In recent years there have been a fair amount of reasons for Eagle Scouts to make their opinions known regarding institutional changes in the Boy Scouts of America. From hiding assault cases, to not allowing homosexual members, the organization has a troubled history. Luckily that troubled history has included a great deal of growth. The organization that my grandfather earned his Eagle rank in shortly after the end of World War 2, was far different than the organization when my father and uncle earned their Eagle ranks, and in 2009 when I earned my Eagle, the organization had changed further, with better assault reporting and training. Now we welcome another major change, the inclusion of girls.
I remember when I first heard the concept of a mixed gender troop. I was 13 or so and had some friends return from the World Scout Jamboree in London that year. They talked of trading patches and all the different uniforms from different countries. One fact was painfully obvious when the American troops first arrived, and was the highlight of our conversation when they returned home: America is one of the only programs to segregate based on gender. My friends talked of girls being seen in all the different events and activities, and every campsite besides their own. I will note that they mentioned some groups of scouters kissing in the camp, a concept that was very intriguing to a crowd of virgin middle school boys camping in a world functionally free of women.
I think that is what many people think is what the Boy Scouts of America providing, an escape from the effeminate, a way to bond with other boys to build masculine traits to create the next generation of masculine, christian, heterosexual, citizens and leaders. Scouting is seen by many as a cultivated collection of character building experiences that together create a well educated young person. To this point I can agree. I do not want the Boy Scouts to be so heternormative though. It should work to create quality citizens and strong leaders
Giving Women the same Opportunities for Merit given to men
If I’m being honest I don’t think this conversation needs to go beyond this fact: That girls should be given the same opportunities for merit that are allowed boys, and the same ability to join an incredible camping program to enjoy the outdoors. The Boy Scouts of America has a long history of working with government institutions, and the rank of Eagle is seen as an incredible achievement for a young person. Once you’ve earned the rank your mailbox is filled with congratulations from senators and congressmen, college scholarship opportunities and military academy applications. The rank of Eagle Scout grants new recruits a meritorious promotion to an E-2, a Private First Class in the Marine Corps. This places you above your peers, and grants you higher pay. While this is the same for the Gold Award, the highest rank in the Girl Scouts, it far less cultural weight behind it as a marker of merit and honor. Eagle Scout is very clearly a marker of hard work and personal achievement, such that it holds a permanent position on my resume, and I keep the membership card in my wallet. I am a third generation Eagle Scout, with my father, uncle, and grandfather also earning the award when they were young. My grandfather and father also served as scoutmasters, something I can’t wait to do with my kids, whether they be sons or daughters. Here is a list of notable scouters throughout the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Scouts While by no means exhaustive, it shows how important these awards can be to set people on the road to success.
Creating an Equitable, Co-Ed Space for Young Learning
I went from earning my Eagle Scout rank in 2009 to join the United States Marine Corps in 2010. Bootcamp was an experience much like what I had seen in Boy Scouts. My platoon of some 80 recruits was entirely male. This allowed for communal showers, and 3 men to a single urinal to expedite bathroom activities and maximize training. After finishing Bootcamp in San Diego it was off to Combat Training in Camp Pendleton. I was moved to a different unit, but it was still entirely made up of, and led by, men. I remember a few female instructors during that time that confused us. We learned that combat training on the East Coast was co-ed and were confused further. We knew there were plenty of women serving in the fleet, but so far training had been almost completely devoid of them. Women were this mystical unicorn that didn’t belong in the world of combat and exercise, except they did belong, just not on the West Coast, just like how women are fully integrated in scouting programs, just not in America.
“But while integrating scouts of all genders under a single organization is controversial in the United States, it’s widely accepted elsewhere. Of the 169 countries with scout groups governed by the World Organization of the Scout Movement—which includes the Boy Scouts of America—just 13 prohibit girls from joining, including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, Barbados, and Papua New Guinea. (Girl Scouts of the USA is part of a different organization, The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which counts 10 million girls and young women in 150 countries.)” – Backpacker Magazinehttps://www.backpacker.com/stories/the-trouble-with-girls-in-boy-scouts
The experience of training reminded me of longer camping trips and summer camps I went on in Boy Scouts. Women were novelties during such adventures. There was always at least one girl working the convenience store at summer camp, or one backpacking crew with a few girls or moms hiking with them. With these disproportionate numbers, these women got large amounts of attention, primarily in the form of ogling from a distance by prepubescent boys, who are far too used to a single-gendered community to actually say hello. I remember going days without seeing any girls while backpacking. When one did present herself, maybe one hundred yards away down a trail, maybe across a river or gorge, my teen male brain lit up like a firework. Removed from a context that included them, women became a fixation, a talking point, an “other.” This false dichotomy is easily solved with inclusion.
The idea of a male only space where men can be themselves, free of the shackles of female oppression, be it demands of cleanliness, or general sensitivity to become a higher form of man is ridiculous. There are so many pernicious narratives this perpetuates it’s hard to count; that women stifle male expression, that women are incapable of male levels of exercise or enjoyment of nature, that only men can be military-style leaders, or that the co-ed business practices found in such organizations as the Campfire Scouts or a church camp are only a recipe for preteen sexual deviance. If the concerns raised are that the current “boys club” of the Boy Scouts would amount to a world of female harassment or oppression to any prospective girls who wish to join, I think they are very valid, but I don’t think the solution is to maintain segregation. Ending a segregated system always includes harassment and non-compliance, followed by acceptance and healthy cultural change. The military was able to fully integrate women after many years of work, and that inclusion has allowed millions to serve their country.
Looking back, I think my own childhood could have benefited greatly from a repeal of this sort of gendered segregation. Boy Scouts was a boys club, because only boys were allowed. The organization was hyper masculine because it lacked female voices, or the only female voices were those of concerned mothers. Again this mimics the Marine Corps with constant flak thrown to the “Mothers of America” some organization hoping to remove the Marine Corps’ tough roots and make it a group of caring weenies. The way to fix this, and it absolutely is something that needs to be fixed, is to include those voices, let those girls join and change the dynamic of these troops. If given the choice between a segregated troop and a co-ed one for my son, I would ask myself what sort of world I want to prepare him for, one with women or one without women. If I want him to be a healthy functional adult in the context of women, I should make sure there are women present as he practices, and a great deal of his practice will happen surrounded by his peers on a camping trip.
Since I do come from the Marine Corps, I’ve done a fair amount of reading about the Marine Corps’ experiments with co-ed units and their efficacy in combat situations. I find this research fascinating, but not particularly relevant to this discussion. If you would like to read further about women serving in the military, here is a relevant wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_military The Boy Scouts is not a combat situation, and the goals of the scouting project are not to kill or conquer, but to turn children into young adults who are “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Such a project cannot be accomplished in isolation, or segregation. If young boys learn how to negotiate and work with other young boys, that is great, but if young boys learn to negotiate and work with anyone, regardless of gender or race, they are far more able to function in a greater society. The skills I learned in leading other boys, while helpful, did not fully prepare me for the world of actual work, instead, it gave me a lot of false impressions about the nature of a workplace, and absolutely no skills in interacting with women in a leadership context. I feel the Boy Scouts is robbing a lot of well intentioned young men of the ability to handle themselves in a mixed gender context. In the age of the #Metoo movement it makes little sense to me to segregate our boys from their sisters and female friends to make them “men” only to throw them back among women and expect them to act differently then they did in a male-only context. If the goal of the Boy Scouts is to prepare boys for life, why has the Boy Scouts made their program so different from how life works?
If the project of the Boy Scouts is to make young men in to quality members of society, why does the Boy Scouts function like a monastic clergy, removing themselves from society to create a male only club? The project of a monastery is to disconnect from society, and to instead connect with God. That is not the project of the Boy Scouts, nor is a separation from women necessary or helpful in the prospect of fully experiencing nature.
The difference between mothers and daughters
My father’s biggest complaint about the inclusion of women was always about moms. My father believes that separation from mothers is an important part of developing personal autonomy and self reliance. The problem is that the current discussion is about allowing young girls to join troops, not allow mothers to be leaders within troops. Women have already had those rights within the Boy Scouts (https://www.scouting.org/discover/faq/question14/). So my father’s problem with women’s inclusion was one on the books the whole time I was in the organization, and has nothing to do with youth inclusion. The problem of parental separation is something separate to this discussion, though important for the development of a healthy adult with healthy relational attachments. A father is just as capable of helicopter parenting and thus negating the positive socialization that the Boy Scouts is intending to cultivate. I saw both in my troop. I also saw boys cry from missing both parents, I did myself, and see that crying as a very very important part of the scouting experience and becoming an adult. I hope parents realize how important it is for their scouts to do activities separate from them, and how the organization helps to build resilient individuals through this sort of work. The tools given to me in the Boy Scouts translated very well to my time in the Marine Corps, an even greater separation from my mother, but not at all a separation from women.
The Girls Scouts of America seems to be one of the harshest critics of the new inclusion, which makes a sad amount of sense. From a business perspective (which shouldn’t factor into this discussion since these are ancient organizations, non-profits, and they exist alongside government with millions of hours of volunteer service every year and clear pipelines to civil and military service. They are not profit motivated and should be a-political.) this makes a great deal of sense. I would love to see the two programs become one, but I’m not sure the direction of the Girl Scouts over the last few decades would allow that transition to happen easily. I believe in a single unified scouting program for America. I would love for The BSA to drop the B and just become Scouters of America or something along those lines.
The BSA also has two programs that have already included women for quite a few years. Both the Venturing and Explorer programs have allowed girls to join, but these programs start later than typical boy scouts, after graduating from middle school. These programs sound wonderful, but don’t have nearly the support and reach as The Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts so finding a club can be a real challenge. The venture crew that had partnered with my scout troop had unfortunately dissolved by the time I was old enough to join, so our troop increased the frequency of our high-adventure camping trips. We filled the whole left by the venture crew, but only for boys. I would love to see this philosophy carry over to the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, allowing younger girls into these incredible programs.
So this Eagle Scout is very happy about this change to end segregation in the Boy Scouts of America and allow girls to join. I am excited for a world where my sons can learn how to be great citizens, leaders, and adults alongside girls, and I’m excited for my daughters to be allowed to join in the tradition that my family has had for three generations. This change is a powerful step in the direction of progress. I’ve never been more proud of my award and what it stands for.