The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced on Wednesday, Oct. 11 that, starting in 2018, it will allow girls to join the Cub Scouts, and that it plans to make the Eagle Scout program available to girls in 2019. Dens (a group of six to eight scouts) will remain single-sex, but packs (a group of dens) will have the option of being co-ed, or made of only female dens. The decision has, unsurprisingly, been met with much backlash, and plenty of people, including some leaders in the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), are concerned about the effect a co-ed learning environment will have on the scouts, as well as the larger implications of the Boy Scouts potentially drawing girls away from the Girl Scouts when both organizations’ membership numbers have declined in recent years.
However, while we agree that there will be many difficulties in properly integrating girls into the Boy Scouts, allowing girls to join will serve as a good step forward in enabling girls and boys to learn skills that not only interest them but are essential for becoming a mature, well-rounded individual and leader. This move is certainly not unprecedented; the Boy Scouts already offer four programs — Venturing, STEM, Exploring and the Sea Scouts — to both sexes, so allowing girls full membership into the Boy Scouts is a natural extension of this progress. Additionally, this change has been requested for years from girls themselves and groups like the National Organization for Women, and thus the decision reflects the Boy Scouts’ attention to recent changes in our culture’s understanding of the roles of men and women. Although it’s understandable that many are concerned, giving girls more opportunities for development is a necessary investment.
What is perhaps surprising about the situation is that the GSUSA are among the dissenters, and are quite vocal in their opposition to the change. Part of the chief concerns about the change is how the majority-male environment of the Boy Scouts will perhaps negatively affect the girls who decide to join. Many in the Girl Scouts tout the benefits of a single-sex learning environment, especially in the examples of female leadership that the Girl Scouts inherently provides.
Now, although this concern is valid, the BSA will maintain those benefits provided by the Girl Scouts to a degree by keeping Cub Scout dens segregated by sex, and can (and should) employ women to help lead the female and co-ed packs. Further, although there certainly are disparities in gender distribution in some jobs traditionally seen as masculine or feminine, single-sex environments are generally not the norm in the real world, and thus it is necessary to teach young men and women how to work together properly and show one another equal respect, regardless of sex.
However, this debate should not be one of seeing the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts as rival organizations in competition with one another. What lies at the heart of the issue (and what both organizations are meant to prioritize) is the well-being and development of young men and women, and we must prioritize the scouts themselves when talking about this decision. Although the BSA was founded to teach boys the roles of men, the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh acknowledged in the announcement that “The values of Scouting — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example — are important for both young men and women.” Indeed, there is nothing about those traits that are exclusive to men, nor is there anything in the principles expressed in the BSA’s Scout Oath or Scout Law that would not also be good principles for women to exemplify. Considering that the Boy Scouts only have about 2.3 million youth members and the Girl Scouts only around 1.8 million, it would be prudent to allow young people to join either organization if it would put them on the right track to becoming competent leaders.
Ultimately, the Boy Scouts’ decision is not going to disrupt what the Girl Scouts offer to young women in any significant way, and this was acknowledged by Girl Scout Chief Customer Officer Lisa Margosian in an interview with the Atlantic: “There will be some girls who make that choice (to join the Boy Scouts) but the reality is that we, for 105 years, have really focused on serving girls and their emotional, psychological and developmental needs.” The Boy Scouts are not forcing anyone to join them, but are simply presenting the opportunity to join to girls who may not necessarily be interested in the programs offered by the Girl Scouts. In other words, if a girl decides that what the Boy Scouts offer is better for her than what the Girl Scouts offer, there’s little reason to prohibit her from joining the organization. The Boy Scouts’ decision is, at its core, an act of opening doors for young women to decide their own path in life.
There are certain other changes that will be necessary; the most obvious one is that the Boy Scouts will have to consider other options for their organization’s name so that they can properly reflect the inclusion of girls into their ranks, similar to other scouting organizations that are more inclusive, such as SpiralScouts International and Camp Fire. Additionally, they will need to make sure that their leadership, at every level, will be ready to lead and care for packs made up of both boys and girls, and be able to navigate any conflicts that might arise as a result of a co-ed environment, and the concerns of parents and scouts who may be uncomfortable with going from a single-sex environment to a co-ed one.
Still, as long as the Boy Scouts are able to carefully handle the transition, this will be a good investment in the future of scouting, and in the futures of young men and women who are willing to take on the responsibilities of being a Scout. The skills taught by scouting organizations are essential for both men and women to learn in order to become tomorrow’s leaders, and we should allow youths more autonomy in learning what they want to learn. The BSA’s decision to allow girls to join is a commendable step forward in helping girls become independent and enabling them to pursue the paths in life that they want.