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The Weekly

THE WEEKLY

WEARING THE PANTS

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Over the course of our lives, most of us will eventually join an organization or two, whether it's a football team, church choir, sorority, cheerleading squad, charity, or a political party. But only certain memberships require the donning of culturally and socially significant symbols of affiliation—uniforms. Wearing a uniform serves as the ultimate social signifier: it allows members to identify each other, show allegiance to a shared sense of values, and draw on the legitimacy and power of a larger group. Which is part of the reason why the landmark decision made last year by the Boy Scouts of America to allow girls into its hallowed ranks was accompanied by a frenzied media circus.

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And while there are many arguments to be made about how this will affect the civil rights of women and girls, there is also a major one to be made about symbolism. That's because, when we get down to it, ironically, most of these men have their panties in a bunch over the simple fact that it's the girls that are the ones starting to wear the pants.

In her essay, Dana Miller points out, “The donning of the Boy Scout uniform by this contemporary breed of choice-seeking young woman can be construed as a kind of military tactical-wear for the scouting girls embarking on this very mission—or simply as the equality that it is. They are putting on something far more transgressive and provocative—the uniform of the historically dominant gender."
 
"Everyone is questioning every aspect of the girls in the Boy Scouts decision, from the motives and meaning to whether it constitutes the end of the social order. The sheer amount of media attention that the addition of girls into the Boy Scouts has garnered begs several pressing questions about the organization and our society.” Read Girls in the Boy Scouts

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In the 1950’s, when tennis champion Billie Jean King was 11 years old she refused to wear a tennis skirt and in turn wasn’t allowed to appear in any team photos. Society has time and time again proven that it is tradition to punish girls for not wearing the uniform assigned to them by the patriarchy or, even worse, wearing one originally assigned to boys. What is it about seeing girls and boys, or women and men, in the same clothing that gets our society into a tizzy?

Well, dress codes keep women out of all the boys clubs. The thought behind this being, “if we force them to dress “like girls” they can’t climb aboard.” Miller explains, “We can see this idea everywhere from ancient ship lore (women on board are bad luck)…to the modern-day scathing public discourses regarding the issue of women in combat.” Even when someone with as much power as say, the Secretary of State, walked in wearing a pantsuit, headlines went buzzing. Society still does a double take when women wear slacks.

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For most of us, the idea that girls joining the boy scouts, or even boys sports teams in middle or high schools, is hardly cause for concern, so the fact that many treat it as though it is the harbinger of the collapse of society borders on funny. That is until you realize that many of those same people actually occupy positions of power within our society.
 
However, it is absurd. The idea that the social order hinges on women staying at home, not wearing pants, and not joining the Boy Scouts is laughable on its face, as we have seen our society’s ability to succeed actually hinge on the ability for women to do “men’s work,” especially during times of war.

Alternatively, we do not know how many advances we missed out on because of people ardently arguing that women don’t belong in certain spaces—labs, boardrooms, or politics. Heck, maybe the people who lament the lack of flying cars should really be lamenting the lack of women in the STEM fields.

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In the end, the Boy Scouts, and their uniforms, are just another battlefield in the war for equal rights and representation. But we can’t help but point out that the Girl Scouts have been all inclusive for decades, and some are even arguing that the plan to include girls by the Boy Scouts is less motivated by an interest in progressive ideals and more because the Girl Scouts are more popular (and not mired in controversy) and Boy Scout membership is waning. Maybe, despite all the fanfare surrounding the decision, the real takeaway is that the Girl Scouts are the true scouts.

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In terms of women in uniforms, or famous Girl Scouts for that matter, it doesn’t get any better than someone whose power suit was an actual spacesuit. Being the first American woman to sail into orbit should be enough notoriety to break through the boys club that NASA and space travel was for years, but through her lifetime, Sally Ride continued to prove herself and break through a whole lot more than just the sound barrier. Ride was like the real life version of Star Trek Voyager’s Captain Kathryn Janeway. She was a true leader, a pioneer and her engineering intelligence provided her with the skills needed to flourish in the most male dominated fields; science, academia, and the military. 
 
“I think she was twenty years ahead of her time in her absolutely unstated demand to be treated as an equal,” an early college boyfriend told her biographer. “She just asserted herself in a way that said, ‘I’m here and I’m capable and I’m doing it.” Ride totaled 343 hours in space. She became a celebrity overnight, but she also never let herself forget that she was now a role model to girls all over the world. “I saw it in the eyes of the girls and the women and the grandmothers that I met, what it meant to them,” she said. 

She played nice with a Reagan administration whose politics she opposed, but she did draw the line at times. Like when she refused to appear on an NBC tribute to NASA hosted by comedian Bob Hope, because, she said, “I don’t like the way he exploits women.” Which reminds of us of a Captain Janeway quote, when she said, “one voice can be stronger than a thousand voices.” We like to think Janeway was talking about Sally Ride herself. After conquering the final frontier on the Challenger in 1983, Ride went on to lead NASA’s strategic planning initiative. Later, she became a professor at Stanford University. Oh, by the way, this was all while she was authoring many children’s books on science. Then, she also became the director of the California Space Institute. Soon, she was the CEO of her own science education company, and, casually, she dabbled in a little acting in an episode of Touched by an Angel. No big deal.
 
So, who was Sally Ride? Oh, just an engineer-astronaut-academic-author-strategic planner-professor-ceo-actor-girl scout. Because women can’t ever get away with being just one thing. We’d say she was even more accomplished than a Jack of All Trades, to us, she was the first notable Jane(way) of All Trades. And true to the Girl Scout motto, Ride was always prepared.

debra scherer