As you doubtless know by now, the BSA decided on October 11, 2017 to welcome girls at the Cub Scout and Boy Scout levels over the next two years. My take? I support the decision, but I’d like to take more than the length of a couple of tweets to explain why. Here are seven reasons:
- We’re already co-ed. And I don’t just mean in Venturing, Sea Scouting, and Exploring. The day the news came out, I happened to be interviewing a pair of married Scouters for an upcoming project. They told me that their now-adult daughter was an active participant in their son’s troop for years. She couldn’t register as a Boy Scout, of course, so she registered and completed advancement as a Juliette, the Girl Scout equivalent of Lone Scouts. And I’ve spoken with other leaders over the years whose Boy Scout troops just happened to meet at the same time and place as Girl Scout troops. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh talked about cases like that in a national office town hall meeting.the day after the announcement. (The video is well worth watching, by the way.)
- The experts aren’t worried. It’s been interesting (and often disheartening) to read reaction to the decision on social media. According to my very unscientific tally, those who have had experience with co-ed Scouting activities (mostly Venturing leaders and Philmont staff members) generally support the decision. Many of those most strongly opposed, including some of my fellow Eagle Scouts, aren’t even involved in Scouting right now.
- People on both sides are dissatisfied. It’s a truism that a good compromise is one that leaves both parties dissatisfied, which is the case here. If your troop doesn’t want to go co-ed, it doesn’t have to. In fact, it can’t. Girls will be in separate units.
- We aren’t living in the 1950s any more. One former Scout posted on Facebook last week that back in his day his Scoutmaster was a former special forces soldier who made his Scouts into manly men who could stand up to campsite pranks (which I took to mean things like initiations) and “take a whiz off the side of a cliff.” News alert: That’s not the way Scouting or polite society works these days. And that’s not just because we have female adult leaders and soon will have more female youth members. But, again, boys and girls will be separate at the Boy Scout level. (While we’re at it, if the good old days were so good, why don’t we still have separate camps for African American troops?)
- We’ve already figured out facilities. Some argue that bathrooms and showers are a barrier. I would argue that we’ve already largely solved that problem. For example, when the Philmont Training Center rebuilt its showerhouses a few years ago, it opted for single-user unisex facilities, which I’ve also seen in other camps. Of course, Philmont’s backcountry latrines often have no walls at all, but that hasn’t stopped co-ed crews (or all-male crews with female Rangers) from enjoying the backcountry for years. And camps across the country have made accommodations for female leaders and Cub Scout family members.
- Good people made this decision. Many critics have claimed that this decision was made by “suits” at the national office who are either out of touch or are only trying to pad membership numbers or feather their own nests. The truth, of course, is that the decision, which was unanimous, was made by the National Executive Board. I reviewed the board roster this week in the BSA’s 2016 Annual Report (click the second red link at the bottom of the page) and found the names of several Scouters I either know personally or by reputation. Those people would not make a rash decision or one they felt went against the best interests of Scouting. And it’s important to remember that many of the “suits” people like to disparage are Eagle Scouts, Scouting parents, and/or current or former Scouting volunteers.
- Our young men need to learn the right way to treat women. There have been plenty of headlines recently about shocking treatment of women, most recently by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. (Speaking of not living in the 1950s any more!) Where will our Scouts learn better attitudes? Here’s what a female Venturing Advisor told me several years ago in an interview: “The boys were in their tent and were talking. It’s amazing how they think that one micron of nylon can prevent you from hearing. They were talking about girls in a way that we don’t often get to hear them talking. For me as a woman, it was pretty hair-raising—this sexual objectification of women I was hearing. I thought, ‘They need an experience with girls where girls are their friends and their comrades, where they can work alongside each other and learn about each other as people. What I’ve observed is that that’s actually what happened. [Venturing] promotes friendship as opposed to dating. It’s hard to be romantic about someone you’ve hiked 20 miles with and is covered with dirt. They really isn’t a whole lot of intra-crew dating and romance. I won’t say there’s never been any, but it’s far, far less than you might imagine.”
So those are my top seven reasons for supporting the BSA’s recent decision. I’m sure I’ll think of a few more as soon as I hit publish. I’m also sure some of you can think of reasons to oppose it. Feel free to post your comments below. Just remember that a Scout is courteous.
Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.