Ahead of Thanksgiving and the ensuing holiday season, a warning is out from the Girl Scouts: don't force girls to pass out holiday hugs even if someone is a relative. The message was posted on the Girl Scouts' website under the title "Reminder: She Doesn't Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays."
In the original post, the Girl Scouts cautions about how requiring physical affection as a sign of gratitude could confuse girls about future interactions. The post states that playing into the notion that a young girl "owes" someone in return for kindness or a gift "can set the stage for her questioning whether she 'owes' another person any type of physical affection when they've bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life."
The Girl Scouts post also cites developmental psychologist Dr. Angela Bastiani Archibald, who stated the importance of teching this message, even while understanding how to give consent can seem too mature for young girls.
The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn't pertain to children, but the lessons girls learn when they're young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older.
Archibald also notes that children are sometimes the targets of wrongful adult advances, and "teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help."
Responses to the Girl Scouts' guidelines about holiday hugs and physical affection between girls and adult relatives have varied widely. While some read it as welcome advice, others were far more skeptical, even critical, of how the Girl Scouts framed the etiquette of family gatherings.
Those in agreement with the Girl Scouts saw their caution to parents as a needed way to give girls autonomy and control over their own feelings of safety. The pro-post camp did not deem giving hugs a good manners necessity.
But detractors saw the Girl Scouts' instruction as off-base and even inappropriate. Christina Hoff Sommers of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute argued this caution against hugging relatives indicative of a larger "sex panic."
As is often the case in 2017, reactions to the Girl Scouts' post appeared to break down along mostly partisan lines. While many Twitter accounts with an obviously liberal bent supported the Girl Scouts' caution to parents, the negative reactions were most vocally found on conservative-leaning feeds.
For instance, actress and director Amber Tamblyn has been a vocally outspoken feminist and critic of President Trump — Tamblyn is in favor of the Girl Scouts' missive. On the other side, Sommers' Twitter feed is filled with criticism of liberal causes — and on allowing girls to forego hugging relatives, she tweeted that "the Great Sex Panic of 2017 is intensifying." Tamblyn and Sommers are a useful microcosm for how reactions to the Girl Scouts' warning to parents played out online.
The past 24 months have seen allegations of sexual harassment and assault topple the careers of dozens of high-profile men in Hollywood, news media, and politics. In the wake of the bombshell allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein (who has denied all claims of nonconsensual sexual encounters), the social media #MeToo campaign gave voice to many thousands of women and men who have survived sexual misconduct. For many, the sheer scale of #MeToo stories has made denying the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault impossible to ignore.
As such, the Girl Scouts' post encouraging parents to allow their girls the autonomy to set physical boundaries in which they feel comfortable did not come in a vacuum. It came during a moment when many believe the country is finally reckoning with its own seeming allowance for sexual harassment and assault — and how one views that issue seems to impact how they responded to the Girl Scouts' post on giving girls the freedom to not hug relatives at the holidays.