Girls In the Boy Scouts
written by Dana Miller
We tend to pinpoint certain moments in history, historic legal decisions, infamous protests, or particular elections, and declare that they changed everything, that they were watershed moments for civil rights. For example, when we see images from the suffrage movement or ladies burning bras and reading MS magazine, it might seem reasonable to say there have been a series of events that constitute radical improvements in the lives of women.
However, when we look at the minutiae, the conversations that they were having then, and the ones that we are having now, we see a more distressing picture—that despite changes in the technology we use to have these discussions, they largely seem to be the same. Over thirty years ago, scholar Cheris Kremarae made the statement that “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” While almost banal in its obviousness, it expresses a sentiment that we sadly have yet to achieve as a society.
The recent decision made by the Boy Scouts of America to allow girls into its hallowed ranks represents the most recent and fulsome battlefield for this continuing struggle and was predictably accompanied by a frenzied media circus. Everyone is questioning every aspect of the decision, from the motives and meaning to whether it constitutes the end of the social order. The sheer amount of media attention that the addition of girls into the Boy Scouts has garnered begs several pressing questions about the organization and our society of inequality, these disunited states.
So what do the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) as an organization even stand for today, in 2018, long past its Norman Rockwellian origins? What does acceptance of girls do to the established ideal? Is the ideal even real? Is the impact real? Mike Crouch is the BSA’s official media director and expressed open-minded acceptance of the evolution of the organization into a place that includes girls. He was keen to point out that the BSA’s mission statement and values, as well as its Scout Oath and Scout Law, are good principles for young people of all gender identities to abide by, and that none of these integral facets of the organization are in any way altered by the acceptance of young women.
Crouch also emphasized that the influx of girls into BSA programming is not exactly the new suede shoe it is being billed as, given that the BSA has been somewhat officially including girls since 1971, when it extended female membership to its Explorers program. This was swiftly followed by their admission to the Sea Scouts, Venturing and STEM outlets for girls, all under the BSA mantle.
As of now, the only major addition to these decades-old offerings for girls is that they are now being allowed to join the Cub Scouts. The BSA is set to open the upper ranks of the Boy Scouts to girls in 2019, with February of 2019 being the first opportunity for girls to begin to earn Eagle Scout rank—the highest rank within the organization. The ability to earn the Eagle alone represents an opportunity for girls to earn a rarefied form of power and privilege attainable almost no other way. For reference, of the 181 NASA astronauts that were involved in Scouting, a figure that accounts for 57.4% of all NASA astronauts, 39 were Eagle Scouts.
It is imperative to realize that the BSA has not voted to make its actual groupings of young people co-ed, only its programming. So, despite the doomsday proclamations about integrating the Boy Scouts, what this decision simply means is that young girls will now have access to the same leadership and character-building opportunities as the boys, not that they will be co-mingled in the pursuit of these opportunities.
More than 9100 girls have already enrolled with about 170 early-adopter Cub Scout packs nationwide as of press time. These packs are further divided into “dens,” and it is in these smaller units that scouts do most of their activities together. However, even in these new gender integrated packs, all dens are slated to remain single-gender, as are Scout's BSA groups for older participants when they launch in 2019.
In light of the simplicity of this version of egalitarianism, it says much about the state of the patriarchy that this change could be such adhesive front-page news. The BSA has shown, at least superficially, outward agreement for that “radical notion” that women are people. Should it really be so shocking and upsetting to acknowledge, in the year 2018 no less, that there should be such an obvious parity?
While those who are interrogating these young pioneering girl’s motives portray them as little more than rabble-rousers, looking to upset the delicate balance of one of America’s most storied all-male institutions, in reality, their desire to join ranges from the symbolic to the practical.
Most of these incoming female Boy Scouts report a strong desire to be like their fathers or to follow in the footsteps of their brothers. They cite the importance of being able to earn Eagle rank in order to stand out during the college application process or even just an interest in the Boy Scout’s programming. Most of these girls have spent their childhoods at their brothers’ Boy Scout meetings anyway, completing all the same activities and enjoying all the same fun, but getting none of the usable credit for it. Sadly, unofficial participation and unacknowledged contributions are hallmarks of women’s traditionally reduced status.
Parents pointed out the carpooling realities of multiple siblings and how this nearly always results in younger children being towed to and then sitting through their older siblings’ activities. Being able to have all your kids at one program and streamlining scheduling is an important factor for many early-adopter families. These practical elements are highly overlooked by the media, as both sides seek to paint this as solely an issue of disruption and patriarchal symbolism, when they are just as compelling rationale for the need for gender integration.
Many civil rights arguments have hinged on the impossibility or impracticality of the “separate but equal” mentality. And much of the hullabaloo surrounding the entrée of girls into the Boy Scouts rides on the need to dispel that mentality, and the collective contemporary effort to de-gender spaces that should not have been gendered in the first place.
After all, what besides solipsistic excuses could be offered in support of keeping girls out of any group they wished to be a part of? Scouting organizations, at root, aim to promote a sense of community and a set of universally self-aware and conscientious ideals alongside acquisition of life skills. Nothing about any of this mandates a Y chromosome. To deny a young girl her innate desire to participate in a recreational and life-building program of her choice is equivalent to denying her access to a restaurant, a school or a job.
The overarching question is what these girls will come to mean for an organization that has typically adhered to a very patriarchal approach to the role of women. One Boy Scout troop leader from Covington, Georgia who agreed to speak on record on the condition of anonymity explained that, “For the most part, women pretty much stay where you put them; they have that desire to nest and it is the men that are supposed to go out and forage and hunt.”
This narrative regarding women’s role in society, while shockingly misogynistic, forces us to grapple with just what a snake pit of possible psychological trauma these young girls are willfully stepping into in order to pursue their scouting dreams and speaks volumes about their inner fortitude. While most BSA groups have reported warm welcomes for the girls from leaders and the boys, there is a long-standing argument that single-gender atmospheres inculcate a different set of behaviors and attitudes than co-ed spaces.
Though much of what is deemed worth guarding about such environments appears too often to be the dreaded “locker room talk” of so many salacious recent headlines, conventional wisdom historically touted the exclusion of girls from certain activities as a “safety precaution” for their implied meeker frames, delicate sensibilities, and the glaring subtext of a belief in their weaker minds.
Similarly, there exists a long-standing gender myth of girls violating masculine sacred spaces simply by being in them and polluting them with their inherent femininity. We can see this idea everywhere from ancient ship lore (women on board are bad luck) to women being banned from certain spaces when menstruating to the modern-day scathing public discourses regarding the issue of women in combat.
Many of the same antiquated viewpoints are now being vocally lobbied in the press against females entering the Boy Scouts. This is why it is so important that we are careful not to couch female Boys Scouts as a “win” for women as a whole because it is formalized infiltration into a male-centric sect, as this paradigm implies either the superiority of the masculine organization or the do-it-for-doing-its sake of things, which trivializes the motive.
Neither is an egalitarian vantage point, neither reflective of these girls’ aims and thus neither in true service to all. Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts of America has yet to formally dispose of religious templates. The first openly gay Boy Scouts have only been admitted since 2013, the first openly gay leaders since 2015 and the first openly transgender as of 2017.
No well-meaning handrails or throttling training wheels are necessary on the life of any woman in 2018, nor does the insistence by any group on the implementation of any such crutches for girls benefit boys in the slightest. If it is, in fact, our aim to build a better society, a world in which children learn to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent (the twelve points of the Scout Law, as outlined by the BSA), it can only be to the overall good of such a society to foster these values equally across all genders in such a manner that encourages empathy and community rather than self-serving segregation and myopic superstition.
The choice to become a female Boy Scout is a choice toward access, fairness and upward mobility for young women who wish to kick down doors historically closed to female influence. The donning of the Boy Scout uniform by this contemporary breed of choice-seeking young woman can be construed as a kind of military tactical-wear for the scouting girls embarking on this very mission—or simply as the far less cinematic basic equality that it is. They are putting on something far more transgressive and provocative—the uniform of the historically dominant gender.
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, proclaimed the Boy Scouts “effectively dead” at the inclusion of girls. This echoes the brand of ostracizing language popularly associated with queer tendencies, unplanned pregnancies and disapproved marriages for women since time immemorial.
It seems anything that involves a young lady doing as her heart dictates without first consulting with and conforming herself to heteronormative mores is grounds for volatile social retaliation and attempted erasure. Such proclamations of “death” can be likened to the playground behavior of the elementary school bully anytime a better athlete joined the kickball game at recess; those guys always petulantly kicked the dirt and quit the team rather than accepting the effacement of their own projected power.