When the Boy Scouts of America opted to include girls and changed their name to Scouts of America/BSA, a few tectonic cultural plates shifted. The Boy Scout movement began in the United States in 1909 and was incorporated in 1910. The movement soon spread throughout the country. The Girl Scout movement began in 1911 with a group of 19 girls. It also spread quickly throughout the country.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts helped generations of girls and boys define and redefine what it means to grow up with integrity, courage and character. Each organization has a (mostly) noble history. Recent sex abuse scandals and leadership conflicts about homosexual participants and leaders in the Boy Scouts has rocked that history.
I can’t help but wonder if some of the decision to admit girls is connected. Boy Scouts suffered a pretty severe black eye in the public eye as these scandals came to light. Might this be a hopeful action to increase membership, a way of redeeming themselves in the eyes of the public?
Both Scouting organizations have dwindling memberships because of competition from other organizations, school sports, theme-based camps for just about everything, and a host of other things. Still, it’s not clear that making the Boy Scouts into Scouts of America and going co-ed is the answer.
Where it really goes off the rails is at the intersection of contemporary gender roles and missed opportunities. Boys need places where they can be formed into young men with character and integrity. Historically, Scouting has been such a place. The Eagle Scouts I know are fine young men who do not follow mainstream culture and live by the Scout’s code.
Similarly, girls need places where they can be formed into strong young women with integrity. In a culture that objectifies women’s bodies, girls need a safe place to develop strength of character in order to not buy into that culture. The Silver Bar, the Girls Scout equivalent of the Eagle Scout award celebrates young girls who become strong young women who are self-assured, self-identified and resistant to our often morally bankrupt culture.
When girls and boys are put together in scouting, some of the same gender roles they face in school are reinforced. The “cute” girls and “cute” boys may well act out of their awakening hormones while socially awkward or differently-abled boys and girls are left on the same sidelines they are at school.
Finally, the perspective of a friend who has been involved with Girl Scouts her whole life, sees the loss of gender-based scouting as the loss of a safe place for boys and girls to fail. With the addition of gender dynamics failure takes on a new meaning, as does competition. It undercuts the spirit of collaboration and cooperation that includes everyone, even the socially awkward, differently-abled girls and boys. Being together, girls with girls and boys with boys, levels the playing field and takes gender-based competition out of the equation.
In a time when gender specificity in youth organizations can be a great aid to development of self, androgenic Scouting is a lose/lose.