One of the things I really try to do as a Guider is foster a sense of safety and inclusion for all the members of our multi-branch unit. I think it’s a constant process and to be truly successful, needs pretty much everyone to be onboard. But I also believe that it isn’t just about big picture statements and policies (which are essential, though!). I’d like to believe it’s about the small words I use and the little choices I make.
A Ranger who was volunteering with our unit showed great courage in speaking to the unit’s Guiders about how we could make our unit more inclusive and safer for members of a wider range of gender identities and expressions. She was concrete and positive and personal. I owe her my thanks for helping me become more aware of my own conceptions and experiences, and the power of my own words and actions.
Having recently read GGC’s Guidelines for the Inclusion of Transgender Members (so glad we have this) got me really thinking about two things in particular we can do to be truly welcoming to all girls and women.
- Think about language and labelling. I don’t always use the word “girls” to call over or describe our members. In fact, more often I use their branch (like “Brownies”) or their first names. I might say we have children and youth members as often as I say we have girl members. Why do I do this? It’s because it can act as a subtle cue that gender or gender expression isn’t the main or most important way – which I “see” or label the people I interact with. It could signal that it’s okay to be questioning, or identifying in more than one way. I do still use “girl” and “woman,” and I do that for specific reasons, too. I want those words to have positive associations – they are not insults or ways to put people down, the way saying that to do something “like a girl” often means “not well.” And as an organization for anyone who identifies as a girl or woman, I think it’s absolutely appropriate to use both “girl” and inclusive language.
- Try not to impose fixed ideas of gender expression on our members. What does that mean? Here’s an example. Our Brownies really like to dress-up. One of their favourite camps had a Hollywood theme, complete with a red carpet soirée. They requested a “fancy” party recently. In discussing how to prepare with the Brownies, and in reminder emails to families, I was deliberate about how I described what to wear. I could have said, “Wear a fancy/pretty dress,” but there’s more than one way to dress “fancy,” isn’t there? So I said dress in whatever makes you feel fancy. I went further in the family email, and included the option to dress comfortably.
At camp, I wore a gold dress. For the party, I wore dress pants and a black tie. I wanted to make sure that if there was a Brownie who wasn’t comfortable in a dress, or who didn’t know how to be fancy without a dress, that there was another example to consider.
I don’t think most Brownies and other members notice how I mix my language, but they DID notice the tie. It started many great conversations about dress, gender and choices. Some of them were funny and in the “fancy” spirit, “Are you our butler?” and “I am going to call you Monsieur!” (right down to the great, exaggerated French accent) while a couple were complimentary, “You look really different. And good!” Mostly, after I or someone else explained that the pants and tie were my way of being “fancy,” the Brownies shrugged and went back to dancing. Or twirling. Or running. Or jumping up and down. It was nice.
Guest post by Kathryn Lyons, with the 12th Ottawa Guiding Group, Sandy Hill, Ottawa. Check out her previous posts: Managing Friend Drama; Sustainable crafting: Or, what can we do with all of that leftover fleece?; How do you organize all your Guiding stuff? A Billion Brownies; Watching Girl Greatness