye. It’s Mira’s. It was found on her body. Her burnt, tortured, beaten body. Her body that showed evidence of having been buried. Whilst she was still alive.
See, Mira made a decision. Not one that we would find particularly radical, but one that cost her life. She choose not to be married to someone several decades older than her. And for that, my feisty, precious, beautiful friend was killed.
Sarah, that’s why the Guides are getting involved. Not because we have any desire to become little socialists, or even because we think all men are brutes. But because we’re human. As much as we hate it, and wish it wasn’t there, this stuff is happening to girlsand young women across the world. And as their sisters, we simply want to stand up and shout for them.
You worry that the document is “filling their heads with politically correct platitudes”. Sarah, I long for the day when some of the concepts mentioned in the document have actually become politically correct. For the day when harrassing girls at school, for over sexualising our children, for condoning a society that still treats girls badly is seen as the appalling fact it really is.
I went to my Ranger group last night. The girls are aged around 13 -15, and we planned a great programme. This term, the girls will get to bake, do gymnastics, watch movies, have a talent show, and loom to the moon. A brilliant atmosphere for them to be themselves and to have fun in an all girls, no pressure environment. And that’s great.
But Baden Powell never wanted us to live in bubble. That’s why he set up guide units in prisons, encouraged ocmmunity service, and taught girls that they could make a difference. We’ve been making a difference for over 100 years now, and we can’t stop now.
I mentioned Grey Coat earlier. Another brilliant organisation! I’m pretty sure that at some point your daughter is going to hear the story of Elsie Day. You probably saw her portrait when you went for interview at the school actually – in my day, it took pride of place in the headteacher’s study. Elsie took over as head of the school in it’s darkest days – when girls were called by numbers instead of names, fed rubbish, and commonly used as kitchen slaves. She transformed that, and taught girls of their value and worth. And the result trickled down the generations, to the point where Beatrice is reaping her legacy now – you know as well as I do that the school is outstanding.
The guides are doing something similar. They’re listening to the voices of their girls, and they’re telling them that they’re worthy, important, special and can make a difference. And they’re helping te girls to make the world the place they want for themselves.
That’s not “socialist”.
Dear Sarah – please come and visit my unit. We’re a fairly ordinary pack in a Sussex seaside town. I’ll introduce you to my girls. The one who isn’t allowed to see her father anymore, because he kept beating her mum up. The 7 year old who told me she didn’t want to wear the Brownie shorts, because her “legs were too fat”. The one who came in tears because the kids at school called her fat. The one who told me she wanted to be a nurse, as opposed to a doctor, because “boys are better at science”.
When we let this stuff carry on unopposed, we condemn not only ourselves, but generations of our children and grandchildren to an implicit belief that somehow girls are more valuable for their bodies than their minds – that they are, and will always be, a second class. Guiding wants girls to have fun – and believe me, we do – but we also want our girls to know that it’s not only ok to be a girl, it’s a beautiful, wonderful thing.