Seven Thoughts on Girls in Scouting

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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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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17 thoughts on “Seven Thoughts on Girls in Scouting

  1. Gene ORourke

    I concur. I used my Scoutmaster’s Minute last night to tell my boys about the decision. I also told them I think it’s awesome, for one simple reason… my almost-Eagle son has a twin sister. Even though she didn’t have a uniform, she participated in many of our Cub Scout activities. Had she been able to continue into Boy Scouts, she would have learned all the same lessons of teamwork and leadership as the boys. Both of them would have learned to work side-by-side with the opposite gender, in a way that just doesn’t happen in most other youth activities. My daughter would have been a great Scout, and I’m confident she would have earned Eagle right next to her brother.

  2. As a long-time Boy Scout and Venturing leader, I concur with the decision. My major concern with it is logistical. At the Cub level, a Pack may be all-boy, all-girl or co-ed (with boys and girls in separate Dens). The decision is up to the Chartering Organization. Makes sense…let that decision be local and the parents and children pick the Pack that matches their expectations. From the interpretations of limited information, at the Scout level (11-17 years), the split is at the Troop level. This creates several headaches. First is doubling the number of required adult leaders, which is a big hurdle for a lot of units. Second is reducing the opportunities for exactly what was listed as one of the reasons for allowing girls into the Scouting program. That is, the whole family can participate together in activities. Third is coordination of calendars/events/schedules. If a particular C.O. has a “boy Troop” and a “girl Troop,” do they need separate meetings, outings and events, or will they be de facto co-ed by following the same schedule? I also realize that the details of the Scout-level implementation may well evolve between now and implementation in 2019. I hope that BSA National realizes that the same option should be available for Chartered Organizations and their Scout Troops. All-boy, all-girl or co-ed (with boy Patrols and girl Patrols to eliminate any tenting/accommodation issues).

    We have had female leaders for decades. Exploring has been co-ed since the early 1970s. Venturing has been co-ed from its initiation. STEM Scouts (still a pilot program in selected areas) has been co-ed throughout the age range. The rest of the world, save Saudi Arabia and a handful of other nations, has had co-ed Scouting programs for all ages for decades. It’s about time the BSA caught up.

  3. Robert Ellis

    The woman who was surprised at how boys talk about girls must have been living in a padded room all her life. Being “friends” with boys all the time is unrealistic, where does she think families come from, the buddy system?

  4. Al Corchuelo

    Good reasons and responses, BUT I don’t read anywhere about reforming the Girl Scouts in any way to make it a more attractive organization, since I’ve only heard negatives about it. Why do the Boy Scouts need to allow girls? It’s not BOY Scouts anymore otherwise. If we’re going to allow girls into BOY Scouts, let’s just do away with with Girl Scouts altogether and change Boy Scouts to just Scouts.

    Al Corchuelo
    Eagle Scout

      • Al Corchuelo

        I’m very well aware of that. Why doesn’t anyone address the Girls Scouts directly? Why don’t girls want to join the Girls Scouts? Why not make them a better organization? Why change the Boy Scouts to appease girls? It seems like the spotlight should be put on the Girl Scouts and reform them from within. The Boy Scouts already admit girls (Venture Scouts). No need to completely reform ALL of the Boy Scouts.

      • Laura Warrick

        I think that the Girl Scouts are happy with the organization they’ve created. I’ve had two girls in GS. One earned a Bronze and the other a Silver Award. They liked earning badges, and their GS troops learned to camp and gain an appreciation for the outdoors. But, for the most part, the materials and philosophies are now overtly feminist. The materials my youngest girl used before she transitioned to Venturing, focused primarily on social issues rather than earning cool badges. When we joined the troop we were told that if we didn’t want to acknowledge God in the oath/pledge that that was o.k., we didn’t have to. (Hoping the later isn’t the next thing to go–especially since BSA fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the right) Again, these were the values that were put forward by GS National and there will always be plenty of girls and women who desire that kind of organization. I don’t think that BSA is trying to appease women in this decision.
        Mark Ray’s point #1 is particularly accurate, BSA already has female participation, and they are just coming up with ways of making it official.

  5. Cyndi

    Bravo! What I find a disservice to women everywhere is the “I’m giving back my eagle. If girls can earn eagle it cheapens the rank.”
    How? If you have to do these specific things to earn the rank how does a girl achieving said rank hurt? I think it’s awesome scouting is going to be open to both sexes. The program is wonderful and what an honor to be able to expose youth to good morals and a strong character. For me anytime you have a child that wants to do something good, productive, and to be of service instead of playing video games all day should be a good thing. It seems like most people would be rejoicing over such events. Only in America will you have people complain because someone is trying to grow as a person.

  6. “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. ” AMEN! I agree with every point you make. If anything this decision is educating people as to how BSA is actually organized and that GS is not a female version of the same.

  7. John McKinnon

    Your commentary & thoughts will contribute significantly to my digesting & forming my own conclusions on this BSA decision. As Eagle Scout, father of 3 Eagle Scouts, former Scoutmaster, past Council President, Executive Board Member, I have resisted temptation for response based solely on high emotions, that we all have… I feel personally, that reflection & the time needed for reasoned reflection is what is called for now…. YIS, John

  8. Toni

    Um, I’m interested in knowing anything on the very new beginners, Tiger Scouts. My grandson is joining and my daughter and I were Brownies and Girl Scouts a long time ago… just a little info… TY

  9. Deena Havens

    Many years ago, our son Shawn participated in the World Scouting Jamboree in Australia. He was amazed that the USA was the only non-coed troop in the entire Jamboree. Didn’t seem to hurt anything then, certainly will only make things better now.
    .

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