NaBloPoMo Day Twenty-Two:
And Then They Made Me Clean Latrines

I’m pretty sure that the Girl Scout organization is in violation of the Geneva Conventions, or, at the very least, the 8th Amendment Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

After I graciously agreed to give my time and energy to be a Girl Scout leader? (Please don’t tell anyone I’m a Girl Scout leader, I have a bad-ass image to protect.) After I volunteered for the good of the girls? After I did so knowing that “good of the girls” would involve camping? After I signed up for said camping trip with twelve of the sixteen girls in our troop? After I drove up mountain roads with four carsick girls? After I left my king-size bed, 400-thread-count sheets, and gave up two day’s worth of hawt green beans? After two nights of sleeping in a sleeping bag, on a bunk bed, in a cabin filled with eight-year-old girls? After following the no-hair dryer rule? After only violating the no-cell phone rule a little bit? After leaving my laptop boyfriend home alone? After I was fed very small portions of burned carbohydrates for two days? After I dealt with sleep-talking girls, girls who needed to go to the bathroom in the wee hours of the night, girls who took turns needing one thing or another, girls who were otherwise perfect but still numbered twelve?

After all of that?

The Girl Scout camp director made us clean latrines. Yes, she did so. And? She wouldn’t check us out of our cabin or return our medical forms to us until she’d inspected said latrines. Inspected. Holding a clipboard. You can’t make up this kind of stuff.


Now, let me be clear. Just in case Last Place Finisher someone out there is thinking, “So? I’ve cleaned toilets when I was in the Air Force before I had a housekeeper. Stop your whining.” Yeah, yeah. I’ve cleaned toilets too. At home. One at a time. People? These latrines? The latrines at camp? Five fricking toilets, five fricking sinks, and five fricking showers, used by 48 fricking people who are not members of my immediate family. And? They tried to make me clean out the sanitary napkin disposal containers. I am not making that up. They tried. I had to draw the line there. If I didn’t put anything into those toxic-waste containers, you can be damn skippy sure I was not taking anything out.

This latrine cleaning? That I did? (Oh, yes, I did.) Bothered me on many levels, and I’m wondering what y’all think (and, if you think I’m a whiner, say so in the comments, but just know that I might be invoking my dusty trial-lawyer skillz in a reply). In addition to how gross and disgusting it was to clean a stranger’s hair out of a shower drain (even with two pair of rubber gloves), okay really just one pair of rubber gloves, but still, one of the things that bothered me was that they wanted the girls to do the latrine cleaning.

Now, I’m all about our kids learning responsibility, cleaning up after themselves, serving others, and not having every experience be fairy tales and silver spoons prepared in advance by a team of overachieving mothers. But eight-year-olds cleaning public latrines at camp? The camp provided several bottles of various chemicals (in unmarked plastic bottles), mops, sponges, and gloves. I had twelve girls who may or may not have allergies/sensitivities to chemicals, and I had bottles of cleaning solutions of unknown chemical content. Not to mention that these third-grade girls probably all have little or no experience handling chemicals and toxic waste. So I set them to work sweeping out the cabin, bunks, and porches. I cleaned the latrines. And I left the sanitary napkin disposal containers untouched by me.

Also? I see this as a feminist issue. (Last Place Finisher, don’t even start with me. We’ve known each other for a long time, and leopards don’t change their spots.) Tom and Laura go camping with their YMCA Princess tribe several times per year, and Not Even Once has Tom or any of the other dads been told to clean public latrines. Most of the volunteer work in schools and community organizations falls to the hands of women, who to some degree allow themselves to be exploited for the good of the children. Don’t get me wrong. I’m usually the first one to sign up. In the modern workplace, women still earn only 69 cents on the dollar compared to our male counterparts. It is common knowledge that women perform the bulk of unpaid work in our society. And, according to my research (a comparative study between Girl Scouts and YMCA Princesses), only women volunteers are scrubbing latrines.

I plan to do more than simply rant about this and then sign up again for camp again next year. I plan to rant about this and then check in to someplace next year that comes with a bell captain, room service, and Internet access.

Readers, Take the poll:

1. Cleaning latrines at Girl Scout camp is asking too much of volunteer moms.

2. There’s no real difference between trial law and latrine cleaning. Shut up.

3. What? You didn’t pay your housekeeper to come to camp? Suckah.

4. You win for using more question marks than periods in paragraph two.

(Image and cartoon courtesy of Google.)

37 comments on “And Then They Made Me Clean Latrines”

  1. I remember having to clean the latrines when we first GOT to camp. Nothing like big huge piles of somebody else’s waste fermenting at the bottom of a hole. And spiders. Lots and lots of spiders.

    We made huge buckets of bleach water and just threw it all over the place then mopped it out. Poured straight bleach right down the holes (no adult supervision).

    Good thing we were too young to smoke. Between the methane and the bleach, there prolly would have been a big boom. ;-0

  2. Wow, I quit leading Girl Scouts after our first cabin-camping experience when I had to walk in the woods in the rain AND wash dishes for 20 AND sleep on a floor where we’d seen mice scurrying earlier in the evening.

    Latrines? Hell no, I won’t go.

    Bless you.

  3. I supervised latrine cleaning for my troop–I figured I would have heard by now if someone had a chemical allergy and the bathrooms had to get cleaned by someone.

    I had not considered the feminist issues involved in this. Hmmm, much to ponder.

  4. You’ve made it official: Jarrah will not be in the Girls Scouts. As if I needed ANOTHER reason than the fact that my own troop subjected me to torture and eugenics experiments until I quit, at the tender age of eight.

    I can’t even say the word latrine without gagging, let alone clean one.

  5. boy oh boy. What a question. Doesn’t the camp have staff that is paid to do the cleaning?

    Because if they had to count on volunteers to clean after each group stays, I would imagine they experience a lot of inadequate cleaning – wouldn’t it be better for them to just hire someone to do it so it’s done right each time?

    This totally violates my own personal non-profit volunteer-handling rule of “don’t mistreat the volunteers.”

    Is this a totally Girl Scout thing? Because I’ve never experienced it elsewhere.

  6. To tell the truth, I can’t really understand why ANYONE would ever camp. My parents brought me camping a lot when I was young, and I swore never to do it again.
    I think Scouting potentially has a lot of great things to offer kids, but call me a way out liberal wacko and an anarcho-punk, but I see little kids in uniforms and I think H!tler youth. And why do we want our kids in a quasi-military organization that does not allow law-abiding citizens who happen to be gay to lead or join?
    So, basically, if you want to get to the point: making you clean Girl Scout latrines is a FASCIST PLOT and UNAMERICAN too. HA!

  7. My line in the poop would have been NO to it all. I cannot imagine myself cleaning a latrine (I barely do a toilet). There are times when you need to show your children that some laws are unfair and that they need to stand up and say NO. That would have been my lesson to the girls.

  8. My girls went to Girl Scout camp in the summer of 2007. They were 7 and 9 years old.

    When they came home after the first day, they told me they each would be helping clean the bathrooms later in the week.

    Were any of the camp counselors or myriad teenage volunteers cleaning bathrooms, I asked. No, not that the girls were aware of.

    Oh hell to the N-O, I said.

    I was on the phone to the director of the camp so quick that even my head spun a bit. I explained very calmly that neither one of my girls would be cleaning latrines. I said that I understood that the camp was run on a very tight budget, but that 1) I did not sign my girls up for camp to clean up other people’s fecal matter and 2) that we use eco-friendly cleaning products in our house because of health reasons that I had clearly marked on the girls’ camp applications.

    Needless to say, my girls won’t be participating in Girl Scout camp ever again.

    I have no problems with kids learning to clean, but it will be here in my house with my cleaning supplies.

  9. Reading this post reminded me of when I was a camp counsellor and we had to clean latrines (along with the kids) weekly. We were given chemicals. Funny how time has changed and we are so concerned about chemicals (and I’m not trying to make a statement one way or the other on chemicals).

    Still, it was the best summer of my teenage years. I ate healthily and lots and lost weight and had lots of fun.

    Your experience didn’t sound like as much fun. Next year, find a different mother for the job.

  10. Well- we cleaned our ouwn latrines in the Army, but we were adults- but even the guys did that. The Army is much more democratic when it comes to divvy-ing up the chores.

    Kids cleaning latrines? I dunno. Not so much I guess.

  11. Lots of mistaken thoughts here. The Girl Scouts don’t ban leaders based on sexual orientation- that is the BOY Scouts. If a custodian is hired to clean up after the troop, how does that even qualify as camping? Cabins? Have a tent and an outdoor biffy- THAT’S camping. Sounds like those kids deserve a leader that can be a great camping role model!

  12. I haven’t made it to Girl Scout Leader yet… I have a LONG way to go before my Bean gets there. I do however remember my times as a girl scout. We learned all about camping stuff, pitching tents, making fires, cooking/cleaning with camping gear. I don’t remember cleaning bathrooms.

  13. I remember having some limited cleaning duties at camp but being blindsided with latrine cleaning seems ridiculous. It sounds like there needs to be some clarification about volunteer responsibilities.

  14. #1 all the way. Is this why I dropped out after Brownies? Good GOD!

    And that’s what I love about you… you can turn this incident into a feminist issue, and your trial lawyer? Is not dusty.

  15. Okay, so, where’s all that cookie money going that they can’t hire a custodian? Or jeez, at least throw ya’ll a box or two for cleaning! I would be like “I want 5 boxes of tagalongs and 2 thin mints…and that’s just for the sinks!”

  16. I went to Girl Scout Camp in 1976 and had to clean the latrines – I was 10 – maybe.

    Your points are all valid, and it’s a chauvinistic system that occurs at schools, churches, offices. The “lot” of a woman bullsh#t.

    We attend family diabetes camp with our son and have to do similar duties before they allow us to leave – I think they withhold insulin and syringes until we clean all that stuff (boys and men are there too so it’s REALLY gross).

    Who should clean them though? This is a tough one my razor sharp friend.

  17. Excellent question, and it is the main one I pondered.

    Csquaredplus3 hones in on the question:

    Chris: The thing is I did clean them. I could have refused, and I would not have been the only leader to do so. Others refused. It isn’t that I think I’m better than someone else who should clean latrines. It’s that I was expected to clean them, and my husband goes to similar camps with our daughter, and he is not expected to clean latrines. At the very least, the latrine-cleaning requirement needs to be disclosed in advance and be assigned or not assigned in gender-neutral manner.

  18. Frankly, I think the Girl Scouts, Boys Scouts and any organization that erects camps in areas too isolated for sewer systems should stop using unsanitary and ecologically unsound things like latrines.

    I mean – digging an open hole and having hundreds of people deposit their raw unprocessed sewage waste in it is probably an environmental nightmare.

    What’s so hard about putting in a septic system and getting real toilets? Way easier to keep clean.

    Or even use composting toilets. But no holes in the ground over stinking piles of poop.

  19. Let’s see:

    1. I’m a single mom and still find the time to volunteer at my local ER.
    2. I volunteered to coach my kid’s soccer team, even on the weekends when I don’t have her and could have been sleeping in.
    3. I’ve baked, stapled and ripped for my daughter’s class.

    and yes,

    The latrine thing is too much. I agree, kids should be taught that life is not handed to us on a silver platter but, in my opinion, I would have run out of there screaming like a little girl once I got a look at that hair.

    You are a much better woman than I.

  20. lol. sarah clark told me i had to come read your blog about latrine duty.
    ehhh. it’s one of those somebody has got to do it things. you’re right, that somebody is almost always a woman.
    i’m proud of you volunteering. it doesn’t hurt your badass image at all. if somebody looks at you funny, you can show them the toilet brush. i guarantee they’ll back off.
    you wore eye protection, right?

  21. Sweetie, school girl error….you should never have volunteered…especially not for that!!!

    Next time say you are washing your hair / having a tooth extracted….anything!!!

    I’ve done camping….and now I’m done with camping!

  22. At the Michigan Girl Scout camp my daughter & I went to, they also had girls/leaders clean latrines (and everything else). We slept in tents, and cooked all of our meals over the campfire: this was completely primitive camping. On the other side of the county at the Boy Scout camp that my husband and son attended, they ate meals at a lodge (with a cook) and slept in cabins with electricity and only cleaned their cabins when they left.

    Interesting differences. The fees for the boys were much higher than ours, so that’s part of the reason. I also think the girls learned more – though I can’t say I enjoyed it. I’d rather pay more for someone else’s mother to take my daughter to camp and show her how to survive in the wilderness and clean latrines! MIME

  23. I vote #1 (and I’m not talkin’ pee). I only did one year in the GS organization, as a Brownie. My brothers were Cub Scouts, then Webelos, then Boy Scouts. My older 3 boys had no interest (because their daddy never did, either) but SnakeMaster just joined Cub Scouts. I’m not sure what the big campout scene is for them…yet. I know I won’t be volunteering to clean latrines!!
    For the record, our family enjoys camping and an outhouse isn’t such a bad thing. But cleaning my boys’ bathroom? Dis-gus-ting!!!

  24. I went to Girl Scout camp. And I can remember the smell of those latrines to this day.

    I can’t believe they expected you (or the girls!!!) to clean them. Did they at least offer you some sort of highly-prized merit badge?

  25. Dear Cheri,
    This comment is to inform you that my letter to the Vatican concerning your receiving Sainthood status has been sent. I’m thinking it may take a bit before they decide (they gave Mother Theresa special consideration for all her work, but I don’t think that included cleaning toilets!). I’ll let you know when I hear back from the Pope.
    Yours, always,

    p.s. We didn’t have Girl Scouts in our town when I was young and am thinking that my mom is eternally grateful!
    I’m bowing down in your general direction for making a stand!!

  26. dkuroiwa: I’m certain they only make you a saint when you’ve done the work without blabbing to everyone about it, or, more certainly, when you’ve done the work without complaining to everyone. Also, I think you have to be Catholic and dead to get into that club. But I love you for thinking of it!

  27. Where was this camp, Dachau Germany? Way WAY too much to ask. But then, camping with a group of girls who don’t share my DNA is too much to ask of this slacker mom.

    And yeah, I do want to hear from boyscout camp dads before I weigh in on the feminist judgement.

  28. I hear ya …

    1) It was maybe too much to ask of the troop leaders/parents *if* it was their own mess.

    2) It was definitely too much to ask of the troop leaders/parents *if* it was others’ (the whole camp’s) mess.

    3) If was rage-inducing if they tried to force the kids to do that

    It is hard to know how I would have handled it, but I’m guessing I would have put in my share of the work and then just never go back. I’m not afraid of work (dirty or mild) but I do have control issues and part just doesn’t sit well with me.

    Anyway, good on ya for getting through it.

  29. This would be further proof that Girl Scouts of America is not going to lead in the continuos revolution of American women.

    Every issue is a Feminist issue.

    For the love of so many things/people, clean with without toxins.

    Let’s give a shout out to the people who do clean the public and domestic spaces. All work is valuable. All people are valuable.

    The Eldest Daughter,

Lurkers are welcome. Commenters are welcomer.