Since its founding in February of 1910, the Boy Scouts of America has built upon the premise of preparing young men for the responsibilities and leadership needed for the real world. Now, nearly 107 years after its inception, girls are being granted acceptance into the Boy Scouts. While some are up in arms about the recent decision—reasoning that it distracts from the troops’ mission to lay the groundwork for the traditional, codified understanding of masculinity—it was made out of practicality and, dare I say it, the premise of gender equality.
The Boy Scouts of America claim that the change is partly because it will lessen parents’ burden if they can take multiple children to the same activity. The Girl Scouts of America responded that the decision works as an attempt to combat declining membership in Boy Scouts, an issue that affects both organizations.
Though I commend the scouts for opening the proverbial door for their female counterparts’, it takes participants away from the Girl Scouts. And what about the boys who are more interested in participating in the Girl Scouts; where is the reverse exchange? Creating a double standard, in which girls can take part in both but boys cannot, both devalues the work of the Girl Scouts and boxes in boys who would prefer to participate in the Girls Scouts. By proclaiming themselves as universal, the Boy Scouts place its mission above that of the Girl Scouts. Though allowing girls into the Boy Scouts bears traces of equality jargon, it also presents an unequal exchange, degrading the values taught in the Girl Scouts.
However, the different learning experience of each organization suggests that nixing gender as an acceptance stipulation does not wholly take away from the Girl Scouts, thus claiming more genuine strides for equality. On paper, similarities between scout organizations are striking. With achievement as the basis for each organization, all troops emphasize leadership, character development, and citizenship; scout members engage in activities such as volunteering, hiking, and fundraising. What, then, are their core differences?
The badges that members receive for barriers crossed and achievements managed hint at subtle but distinct priorities. Girl Scout awards are focused on group or community projects while Boy Scout achievements are more individualistic; most concentrate on outdoor activities or goals in the STEM field. There is no logical reason for these activities to be gender-specific but for the gender roles so engrained in American society.
Some argue that the distinct gender roles dividing the Girl and Boy Scouts are put in place to create a safe and intellectually stimulating environment for individuals to learn and grow, playing off the theory that children learn better in single-sex settings. While this has some merit, it mostly holds true for young girls learning STEM skills. Because the scouting organizations teach outside of the classroom environment, these single-sex learning environments have not proven more or less successful for its participants.
The biggest criticism that the Boy Scouts has received after its decision to rid the gender requirement is that accepting girls challenges the long-revered history of the organization. When the groups were first founded—both within two years of one another—women did not have the right to vote. Upon its founding, the Girl Scouts was a pioneered community of women learning leadership skills that, to this day, are overshadowed by that of men. It was a haven for educating young girls about moral, ethical, and leadership skills. Fostering that space for women was paramount to the fledgling feminist movement of the early twentieth century.
Not accepting girls into the Boy Scouts instills the dangerous belief that girls and boys are suited to serve and lead in different capacities. Children of any gender identification should be afforded the opportunity to try their hand at both mediums of leadership. Therefore, the next move should be opening up the Girl Scouts to boys.
In Europe, scout troops aren’t segregated by gender; instead they allow people to self-select according to their actual interests. American scouting organizations could stand to emulate a division based on community service, like that of the Girl Scouts, and outdoor survival skills, like that of the Boy Scouts. Instead of gender-coding skills based on an arbitrary history where women had little to no say, we can progress by valuing different skills for what they contribute to the greater community.