Paving the way for gender inclusivity
A few weeks ago, my husband texted me in excitement: “BSA IS OPEN TO GIRLS. THEY OPENED IT TO GIRLS! OUR GIRLS CAN BE IN SCOUTS!”
He was referring to the Boy Scouts of America. On October 11, 2017, the BSA officially announced that it would be allowing girls to join the Cub Scouts program in 2018 and in 2019, a new program will allow older girls to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank of scouts which has long been closed off to women.
This news comes on the heels of rumors that started last spring when the BSA was said to be exploring ways to make “convenient programs that serve the whole family…” According to the BSA, families have requested that girls be allowed to join for years.
The news was very exciting for my family. My husband and I are very happy to have two girls and we feel that our family is complete.
However, my only regret about not having a son is that my husband would not be able to share his love of scouting with him.
My husband spent his childhood in the BSA, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle. He helped found a local networking growth for former (now adult) scouts. I myself come from a scouting family. My father was a scout his whole life, also an Eagle, and went on to be a scout leader for my younger brother. He ran a cub scout program for years when my brother (another Eagle) was too old to be in the scouts. My father always said that my sister is one of the best boy scouts he ever met. She spent most summers of her teenage and young 20s life as a summer counselor at camp.
It was hard not to share in my husband’s excitement over getting our girls in scouts. He is looking forward to becoming a den dad for a troop of female Cub Scouts, including our daughters.
However, I quickly became aware of the controversy around this decision. The outcry, particularly on Twitter, was eye-opening.
I saw multiple people ask “isn’t this what the Girl Scouts are for?” Many women applauded the decision, complaining about their own experiences in the Girl Scouts. Other former Girl Scouts were understandably upset. The GSA themselves released a scathing statement, accusing the BSA of trying to increase their membership.
Many of the people complaining about the decision were unaware that there have been co-ed programs within the BSA for decades.
In 1930, a new program for older scouts was developed, called the Senior Scout Division. This division went through several changes over the years. In 1969, women ages 14-20 were invited to join these special groups. Currently, there are three groups dedicated to older scouts that include women: Sea Scouts, Venturing and Exploring. All are open to young people from 14 through 21 years. STEM Scouts also welcome both genders.
The Cub Scouts are the youngest group of scouts. Welcoming girls is a major change, but parents who are concerned about gender segregation should read the BSA’s statement. Existing Cub Scout packs can either remain an all-boy pack, create a pack just for girls or make a pack for both girl dens and boy dens. Dens themselves—small group of Cubs—will all be single-gender. According to the press release, “This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families.”
I personally did not have a great experience in the Girl Scouts. My mother was the leader when I was a Brownie and I have fond memories of that time, but when I was older and had different leaders, I just remember doing a lot of arts and crafts and not the cool outdoor stuff that my brother got to do through the BSA.
Many of the women happy about the BSA’s decision had similar experiences. Others complained about the fanatic, multi-level marketing style of cookie selling.
Other women had experiences similar to that of the BSA: tons of outdoor time, survival skill training and camping. The GSUSA experience varies widely depending on the leadership of that particular troop. No wonder some women would have preferred the BSA.
Over the last few years, though, it seemed as though the BSA was lagging behind progressively, rejecting transgendered and gay members until just recently, although more religious packs are allowed to “uphold their moral standards.” Meanwhile, the GSUSA desegregated long before the BSA did and have frequently been voices of inclusivity.
We are living in challenging times where it seems that the differences between genders are more highlighted than ever. Shouldn’t we be teaching our children from their youth to learn to respect each other and work together to prevent situations like Harvey Weinstein’s long harassment of women? And yet, do boys and girls need separate experiences in environments free of distraction from the opposite sex to develop important skills?
When I was a high school sophomore, my formerly all-girls school went co-ed. A decision was made to have a co-ed fifth grade and high school, but single-gender classrooms for 6th-8th grade. The school’s website calls this “an optimal learning environment for boys and girls.”
Many scouting groups around the world have already merged into co-ed groups. Unfortunately, in the United States, it seems as though the BSA and GSUSA are not interested in working together, perhaps not the best move when both groups face flagging membership.
Having thrived in an all-girls environment for four years, I see the benefit of single-gender programming, which is why I applaud the BSA’s decision to create single-gender Cub Dens. I also believe that it’s important for both genders to learn how to work together and develop mutual respect. The BSA’s decision does allow for that.
I don’t know if there’s a perfect solution here. I wish the BSA and GSUSA would be more willing to work together or to merge into a single scouting organization that provides programming appropriate for both genders.
In the meantime, I am still so happy for my husband that he will be able to share his experience with our girls (as long as they want to participate) and I will remain hopeful that scouting in America will move towards a more inclusive experience for all involved.