Boy Scouts of America made a huge announcement yesterday: starting next year, girls will be able to enroll in their Cub Scouting program, and by 2019 be qualified to earn the coveted Eagle Scout rank. And of course, there is much debate, outrage, celebration, and overall insanity over the decision.
(Let’s just say, we’re a culture that rarely embraces change easily.)
As for me, I’m celebrating. And I say this as a devoted Cub Scout and Girl Scout Leader myself.
I also happen to be a parent of kids who are currently in Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts. But I admit I do have some mixed emotions about it too.
Here are my thoughts.
In 2013, BSA voted to allow openly gay members, and earlier this year announced that transgender kids are welcome as well. So I see this is another move toward inclusivity — I love the idea that anyone has the opportunity to get the benefits of the character development, leadership training, and outdoor skills that Boy Scouts of America has provided for boys.
My own sons have shocked and impressed me with the things they’ve accomplished so far in their scouting journeys, and I love that the same accomplishments will now be available to anyone — provided parents are willing to get involved right along with their daughters.
But more on that below.
Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are not the same at all.
Most non-scouts do not realize that the Boy Scouts are not the male version of Girl Scouts. They are totally different organizations, with different goals, activities, and methods of participation.
I’m currently a leader of both a Cub Scout pack and Girl Scout troop, both for kids K-5, and I plan to keep it that way. I do believe the Girl Scout curriculum is just more compelling for the girls at this younger age.
The big difference in the two is that, speaking generally, Cub Scouts must complete a specific set of requirements to advance. The Girl Scout requirements are much more flexible — the badge activities are solely determined by the troop. On the plus side, that means girls can focus on what they’re interested in, whether it’s coding robots, first aid, acting, or philanthropy.
On the other hand, you could conceivably make it all the way through Girl Scouts without ever having gone camping, cooked over a campfire, or tied a knot. Opening up Boy Scouts to girls gives them an opportunity to pursue those interests that they may not otherwise have.
To be clear: I am in no way denigrate any passions or interests that young girls care about. (Ed note: and here’s where we could get into an entire discussion about patriarchy and institutionalized sexism and what’s considered acceptable, and the low-hanging fruit in terms of short-term change…but we’ll leave that for another post. -LG) But I will confess that avid Boy Scouts do not perceive the Girl Scout curriculum to be “real” scouting, and I can see why.
The experiences of each group are set up to be entirely different, which is why I think giving girls a choice — not putting down the choice they make, but opening up options — is extremely important.
For comparison sake, nursing is an amazing, essential profession. So is being a surgeon. Both boys and girls should be able to grow up aspiring to be either a nurse or a surgeon, and having either decision supported and valued.
Boy Scouts have easier access to scouting mentorship…and mentoring
Another huge difference between the organizations is that Boy Scout troops are typically established and ongoing, with leadership passed on for decades. In fact, a local troop near me just celebrated their 100th year!
Girl Scout troops, on the other hand, can be started at any time by a willing parent, which often creates an environment where one mom takes a small group of her daughter and some friends through the program until they graduate or lose interest. That’s not a problem in itself, but it does create some important disparities.
In my experience, the Boy Scout groups we’ve been involved with have very experienced leadership, multi-level membership (troops comprised of scouts of all ages), and well-structured organization overall. That means there’s a longevity factor for both the scouts and the leaders.
The result? Boys have seasoned scouting leaders to look up to and learn from, as well as the chance to mentor younger kids to help build up their own leaderships skills.
Girls may find a wonderful mentor in their existing Girl Scout leader, but they simply don’t have guaranteed access to the same kind of age diversity and experience in their troop when they’re limited to experiences with girls their own age.
This is the reason I’ve structured my own Girl Scout troop more like the Boy Scouts’ multi-level model, but that’s more the exception than the rule — and honestly, it’s a ton of work because I’m building everything from scratch.
The change will be easier for families
The official Boy Scout statement about the policy change to allow girls focused not so much on inclusivity as a core motivation, but on how this will make things easier for families. And a lot of parents will be thrilled about not having to bring two or three different kids to different meetings and events.
But there’s a greater issue for families here.
The thing that those not in the scouting community might not realize, is that Boy Scouts is one of the few activities that expects parents to participate with their kid, as opposed to just dropping them off.
Girl Scouts, on the other hand, is a different kind of organization, as I’ve said, and tends to function using the drop-off system..
The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts encourage full-family participation. © Boy Scouts of America
…and better for girls with diverse families
To get more detailed, Girl Scout program really is geared around a friendship experience, not a family experience. In that sense it can be great girls who are being raised by single fathers, or who have moms who may not be available for whatever reason — because another mom will be the leader.
If those girls — or their families — would like more of an inclusive, whole-family experience, the Boy Scout structure is more appealing. Their decision to welcome girls in is fantastic for them.
In fact, some Girl Scout council events limit our troop to only bringing two adults per every eight girls, meaning moms who want to watch our daughters participate, literally aren’t allowed to do so. That’s also a tough situation for girls with two moms.
And when our troop camps at Girl Scout owned sites — which are amazing, BTW — the dads must sleep at a separate campsite, far away from the girls, leaving them out of the experience entirely. And for girls being raised by a father or grandfather, that means they don’t have the same family bonding time as other girls in the troop.
Obviously this is all a matter of personal preference, and there’s a lot to be said for a female-only scouting experience for girls.
What matters to me however, is that there’s a choice.
While I love my one-on-one time with my daughter at Girl Scout campouts, I must say, the campouts and other special scouting events that include absolutely everyone in the family really make it fun to be together. No matter what your family looks like.
Girls can now achieve Eagle Scout rank, and that’s has real life implications.
When it comes to the newfound ability for girls in Boy Scouts to reach Eagle Scout rank, I couldn’t be more excited.
The Eagle Scout rank is one of the most respected accomplishments a boy can put on his college resume. It takes a tremendous amount of work, with requirements including hiking 70 miles, mastering 33 pages worth of cooking skills, and of course, gaining invaluable leadership training and experience. And that’s just for starters.
Eagle Scout is a rank only 4 percent of Scouts achieve, because it’s that freaking hard to do.
Plus, with the rank, comes amazing benefits: Colleges recruit and offer scholarships to boys who are Eagle Scouts, without having seen their grades or full resumes.
I even know executives who have automatically granted job interviews to anyone who is an Eagle Scout.
It’s that big a deal.
Earning Eagle Scout rank is a major head start for boys in the world, and there is nothing even remotely equivalent in the Girl Scout program.
Yes, there is a Gold Award in Girl Scouts, and achieving it is impressive. However I have to be honest — as a Girl Scout leader myself — and admit that it doesn’t carry nearly the same prestige or offer the same benefits. (Our editor Liz, who I consider very well informed, had never even heard of it.) That’s likely a factor of the still male-dominated corporate world, and that’s unfortunate. But it is what it is.
Now, since the 1970s, girls have been able to earn merit badges through the Boy Scouts’ Co-Ed Venturing Program. But even if they have completed all requirements for the Eagle rank, those in the Venture Program have no opportunity to be awarded this rank.
Updated to add: While the BSA website states that qualified Venturers can earn merit badges, some of our readers are contradicting this statement. You can find out details about the co-ed Venturing program at their website.
Teen girl Venture Scouts at the 2017 Boy Scouts Jamboree © Boy Scouts of America
Think about that! It’s as if two kids, of equal intelligence and skill, each ace their SATs — but only the boy is allowed to be named a National Merit Scholar.
Recognizing the girls who have worked their butts off to earn this rank is absolutely the right thing to do.
Especially because girls who want to join Boy Scouts to earn the Eagle rank will have to meet the same requirements as the boys.
Integration isn’t going to ruin the Boy Scouts…or the Girl Scouts
Since this decision was announced yesterday, parents in my scouting circles have mostly expressed concern about their kids losing the same-sex bonding experiences in their scouting programs. And that’s fair. But, when I think about it, I didn’t sign my own son up for Boy Scouts primarily he could hang out with boys.
Sure, the friendships and camaraderie are terrific side-benefits. But the reason I signed him up is so that he can learn critical life skills that are making him a more responsible, civic-minded, resilient, and caring human being committed to the service of others.
Without a doubt, those are all things I want for my daughters, too.
Yes, some aspects of Boy Scouts will change with this decision. Girls will now be out on camping expeditions and service projects with boys — although, I predict, in their own segregated overnight campsites. But think about the many overall gains that will come from integrating:
Boys will see that girls have the ability to kick ass on a 30-mile backcountry camping, canoeing, and rock climbing trip. Girls will see that boys can be sensitive and caring and get homesick. And they’ll both learn that they can rely on each other, and together, accomplish even more of the skills they set out to gain from the scouting experience.
What we sacrifice: tradition and status quo. What we gain: mutual respect, equity, and opportunity for all.
That’s worth it to me.
And for the record, this won’t be the death knell for Girl Scouts either. They continue to maintain a program has a totally different feel from Boy Scouts and is still is resonant with so many girls. (Plus, what would I ever do without Thin Mints?) I love that my daughter has the chance to spend time with other girls her age in her troop, and experience the activities that they deem important to them.
There’s so much research about the value of young girls experiencing learning time alone without boys, and the Girl Scouts has offered that in a profound, meaningful way to generations of girls and women. I would never want to diminish that or take that away from anyone.
Really for me, this all just comes down to providing more choices and opportunities for all kids.
Here’s to more of them.
If you’re trying to figure out which program is best for your own children, take a look at each group’s curriculum free online at MeritBadge.org for Boy Scouts of America and Badge Explorer for Girl Scouts of America.
Top photo: Andrew Robles via Unsplash