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Jan Shure

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Girl Guides - Feminists And Quite Cool

Posted: 16/11/2012 08:52

We were a fairly high-powered group of five media women (and one man, father-in-law to Conde Nast MD Nicholas Coleridge, as it happens) sipping strawberry daiquiris at a beach bar on Grand Cayman in 1992 when, in response to a comment about the value of practical skills, I made a joking remark about having been a girl guide.

One of the other women, then head of European PR for a global hotel chain, said she, too, had been a girl guide; then another - deputy editor of a travel magazine - said, "Gosh, I was a girl guide as well."

Then a third, sheepishly, owned up, and then a fourth.

Finally, it emerged that all five of us had been members of the Girl Guide movement. There followed a lively, if mildly intoxicated, conversation about how valuable a period in the Girl Guides had been to our independence and development.

What was, perhaps, most revealing was how, without exception, we were all slightly embarrassed about admitting to having been guides. We all seemed to feel that it was both nerdy and a bit tragic to wear a uniform (and in the days when we had all been guides it wasn't a track suit but a navy serge skirt, blue shirt, tie and a beret) to learn about tying knots, first-aid, tracking, identifying trees, and a whole lot of other skills that, even at the time, seemed irrelevant to the average urban teen.

But at another level, we also realised how worthwhile and liberating it had been to have a parallel existence, away from school, away from boys (definitely boys, not men, in those days), away from make-up and the peer pressure requiring us to dress in a certain way. And while some of the skills may have appeared irrelevant, they developed our self-reliance and showed us that we were capable of functioning as entities without parents or males to show us the way. And guide camp - which four of the five daiquiri sippers had also attended - had been an even bigger adventure, and an even bigger lesson in pure, untarnished feminism.

Disguised as a carefree rite of passage, it proved that girls and women (the long-suffering guide leaders) could function, physically, without male protectors, could provide their own shelter, gather fuel, store and cook food without recourse to electric or gas, and have endless, deliriously innocent fun in the company of other females.

So, when Julie Bentley, appointed earlier this week as the new head of the Girl Guide movement, says it is a feminist organisation, she is absolutely and completely right. In the wake of her appointment, Carol Vorderman, Emma Thompson, Cat Deeley, Zoe Ball and a number of other intelligent, high profile women have all "come out" as former guides.

The fact that most of them are also known as glamorous further reinforces a positive image of guiding - that you don't have to be a nerd with mud under your fingernails. Ms Bentley and the guide movement just need a few more women like them to admit to having been girl guides, and suddenly it could be cool to be a guide...

 

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