Thursday, September 30, 2004

How Girls Can Help Their Country

How to Secure a Burglar with Eight Inches of Cord

Make a slip-knot at each end of your cord. Tie the burglar's hands behind him by passing each loop over his little fingers. Place him face downwards, and bend his knees. Pass both feet under the string, and he will be unable to get away.

Handbook for Girl Scouts, 1913 edition

Update: This is from the very first Girl Scout Handbook. I don't know, but I very much doubt that it's in the handbook used today. Sorry to rain on anyone's parade. : (

This is why I'm an old book fiend. The long-ago attitudes were different and worth examining. We've tossed out a lot that was bad, but also much that was good, and I'm all for grabbing the baby back out of the discarded bathwater. 'Chronological snobbery' is a thing to avoid.

Look at the title: 'How Girls Can Help Their Country.' First off, there's an automatic assumption that helping your country is a good thing. Why, one can almost see Michael Moore sneering at the thought.

Second, the assumption that securing a burglar is a good thing for the country. Yes! Making it impossible for a bad guy to continue doing bad things is good.

Finally, the assumption that even a 12-year old girl, properly trained and prepared, can help herself, her neighbors and her country. You need not be weak. You need not be helpless. You need not surrender your self-sovereignty without a fight. With brains, pluck and luck, you can win.

This from a book written before women could even vote, and which also contains many instructions on being a good housekeeper and mother, and being womanly. Now there's a lost concept! Frankly, some it chaps my hide but let's listen to it:

"An imitation diamond is not as good as a real diamond. An imitation fur coat is not as good as real fur. Girls will do no good trying to imitate boys. You will only be a poor imitiation. It is better to be a real girl such as no boy can be."

Now that paragraph, taken by itself from the 1913 book and flavored by general 2004 attitudes, is bound to raise some hackles. Yet combined with the concepts of self-defense, health, and careers as expressed in this 1913 book, it doesn't sound so bad. We've thrown out a lot of bad things - I'm glad I can vote! but

But we've also thrown out, or at least diminished, the basic American ideal: the Rugged Individual; self-sovereignty; self-reliance. Call no man master. One of my clearest recollections of Sept. 11 was the blank looks of the faces of newscasters when they talked about "What American Means." Self-doubt was plastered on their faces as they uttered those words. Our anchormen and women, for the most part, had no idea what America meant. And for good reason. Somehow, during the civil rights liberation of groups like blacks and women, an insidious enslavement began. Not wearing a seatbelt? busted. Smoking in the wrong place? busted. Cutting down the wrong tree? busted. Hanging on to property wanted by the government? busted. and on and on and on and on and on.

A society in which groups are enslaved or oppressed is bad; a society in which all are oppressed is no better. Where did we go wrong and how do we get back on track? In 91 years, we've gone from expecting 12 year girls to be able to subdue a burglar, to expecting an adult to be incapable of deciding when to wear a seat-belt. What the hell happened to our respect for each others' intelligence and freedom?

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