My sister was a Brownie in the mid 1970s, a Girl Scout Brownie that is. She loved it. She loved her uniform and her troop leader and the activities they did. I don’t think they focused on nature, and I know they never went camping. Still, she wore her brown uniform all the time, even on days when her troop didn’t meet. Brownies wasn’t school and it didn’t involve her little sister at home. It was her own thing: it was social, the people were kind, and she got to do lots of arts and crafts.
While I confess my favorite kind of brownie is “a small square or rectangle of rich, usually chocolate, cake, often containing nuts,” I did covet my sister’s experience. I was a Campfire Girl Bluebird for a brief time. While I loved the red and blue dress, and the wind chime I painted, I only attended for a few months, never really felt a part of something, a movement.
In folklore, brownies are helpful elves, whether indoors or outdoors, who don’t generally interact with humans, but aid them in various tasks.
Adopting the Brownie name for a Girl Scouts age group seems fitting, in terms of the Girl Scout dedication to, “build[ing] girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” It’s commitment to diversity is in marked contrast to that of the Boy Scouts of America.
Another group of Brownies has sprung up in Oakland, California, the Radical Brownies. Not affiliated with the Girls Scouts, and soon to change their name to The Radical _____, this sisterhood also fosters unity. Started in December 2014 by Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest, a community organizer and an educator, respectively, the two leaders aim to foster social change in their group of 12 girl-identifying troupe members. The girls can earn merit badges in such areas as Black Lives Matter, Radical Beauty, Food Justice, Social Justice, and Environmental Justice.
Ms. Martinez explains the group’s beginnings on its Facebook page: “Last year, my 4th grade daughter desperately wanted to join a young girl’s troop. …I saw the need for a group that would empower and encourage her to form bonds of sisterhood with other girls in her community. I began to imagine what a radical young girl’s social justice troop looked like; a group that centered and affirmed her experiences as a beautiful and brilliant brown girl against so many societal pressures to conform to mainstream ideals of girlhood.”
The troupe has its detractors—some decrying single-gender clubs, some suggesting the leaders are indoctrinating the girls, and some accusing them of child abuse and racism through politicization, and allowing only girls-of-color. Martinez and Hollinquest insist the girls have minds of their own, and don’t all agree on every issue. Martinez also says the members of the small group right now simply reflect their own community and that, as they expand, any girl who loves The Radical ______’s mission will be able to join, “These girls are active and want to be out there, having their voices heard. We are just getting started.”