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Boy Scouts To Admit Girls

Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts won’t just be for boys anymore thanks to an announcement yesterday from the Boy Scouts of America:

The Boy Scouts of America announced plans on Wednesday to broadly accept girls, marking a historic shift for the century-old organization and setting off a debate about where girls better learn how to be leaders.

The Boy Scouts, which has seen dwindling membership numbers in recent decades, said that its programs could nurture girls as well as boys, and that the switch would make life easier for busy parents, who might prefer to shuttle children to a single organization regardless of gender.

“I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization,” said Randall Stephenson, the group’s national board chairman. “It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls.”

The decision was celebrated by many women, but criticized by the Girl Scouts, which said that girls flourish in all-female groups.

“We’ve had 105 years of supporting girls and a girl-only safe space,” said Lisa Margosian, chief customer officer for the Girl Scouts, who added that the organization felt “blindsided” by the announcement. “So much of a girl’s life is a life where she is in a coed environment, and we have so much research and data that suggests that girls really thrive in an environment where they can experiment, take risk and stretch themselves in the company of other girls.”

For families involved in scouting, the announcement led to a scramble of questioning phone calls and frantic Facebook discussions as parents and scout leaders wrestled with tentative plans for the transition. Next year, girls will be allowed into the Cub Scouts program, which had been limited to young boys. A program for older girls is expected to be available in 2019, giving them a path to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.

The Boy Scouts has offered girls limited access to some programs before, but it has never before welcomed them into its core Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs. And the introduction of girls still does not mean that Boy Scouts’ gatherings will necessarily include both genders. The smallest groups of Cub Scouts will continue to be single sex.

Michael Ver Duin, a third-generation Eagle Scout and troop leader in Grand Haven, Mich., said he was “super excited” for the change — an opportunity, in his view, for girls to have the same choices as boys.

“The closest I’ve had to a negative comment is ‘I know there will be some who do not welcome this,’ ” he said. “The two biggest things I see as a challenge to explain to parents are, ‘What kind of problems are you going to have if you had boys and girls on the same camping outing?’ and ‘Do boys need time to be boys and girls need time to be girls?’ ”

Others were deeply skeptical. Joseph Carballo, 70, has been with the Boy Scouts for 30 years, most of that time as a scoutmaster of Troop 65, in the Bronx. His two sons, both Eagle Scouts and now in their 30s and 40s, have been with the organization since the 1990s. “And we all have the same view: no girls,” he said.

“Boys and girls should have separate organizations for activities,” Mr. Carballo explained, as his troops entered the cafeteria of St. Helena’s Church for their Wednesday night meeting. “There is an organization for girls. It’s called the Girl Scouts.” (His granddaughter, he pointed out, is a member.)

For the Boy Scouts, the change is also a chance to boost its sagging membership. The group says it has 2.3 million members between the ages of 7 and 21 and nearly a million volunteers throughout the United States and its territories. At its peak in the 1970s, the organization, incorporated in 1910, was closer to five million members.

(…)

In April, the Boy Scouts began exploring the possibility of opening more widely to girls after receiving inquiries from its members, a spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts, Effie Delimarkos, said. She said the group collected input from families over the summer and, on Wednesday, its directors unanimously voted to allow the expansion.

For some parents, the announcement came as an answer to longstanding complaints that offerings by the Girl Scouts were lacking, particularly for girls with less traditionally feminine interests.

“The problem with the Girl Scout curriculum is that it’s very focused on who your leader is for your particular troop,” said Rebecca Szetela, a mother of four from Canton, Mich. “If you have a mom who’s really into crafts and girlie stuff and being a princess, then that’s what your Girl Scout troop is going to be like. If you have a daughter who’s more rough and tumble, it’s not going to be a good fit.”

Some girls, like Ella Jacobs, 12, of Sebastopol, Calif., have long argued for the chance to be allowed into the Boy Scouts.

“My point has always been that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Girl Scouts, but they weren’t the right fit for our family,” said her mother, Danelle Jacobs, a lawyer. “Girls should have the choice.”

Brian Seeton, a scoutmaster in Canton, Ohio, predicted that the acceptance of girls would play out much like the acceptance of gay Scouts and leaders. “Parents and kids didn’t care one way or the other,” he said. “It’ll only be an issue for the first couple of years and then it’ll carry on as it always was.”

Bryan Spellman, a scoutmaster in Fishers, Ind., pointed out that there already were girls in some scouting programs, and that while the announcement was somewhat sudden, it would ultimately work out.

“Honestly, I don’t mind it at all,” Mr. Spellman said. “I think Scouting is one of the greatest youth organizations that we have in this nation. And if that’s something that can be shared with all sexes, it can be fantastic.”

This latest announcement is the first in a series of changes that the Boy Scouts of America have made in recent years that have changed many of the rather conservative members rules that used to predominate in the organization, many of which became the subject of criticism and even lawsuits, including one that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That case, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale dealt with the organization’s ban on openly gay Scoutmasters and members and led to a 5-4 ruling by the Court in favor of the BSA which held that its freedom of association as a private organization overrode a New Jersey state law barring discrimination on public accommodation. In some cases, this led to the BSA losing sponsorship from organizations that objected to its policy, but for the most part, it seemed to have little impact on the organization. Over time, though, as public sentiment regarding homosexuality began to change, so did the Boy Scouts. In 2013, the organization announced an end to the ban on openly gay young men being allowed to become Scouts, a decision that led many to question the fact that the ban on openly gay Scoutmasters and other leaders would continue. Two years later, after the head of the BSA called on the organization to rethink its policy on leaders, the ban on openly gay Scout leaders was also lifted. Finally, earlier this year the organization announced that it would allow transgender children who identify as male to join the organization.

It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that there are going to be unisex troops, or that boys and girls will be forced to be involved in the same organization or do activities like camping together. At least for now, there would be separate Cub Scout packs for boys and girls that would apparently engage in their own activities, although there will likely be some coordination and interaction between members at some level. It’s also worth noting that there are already some BSA programs that allow girls to participate, what this decision does is open up the scouting experience to girls at all age levels, and even leaves open the option that female members could eventually achieve the coveted Eagle Scout rank if they meet all the criteria that are part of achieving that goal. Additionally, the decision about how to organize the packs and troops that girls would be admitted to would largely be left to the local organizations to deal with as needed. The only thing the decision national level does is allow them to accommodate the wishes of young girls who prefer the more hands-on experience of Boy Scouts to the kind of activities generally engaged in by Girl Scouts.

Not surprisingly, this decision has not come without some controversy. On the one side, the BSA is once again being criticized by many of the same conservative organizations that criticized its previous decisions on openly gay and transgender members and leaders. On the other side, there are the Girl Scouts of America, who seem to be objecting to the fact that they will now be facing competition for the attention of young girls looking for an organization to join. As to the GSA’s criticism, the best response one can think of there is that perhaps the organization needs to rethink its focus and become more open to less gender-specific activities if it doesn’t want to lose potential members to the Boy Scouts. Alternatively, they could simply accept the fact that the two organizations offer different programs for girls and that this just means there will be more choice going forward. As to the criticism of conservatives, the response is two-fold. First, there’s the fact that none of the previous changes the BSA has announced has had anything near the negative impact they feared it would and there’s no reason to believe that this one will either. Second, if they don’t wish their sons to be involved in scouting then there’s no requirement that they have to. In any case, as I noted, this decision isn’t going to lead to unisex scouting, at least not for now, and if the organization thinks its a good idea then they ought to be permitted to go forward.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Lit3Bolt says:

    If you’re scared of high achieving women, or the “Boy” tag is sacred to you…

    you’re probably a snowflake.

    Good on the Scouts. It’s past time that these organizations merge and collaborate fully.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. KM says:

    Frankly, I’ve never understood why they needed to be two separate units. I understand there are some differences beyond the whole gender thing but it makes sense to have these two more closely intertwined. Girls Scouts cookies sell way more then Boy Scouts…. you know, I’m not even sure and that indicative in and of itself. The BSA has more name recognition and gravitas with certain groups so they bring to the table brand name recognition. together the two could do wonders.

    Have them specialize if you need to make a distinction. One group can do more outdoors stuff – which isn’t really useful to city folk in general – and the other can focus on propping up good civilian skills like economics, civics, household repairs, electronic and basic life skills. In other words, one group for those who joined to go camping or adventure and the other for those who joined to learn valuable skills. Overlap can and should occur so membership in both would be ideal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  3. DrDaveT says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    If you’re scared of high achieving women […]

    Strawman much?

    If you’re scared of high-achieving women, then by all means make sure that girls with potential are never free of the suppression of their potential, both subtly and not-so-subtly, by the males around them. That should help make sure we don’t have so many of those scary high-achieving women to deal with.

    @KM:

    Have them specialize if you need to make a distinction.

    Wow, gender stereotypes much? Seriously?

    It’s not about preferences or interests; it’s about how men treat women, and how this affects how women develop.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  4. Franklin says:

    I never participated in either BSA or GSA, but had assumed they were basically separate branches of the same organization (or at least were more cooperative in their planning).

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  5. Tony W says:

    @DrDaveT: The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are all about gender stereotyping.

    Judging from mine and my kids’ firsthand experiences, Boy Scouts camp in the woods and learn pioneering, map-and-compass, first aid and survival skills. Girl Scouts make sit-upons and other craft projects and sell cookies.

    Allowing girls into the paramilitary wing of Scouting will help bridge that gap, but there will be significant pushback from the 2 Timothy, Titus II biblical types who think things are great just as they are today.

    @Lit3bolt’s comments apply, by the way, to many areas where boys and girls are split up. There’s no reason to have separate gender divisions for many sports – other than the fact that in much of that same segment of society boys don’t like losing to girls. Men’s vs. Women’s Bowling is simply not necessary.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  6. Lit3Bolt says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I want to believe you’re being deliberately dense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Tony W:

    Men’s vs. Women’s Bowling is simply not necessary.

    In the 2017 season, the best professional women’s bowler was Jenny Wegner, who averaged 218.89 points a game.

    If she had been playing in the men’s league, she would have been in 32nd place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. t says:

    @Tony W:

    Judging from mine and my kids’ firsthand experiences, Boy Scouts camp in the woods and learn pioneering, map-and-compass, first aid and survival skills.

    then you should find another troop tbh.

    like you… i was not a big fan of the troop i was in because of the religious connections (our meetings were in a building on the same grounds as a catholic church) but at least there was a strong focus on community relations and service.. things like food drives and volunteering your time for those in need were just as important as hiking, camping and getting outdoors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. KM says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Wow, gender stereotypes much? Seriously?

    Uh, no. I deliberately segregated the groups into those who wanted the sporty activities and those who wanted to learn something skill-based. One is “adventures”-based experiences and the other is a learning session.

    Interesting how you saw it as gendered though. I pointed out that the skill group would included household repairs – did you think that meant sewing?? I’m talking about things like basic carpentry, caulking, sealing…. you know, the things people pay a fortune for they can do themselves easily. How about civics? Know your voting rights, understand the Constitution as written not what talking heads state it is, learn the basis of taxation and healthcare so you realize when the gov is screwing you…. this is gendered?

    I get it – Girl Scouts sew and Boy Scouts camp. Blah blah blah. Truth is, maybe some girls want to camp for the fun of it and some want to learn to sew so they don’t waste money on having off the rack pants altered every damn time. Maybe some boys aren’t interested in learning how to make a slip knot but really need to know how to make a stew and others just wanna make a tire swing. It’s OK – we should be encouraging both. That’s why I said if they team up one can focus on one thing they are best at. Why do you assume the BSA would be the camping one anyways?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  10. DrDaveT says:

    @Tony W:

    Judging from mine and my kids’ firsthand experiences, Boy Scouts camp in the woods and learn pioneering, map-and-compass, first aid and survival skills. Girl Scouts make sit-upons and other craft projects and sell cookies.

    That is clearly a bad thing. There are several possible approaches to a solution. One would be to fix the Girl Scouts to be more about Scouting and less about girlishness. A second would be a new organization for girls that provides an alternative that is more like what the Boy Scouts do. A third would be to attempt to expand the Boy Scouts to include girls without either damaging the product for boys or creating yet another environment in which girls get second-class treatment.

    It is not at all clear to me that the third option is the most likely to succeed in helping girls become “high-achieving women”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. KM says:

    @Stormy Dragon :

    I’m unsure of your point. We shouldn’t have mixed sports because women wouldn’t be the best?The best of the group is the best, period. Athletes strive to win by excelling. You can’t excel as a big fish in a small pond. Being 32nd is nothing to sneeze at in a tournament of over 500 – Jenny Wegner would have done just fine.

    When I fence, I have the option of mixed or women’s only. I always take mixed because I want to do the best I can against ALL opponents, not just those “like me”. Sure I could have a better ranking if I did all female tournaments but what’s the point? I fence more men then women so who cares if I’m the best against less then half of my team.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  12. Gustopher says:

    They may need to work on their name a bit, if they’re not just boys anymore. Do they let atheists in yet?

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  13. george says:

    @KM:

    I tend to agree with that. For some sports.

    However, in some sports I’ve been involved in women tend to be adamantly against mixing men and women’s division – the resistance is far stronger from women than from men. I’m thinking of judo and track and field here. This is now coming up even wrt transgender athletes – its mainly high level competitive women who are against competing with men who’ve transitioned to women, competitive men don’t care in the slightest if a woman transitions into a man and competes against men.

    A top level woman is going to beat a lower level man in both of those, but the chances of a woman making it to Olympic (or even national level) against men is slim. For instance, the world’s record in 100 m sprint for women is 10.58 seconds, a mark untouched for 30 years. Its also a time regularly beaten by high school boys. And in fact, the qualifying time for men for the 100 m sprint is 10.16 seconds, so no woman would even qualify.

    The reason for separating men and women isn’t because of boys/girls sports (before puberty there’s no difference) or recreational adult sport (its all just for fun anyway), but because not doing so makes it all but impossible for women to compete at the highest levels.

    Personally I’m glad they have separate divisions for men and women in judo, because having women in the club definitely adds something valuable, and almost none would remain (as they say themselves) if they had to compete against men.

    But I don’t see how that applies to boy scouts and girl guides – its not a competition. They should be combined.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  14. Tyrell says:

    @Lit3Bolt: Why is it still called “BSA”: Boy Scouts of America”?
    Is it now wrong to have any activity, organization, or association separate by gender?
    I can see that some girls want a more intensive camping experience. Why don’ t the Girl Scouts offer that kind of opportunity?
    The BSA has been losing members for some time. I am not sure it is because they won’t admit girls. Maybe it is because they have abandoned their original beliefs and standards? In other words, they used to stand for something. A lot of churches around here used to have BSA troops. They have now moved to other organizations that are more like the BSA used to be. There is a message there somewhere.

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  15. Franklin says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Do the same number of males and females take up bowling? And are they all equally trained? Somehow I doubt it.

    That doesn’t mean I think they will necessarily be equal, it’s just that I don’t know how much of the gap would be closed if bowling attracted the same interest from both genders. In other words, I’m doubting if Jenny Wegner is truly the best possible female bowler.

    I’m a runner. The difference between the men’s and women’s marathon record is about 12 1/2 minutes (about 10% slower). Let’s pretend for a moment that that’s an accurate portrayal of the difference in peak performance, and it may in fact be reasonably close for that running distance.

    Now look at the qualification times for the Boston Marathon: women get 30 more minutes to qualify at every age group (for the younger age groups, that’s about 16% slower), even though they’re theoretically only about 10% slower! Why? I’m guessing it’s because the Boston organizers want roughly equal numbers, but there just aren’t that many women who run marathons so they have to allow a wider range in. It’s a question of interest in the sport (and possibly the acceptance of society allowing them the time to train for it).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  16. JKB says:

    This is a change for America, but not for scouting as a whole. Scouting in many other countries has been co-educational for decades. The traditional Baden-Powell Scouts’ Association, named after the founder of scouting, has been co-educational since 1970. So, it seems most problems can be sorted out.

    The Girl Scouts of America seem to have lost much of the original purpose of the Girl Guides and been degraded into a more traditional female community organization.

    Next up, going after the Boy Scouts, weird how they don’t include the Girl Scouts, for being founded with militaristic emphasis and largely being inspired by the example demonstrated by cadets acting as runners and messengers to relieve soldiers for fighting duty while being besieged during the Boer War.

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  17. DrDaveT says:

    @KM:

    Interesting how you saw it as gendered though.

    It’s a fair cop. I confess to having read “household management” (or something similar) where you wrote “household repairs”. My bad (and my apologies) for seeing what I was expecting instead of what you wrote.

    Part of my problem here is that an organization of the latter kind, though possibly quite valuable for some kids, is (to me) nothing much like Scouting. It’s like that line from Pride and Prejudice about how she would prefer balls to focus on conversation, rather than dancing.

    I get it – Girl Scouts sew and Boy Scouts camp.

    I hope not, though that seems to be what @Tony W says has happened. In fact, I learned invaluable sewing (and cooking, and cleaning) skills as a Boy Scout. Anyone who thinks sewing isn’t a survival skill hasn’t done much pioneering.

    I think we’re on the same side here, in wanting kids of all genders to have an opportunity to learn and enjoy traditional Scouting skills — the whole range, from wilderness survival to pioneering to sewing to citizenship in the community / nation / world. It’s an open question for me whether that could best be accomplished through integration of the (apparently) only remaining forum for that gamut of skills, or through establishment of a forum where girls could pursue that entire gamut without having to simultaneously overcome implicit sexism.

    For the other skills that are not traditional Scouting foci, by all means let there be organizations to foster and teach those things for the kids who want them. The open question there is whether the Scouting organizations should try to expand to encompass them, or whether some separate organization(s) would do a better job.

    I will confess to being unmoved by the argument based on parents’ convenience. When I was a kid [insert meandering grumpy old man speech here].

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Mister Bluster says:

    Way back in the 1950’s when I was in grade school I joined the Cub Scouts. The neighborhood group I belonged to was supervised by our Den Mother. Obviously there have been women in the organization for at least 60 years.
    Later I advanced to the Boy Scouts.
    We were, to say the least, a crude bunch. Our troop gathered in the local Elk’s(?) lodge after their meetings were over. The tables were still littered with half empty glasses of booze which we snuck into the bathrooms and downed away from the eyes of our Scoutmaster.
    We had our own motto.
    It went like this:
    On my honor I will do my best,
    To help a Girl Scout get undressed!

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  19. KM says:

    @DrDaveT :

    My bad (and my apologies) for seeing what I was expecting instead of what you wrote.

    NP. To be fair, I could have been a little clearer in my examples. Part of communication is the speaker attempting to get their point across clearly – it’s on them if they let ambiguity or poor diction ruin their concept. We’re good. :)

    For the other skills that are not traditional Scouting foci, by all means let there be organizations to foster and teach those things for the kids who want them. The open question there is whether the Scouting organizations should try to expand to encompass them, or whether some separate organization(s) would do a better job.

    On this I’m ambivalent. Part of me want to capitalize on the existing infrastructure instead of starting from scratch. It makes sense to utilize existing networks, skilled individuals and brand recognition then. There are other scouting alternatives (Heritage Girls come to mind) but they just don’t have the same social cache – thus any new group will be doomed from the start as “lib experiment”. In terms of marketing, this is rebranding. Instead of being the BSA, they’d be something like the YCSA (Young Citizens Scouts of America) with two subdivisions of Good Citizens Skills and Adventure & Wilderness Training. Not everyone have the time or money to attend multiple groups so consolidating them is a great way to maximize your Scouting returns.

    On the other hand. I see parents fighting that left and right. Tradition runs deep for many in these groups and they’d rather leave then suffer from changes. What I proposed ain’t happening.

    Anyone who thinks sewing isn’t a survival skill hasn’t done much pioneering.

    Pfft they’re someone who’s never lived on their own for very long or on a shoestring budget. The only people I know who’ve never picked up a needle in their life are either: (A) rich enough to waste a fortune on bespoke or (B) married and traditionalist AF…. and even then, they are a divorce away from needing to learn. My father learned to darn his socks in Vietnam and made damn sure every male in the family knew how too. You never know when you’ll need to make are quick pants repair or even do impromptu stitches. If anyone complained, he pointed out Rambo could do it so why were they being sissy?

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  20. DrDaveT says:

    @KM:

    If anyone complained, he pointed out Rambo could do it so why were they being sissy?

    My wife and I volunteer with Odyssey of the Mind, and one of the things I do is help train coaches. For coaches of all-boy teams who resist learning to sew their own costumes, I recommend that the coach introduce the sewing machine as “a dangerous power tool”, and force the kids to wear safety glasses while using it, just like the table saw. Seems to work, at least sometimes…

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  21. JohnMcC says:

    I really dropped in to read the inevitable lament from Tyrell. Priceless.

    Thought I’d point out that the most important line in the whole (vastly swollen) Original Post is a quote from the Mom of a 12yr old girl saying, “We should have the choice.” I confess to being pretty old but that stopped me in my tracks. Wow. I can’t imagine a previous era in which things like gender that appear to be so fixed and absolute suddenly have gotten soft and squishy. No wonder evangelicals are going nuts.

    Just an observation. Carry on.

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