This is inspired by the Girl Scout thread in Feminism and some of the responses to it about Scouting in general - I decided to make a separate topic since this is going on a tangent from the original topic.
A lot of people posted about their personal experiences with Scouting, and they varied a lot - some positive, some not so much. I think it's important to realize that all of these individual experiences are representative of the particular situations they occurred in, rather than the entire Girl Scout organization.
Personally, my experience with Girl Scouts was, for the most part, very positive. We had a co-op troop, so every girl's mom was a leader, and they took turns (usually in pairs of two, I think) leading the meetings and activities. We did a wide range of things: arts-and-craftsy projects, sewing, cooking, camping, camp cooking, rock climbing, caving, whitewater rafting, and more. We also had a pretty big focus on volunteering and leadership activities. As we got older, more of the planning and decision-making and responsibilities fell on us, the girls, rather than our moms, so eventually we were the ones who chose the direction that our troop went.
I remember when I was in middle school, I scoffed at the idea of staying in Girl Scouts when I got to high school - I was sure that I would quit by then because it wasn't "cool." But by the time I actually got to high school, the five other girls still left in the troop were my best friends. I'd matured enough that the idea of trying to be somebody else's idea of "cool" didn't really matter, and with our increasingly busy schedules, Girl Scouts became a way for my closest friends and I to spend time together doing fun things that we decided to do as a group. (It was also a great way to fund these activities with the money we earned selling cookie and doing other fundraisers.)
Obviously not everybody was fortunate to have such positive experiences. I think this is mostly due to both the leadership and the specific group of girls. People mentioned not liking the activities or not being allowed to do the things they wanted to do, being bullied by other girls, and leaders doing nothing to stop (or sometimes even encouraging) said bullying. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do to change these past situations, but we can make them better for girls in the future! If you had a negative experience, rather than writing off Girl Scouts as an entire organization, why not get involved? If you have kids, consider getting them into Scouting when they're the right age, and take an active role in making sure it is a positive experience for them. Even if you don't have kids, you can still volunteer your time and get involved to help make kids' Scouting experiences better. I'm personally a lifetime member of Girl Scouts, but I regret that since I went to college I haven't really made the time to get involved again - it is a goal for the future, though.
So what can we do to help foster positive experiences in Scouting? From what I gathered, people's negative experiences were mainly because of two different things:
1. Activities - I think it's probably a little less common these days for Girl Scouts to only do domestic activities, but honestly the specific activities don't matter as much as the idea that Scouting is about the kids. It's not ok for a leader to disregard what the kids want to do and only let them do certain things (within reason, of course; being safe and responsible should come first.) If you see this happening, step in and say/do something about it.
On the other hand, if it's the group of kids themselves who want to do certain things that one kid isn't that interested in, that's a separate issue. Ideally you want to find some kind of compromise so every kid is happy, but sometimes groups don't mesh perfectly. We actually had a girl who was in a different Girl Scout troop, and switched into ours because she didn't get along as well with the other group. This is perfectly ok! It's good to have a group with similar interests.
2. Bullying - Bullying is unacceptable in any situation, and it is not ok for a leader to allow it. Not only do we need leaders who will step in and put a stop to bullying, but we need to teach these kids that bullying is wrong and hurtful. Usually in Scouting, people focus on all the things that you do, but a huge part of it is about the things you learn - not only skills and facts, but values.
Obviously, being a Scout leader is a lot of work, and I understand being reluctant to take on such a big endeavor. That's why I think the co-op leader model is so successful - by dividing the responsibility among every child's parents, it wasn't too overwhelming for any one leader, and we got to benefit from the experience of many different leaders rather than just one or two. Here are a few links for getting involved: Ways to VolunteerFind a Girl Scout Council
I don't know a whole lot about Boy Scouts, but I hope that anything I said with regards to Girl Scouts can also be applied to Boy Scouts. In high school, I also joined a group called Venturing, which is a co-ed scouting organization for ages 14-21 associated with BSA. It's youth-run, so the members of your group decide what to do - we did camping, bowling, cook-outs, whitewater rafting, and even a trip to the Bahamas. If anybody has experience to share or any information on getting involved with Boy Scouts, please post it!