Girl Scouts Congratulate, Then Cancel Amy Coney Barrett

Organization Angers Everybody After Retreating Under Fierce Online Fire        

10/30/2020 – – The Judiciary Act of 1789, passed by Congress and signed into law by President George Washington, established the Supreme Court of the United States. Of the 115 justices who have served on our nation’s highest court, only five have been women, including Amy Coney Barrett, whose appointment was approved by the Senate on Monday.

Recognizing the importance of this historic achievement, the Girl Scouts of the USA tweeted: “Congratulations Amy Coney Barrett on becoming the 5th woman appointed to the Supreme Court since its inception in 1789.” Posted with the message were photographs of Justices Barrett, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

In less time than it takes to say habeas corpus, the Girl Scouts found themselves in the eye of a ferocious social media storm. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass) tweeted: “What kind of patch does one earn for uplifting a woman who is the antithesis of justice?” Actress Amber Tamblyn warned that the organization’s recognition of Justice Barrett “won’t age well when access to safe abortion and the healthcare needs of millions of women and girls is gutted in this country because of Barrett’s addition to the court.”

Faced with mounting online scorn, the Girl Scouts removed the post, explaining, “It was quickly viewed as a political and partisan statement which was not our intent,” insisting that Girl Scouts is a “nonpolitical, nonpartisan organization. We are neither red nor blue, but Girl Scout GREEN. We are here to lift up girls and women.”

Predictably, there was plenty of pushback from those who saw the original post as appropriate and noncontroversial. Independent Women’s Forum tweeted, “Of course the @girlscouts caved to the mob and deleted this tweet congratulating Amy Coney Barrett. SAD.” And TV news personality Megyn Kelly observed: “This is pathetic. It’s not ‘partisan’ to generically congratulate the 5th woman ever to join the High Court. It’s patriotic. Taking your tweet down is partisan, however, and a real disappointment.”

Erin Hawley, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Law Center, articulated a common theme of critics offended by the Girl Scout’s retreat: “Sadly, the message to our young girls is clear: Your success matters only if you subscribe to a certain type of progressive feminism.”

To Post, or Not to Post?

From a crisis-prevention point of view, were the Girl Scouts wrong to congratulate Justice Barrett? Given the emotionally charged nature of her nomination and hearings, should they have anticipated the negative response and passed on posting? Or were they right to dismiss the politics and see recognition of this appointment as an important opportunity to “lift up girls and women”?  

The benefit of 20/20 hindsight makes it easy to criticize the Girl Scouts for stepping into this controversy in the week before one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history. But before we categorize this reputational tempest as a classic “what were they thinking” mistake, consider this Girl Scout statement issued to Yahoo Life:  “We have a legacy of highlighting women who have risen to the top of their fields including leaders of both political parties and our judicial branch. It was in this tradition that we congratulated Justice Barrett.”

I would argue that even if the timing of the Barrett post was questionable, the rationale for the post was reasonable. Encouraging young women to have an open, honest discussion of Justice Barrett’s life and judicial approach is nothing to apologize for. Posting was not the mistake.

Never Enter Controversy Without Conviction

The Girl Scouts fumbled when they pulled the post, failing to hold to the conviction of their “legacy” and “tradition.” By retreating, they angered people on both sides of the issue — I call this the “piss-off-everybody predicament” — and reinforced the notion that bullying works online. That’s a very negative lesson for girls and young women.

Sticking with your convictions under fire is difficult but doable. In just the last few months, Trader Joe’s and the Goya food company have successfully stood their ground after being attacked online (see my 8/7 post “Trader Joe’s Reverses Capitulation to Name Change” and my 7/10 post “Goya CEO’s Praise for President Trump Spawns Boycott Threat”).

The Perils of Politics  

Of course, the other lesson to be learned by the Girl Scouts’ troubles is to understand the dangers of entering the minefield of politics — consciously or unconsciously. Passions are so strong on the left and right that there is no consistent perception of right and wrong.  Companies and organizations have to respect the difficulty of navigating these troubled waters in today’s toxic political environment.

If you must take a political stand, be sure to follow the time-honored Girl Scout motto: Be Prepared!

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