Inclusion of girls in the Boy Scouts of America
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that starting in 2018, they will allow girls in their program on Oct. 11. They said the decision came from family requests and an effort to consolidate children’s programs for busy families. Girl Scouts of America (GSA) responded saying that separate scout programs are necessary in today’s political climate where women’s leadership is more important than ever. Two TKC writers decided to share their viewpoints.
October 15, 2017
When I think “girl,” I think strong. I think willing. Brave. Capable. Resilient. I think of climbing mountains and jumping off bluffs into rapid waters. Qualities that I also associate with boys. Qualities that really belong to anyone willing to embrace them. My mom is a Boy Scout leader to both of my younger brothers, and since they were 6-year-olds, they were taught how to tie knots, camp, manage money and help the community. At that age in my Girl Scout troop, all I knew how to do was cut strips of felt and tie them together to make blankets and sell cookies to my neighbors. Activities like community service and wilderness survival don’t discriminate between genders. Boy Scouts took the right step in achieving gender neutrality when it comes to children learning life skills.
The Boy Scouts of America already has co-ed opportunities with their Venturing Crew and Sea Scouts, so obviously, it’s possible for girls and boys to come together to improve themselves and impact the world. In general, kids are funneled into stereotypes of who they should be based on their gender. That’s evident with one stroll through Target’s toy section with one wall decked out with hot pink barbie dolls and the other with macho superhero action figures. Both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are guilty of continuing these stereotypes, with Girl Scouts excessively focusing on emotional and social values like friend groups with younger troops and Boy Scouts holding patriarchal values too close, being strictly religious. The inclusion of girls into Boy Scouts can patch up some holes in each program and, ideally, eliminate the need for a girls or boys only scouting program.
Of course, it’s important to have separate communities within the now girls-inclusive Boy Scouts on occasion to share similar struggles in an understanding environment, but as far as activities and learning go, girls and boys should go through them together. There’s no reason a girl shouldn’t know how to start a fire or a boy how to set goals and work on personal growth. Kids are kids; let’s stop putting them into categories that don’t adequately suit their true character. Straight from the Boy Scout Oath, to be a Scout is “To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” Girls and boys working and learning together in Boy Scouts will better prepare them for living in the real world as adults, and the opportunity for girls to join is a giant step in the right direction for social gender neutrality.
When people ask me why I am 16 years old and still a Girl Scout, I tell them it’s because of the confidence and empowerment the program has given me. Being a Scout has taught me to be brave, kind and to always put others first. It has taught me how to instill the same braveness and confidence in young girls as well. At Camp Cedarledge, a Girl Scout camp I have been attending for the past eight years, I have stayed up for hours late into the night to walk back to the dining hall to get girls food and to comfort girls who are homesick. I have woke up in the middle of the night to reassure girls that sleeping in the woods is nothing to be afraid of. But most importantly, I have spent my days ensuring girls that yes, they really can do whatever they put their mind to.
Being a Girl Scout for 11 years, I have seen all the good it can do for a person through all of its ratifying experiences. Doing hours upon hours of community service–things like gathering supplies for the homeless–you also learn how to achieve personal goals, like being able to ride a horse on your own. In order to achieve a badge, Scouts must participate in a certain activity to learn and understand the meaning behind the badge. When my troop (troop 1217) earned our water badge, we went to Kirkwood Park where our troop leader had set up buckets of water throughout the park. Our job was to try to collect as much water in buckets as we could and bring it back to our spot. At the end we were given certain scenarios that were meant to stimulate women in developing nations having to use whatever water they can find to do daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning and bathing. Most groups could not find enough water to complete these tasks and the water that they did find was dirty. At the end of the activity, we talked about how to conserve water and why it’s important to not take it for granted. Girl Scouts do activities like this to learn how to understand the lives of others and why it is important to make your difference in the world.
Being the parallel of Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts essentially does the same thing for boys. While there is always the argument that Girl Scouts don’t do anything but sell cookies, my hundreds of hours of community service and Bronze and Silver (and soon Gold) awards would beg to differ. Each award requires girls to come up with a project that will impact their community. For the Bronze award, 20 hours of service are required for preparing and carrying through with the project and 50 hours and 80 hours are needed for Silver and Gold respectively. For my Silver award, I planned and conducted a “brownie fun day” where I took a group of 8-year-old Scouts (Brownies) and lead them in earning badges that furthered their understandings of different cultures and taught them how to preserve their community by picking up trash throughout the park. By doing simple activities like this, Scouts learn that even the smallest amount of service can still make a huge impact on the world.
At Camp Cedarledge, I also work with the horses and girls in the equestrian programs. One year I was in an arena lesson and there was one girl who told me that she was not confident enough in herself to ride. So, we took it little by little. She got on the horse, still crying, and finished her lesson. Slowly, she began to be more and more confident and I saw her smiling, telling me that she now believed in herself enough to know that she can do this. This one story reflects those of many girls who go through Girl Scouts.
Boy Scouts allowing girls to join may seem good at the surface but in actuality, it just undermines the importance of Girl Scouts. The history of the two programs has always been a competitive one. Juliette Gordon Low created Girl Scouts in 1912 after thinking the Boy Scout’s girl program, Camp Fire Girls, to be sexist since they tended to only do patriarchal activities because the founder felt that if the Boy Scouts participated in equal activities, it would question their masculinity. Venturing Crew, which is a Boy Scouts sanctioned co-ed program, is already inclusive to both sexes. Allowing girls to join Boy Scouts undermines Girl Scouts by saying that they are inferior. By allowing girls to join and gain their Eagle Scout status, it gives the illusion that being an Eagle Scout means more than being a Gold award-earning Girl Scout. How can Boy Scouts starting a fire with a few sticks compare to Girl Scouts taking initiative and changing the world’s view on women?
I am not against the Boy Scouts being more inclusive (even though their inclusiveness is debatable in terms of acceptance towards the LGBT+ community when people who are transgender and openly gay people were denied membership), but I am against what it means for the program that has shaped who I am. Boy Scouts who say all we do is sell cookies forget that while they are surviving in the wilderness, we are changing the world.