Boy Scouts - Now with 100% More Girls!
On Wednesday, Boys Scouts of America announced that starting next year, membership in Cub Scouts (and eventually Boy Scouts) will expand to include girls. Existing packs will have the option of establishing a girls only pack, or become a co-ed pack with a combination of single gender dens. Packs can also remain boys only, presumably leaving the door open for a girls only pack to form separately through a different chartered organization. Unsurprisingly, the decision, which was unanimous within BSA, has been met with varying forms of criticism, praise, and confusion.
Some of the most vile reactions boil down to simple sexism and stereotyping, leaning on a false assumption that girls have no place in a boy’s world doing things that boys normally do. It’s an unsettling and narrow minded argument. Those outliers aside, many girls who desired a more outdoors oriented experience seem to be excited for the move. BSA cites families as a driving force, opening up options for parents with limited time and children of both genders.
Some are just confused, wondering why girls joining Boy Scouts is even needed, given the existence of other co-ed groups and the all-girl Girl Scouts. They are, after all, the most obvious critics of the move. The Girl Scouts’ response points out their years of experience with an all girl program, one which provides a girl-friendly environment that cannot be rivaled. They go further, pointing to BSA’s declining membership numbers as a reason for the change, implying Boy Scouts is only trying to boost enrollment by being more inclusive, and possibly siphoning off Girl Scouts members in the process.
But when it comes policies of inclusion, the Boy Scouts of America does not have a great history. In the 1980’s the group came under scrutiny for barring homosexuals, both as scouts and adult leaders. Their right to do so was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2000. But by 2014, Boy Scouts reversed their policy, allowing openly gay scouts to join. They continued to ban gay and lesbian adults, however, for another year and a half. Transgender boys were only allowed to join following a policy change this past February.
For women, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that many of the adult leadership positions were open to women, with the first female scoutmaster being recognized in 1988, a full 13 years after she served in the role. And while their Venture program for young adults has been co-ed since the 70’s, Boy Scouts has always been all male, until now.
My own experience with scouting, like many others, coincided with much of my youth, entering cub scouts as a tiger cub and progressing through Boy Scouts until my 18th birthday. It was in cub scouts that I first learned about thruhiking, instilling in me a desire that I carried for well over a decade, until after college. Scouting helped teach me responsibility, organization, confidence, and respect. I see no reason why much of the same program couldn’t appeal to girls.
But I also witnessed first hand how different the experience can be with an alternate group of scouts and leaders. When I first entered scouts, our troop was a close knit group. Several families that participated had multiple boys of varying ages, imparting both respect for fellow scouts and a strong sense of community. As I become older, those families left one by one, the adult leadership changing hands as well. By the end, the troop wasn’t the family it once was, the younger scouts and their parents pulling the focus in a different direction.
But in that time I never got a sense of the exclusionary policies that other families might have been contending with. It was only after I left that I learned more about BSA’s sordid history and ongoing controversies. I have lost much of my respect for the organization over the years, but am pleased to see policy changes heading in the right direction.
In my opinion, Boy Scouts of America still has a ways to go. The organization still maintains a religious ban on atheists and agnostics from participating. And some troops lean into the military overtones too readily. It is yet to be seen how well the new policies will be implemented. So much of scouting comes down to the local troops and packs, where communities of children and adults define the experience.
Integral to their success will be the participation of strong female adult leaders. My mother was always active in our troop. She was one of the adult leaders on my first backpacking trip and was respected by every scout I knew. After her three sons grew up and left the house, my mom became a Girl Scout leader. We made fun of her at the time, while being secretly happy to have direct access to the cookies. But I can safely say that the activities she led probably kicked ass, and wouldn’t have left any of the girls feeling like they belonged in Boy Scouts instead. Had BSA allowed girls to join back when her sons were in the program, I’m curious as to the impact she could have made on a co-ed troop, and how that might have affected her decision to participate in Girl Scouts.
In a society where sexism is all too prevalent, women’s rights are routinely ignored, and across many facets women are underrepresented, it would serve both the male scouts and adult leaders to have more women in leadership roles around them. The structure of single gender dens within co-ed packs will allow scouts opportunities to develop social skills across a wider range of interactions. All-boy dens and all-girl dens could easily pursue different activities and goals separately, while combined activities would teach them lessons about equality and mutual interests.
Ultimately, the success of this new expansion will come down to leadership at the local level. Scouting experiences can vary wildly depending on the organization, its local leaders, and the community it serves. Trying to force girls to conform to the needs of boys will not work, just as forcing boys to develop along the same lines as girls will probably fail. However, I believe that any inclusion, done respectfully and openly, can lead to good outcomes. And in no way does this decision by Boy Scouts negate the good work that other organizations are doing every day. It is unfortunate and probably unjustified that the highest ranks within Girl Scouts don’t command the same respect as those within Boy Scouts. But I’d be hesitant to trust any group that believes that they alone have all the answers. Why not allow children and young adults more options to pursue their own development, form lasting friendships, and learn valuable lessons for the future?