Girl Scouts in uniform make a powerful picture. Recently, the White House released a photo of President Obama posing with a Brownie Troop and they are all wearing tiaras on their heads. Some have bemoaned the image as not worthy of a president, just as many belittled Governor Palin’s “shout out” to a Wasilla, Alaska third grade class during the Vice Presidential debate. I think both of these events are important for children and particularly girls.
For me, this is more than a gender bending picture of a male president. I consider myself very jaded when it comes to politics and yet, this image evokes a very strong feeling in me. In the photo the five girls are all in uniform and they are all smiling. One girl has placed her left hand casually on the President’s arm. The President is happy to be with them. If one of these Brownies becomes President this picture will be circulated as the “Aha” moment of that future President’s life.
Our vampiric 24 hour news cycle focused on the difference between the tiara and the football helmet. In 2013, our winning United States Naval Academy football team was being given the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy by the President. In the news footage, all the men of the team stood behind the President and then they gave him a gift of a football helmet. Obama was gracious, but jokingly said, “The official Navy helmet fitted for me. Pretty sharp huh. Here’s the general rule: You don’t put stuff on your head if you’re president.” Point taken.
Well, the Naval Academy Football team won again in 2014 and this year the President honored them outside the White House. As President Obama talked about these men, who were again standing proudly behind him, he talked about character. “Yes, it’s about learning to be a good football player but more importantly it’s about learning how to be a good leader and to be a good man. And that’s what these outstanding Americans are and will continue to be.”
Those are powerful words and I am sure they meant a lot to those men. The relationship between sports teams, leadership and politics is a strong bond. It is filled with male nomenclature that men relate to on their journey to adulthood. Women don’t have the history of cultural events such as these to point to and embed in our memories because our history as citizens is different that men’s history.
In the last several years there has been an increase in statistics about girls and leadership. A jarring one is a Girls Scouts study of girls aged 11-17 that showed 67% of them were interested in politics. Disturbingly only 32% of them thought that our society encouraged them to be politicians.
Meeting a president is a seminal moment for young men. It’s encouraging. The iconic photo of a young Bill Clinton shaking hands with President Kennedy was a prescient moment as we look back in time. Kennedy met the members of Boys Nation, an American Legion program that shaped boys into leaders. It was 1963, a time in our country when women were still looking for jobs in Female Help Wanted classified ads in newspapers. After that handshake, Bill Clinton said to his fellow members of Boys Nation that someday he was gong to have President Kennedy’s job. Clinton said later of that meeting, “It had a very profound impact on me … I was very fortunate that someone took a picture of it and gave it to me so I was always able to remember it.”
It’s the perspective that a photograph gives us that is so important. You stand outside of life and look at it from afar. This is where we begin to mold our image of ourselves for the world. Because of this photograph Bill Clinton could project into the future where he wanted to see himself — in the White House.
The seeds of leadership planted early yield big results. Leadership is a central part of the Girl Scouts. In the United States, only 8% of women were Girl Scouts. Interestingly 70% of the women in congress have been Girl Scouts.
A president wearing a tiara may sound silly for some. But I think throwing a football and chasing after it is pretty silly too. We need more images of political leaders with girls and women. Each of the girls in Brownie Troop 2612 now has a picture to remember meeting the President. It was a germinal moment for them and they can remember it with a photograph. The President opened a visual pathway for each girl to start building their road to the White House. Politicians, don your tiaras and give a shout out to the girls of America.
Photo courtesy Peter Souza/The White House
Jennifer Hall Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films and used her free time (when she had it!) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being distributed nationally and she will be speaking and screening at the Feminism In London Conference in 2015 ! Jennifer was recently named Global Ambassador for the Global Media Monitoring Project.
To schedule an interview with Jennifer or talk with her about booking her as a speaker, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org