I read an article in the New York Times this morning concerning allowing girls into the Boy Scouts of America. I have to say that I’m staunchly against it, but not for the reasons you might assume.
Growing up I spent a tremendous amount of time in scouts, eventually rising to Life Scout, with every requirement for Eagle minus a board of review (more on that in another post). I learned a number of valuable skills, developed my decision making processes, made lifelong friends, and developed my outlook on life. It was a challenging experience that broke me down to nothing, then rebuilt me. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without scouting and the people I interacted with in that setting. I just don’t see a way in which that unique setting can survive the introduction of girls.
Physically I have zero problem with females joining BSA troops. If they can endure the rigors of hiking, climbing, and the requirements of the organization I would be happy to call them my equals in that setting. I don’t buy the arguments of sex between scouts very much more than I did when they tried to ban gay scouts and leaders (which is absurd).
What I object to is having the social order of scouting upset by the introduction of females to a male-dominated organization. In my patrol there were nerds, jocks, religious kids, skaters, and band geeks. When we went on outings, though, we were just scouts. There was never someone we were trying to impress. There was always a goal or objective to be worked toward as a unit. The popular scouts and the unpopular scouts were complete and total equals in this micro society.
By introducing girls to a group of 11-18 year old boys the social caste system that exists in school, you introduce that same caste system to the one place many scouts can escape from it. I doubt I would have joined a troop, let alone stuck with it if I had to deal with pubescence a tent away from a girl I liked, if she liked another boy in my patrol. Scouting was my way out of escaping the social pressures that were pervasive in my day to day environment.
Boys need boy only time. This organization has built generations of leaders, and while I understand and agree with the idea that girls need a similar program, this isn’t it. Boys play rough. We behave differently in boy-only settings than we do in coed ones. We approach problems differently, we develop social skills differently, and we develop our sense of self differently in gender exclusive arenas.
Boy Scouts is a paramilitary organization that is designed around the needs of boys. The games we played were rough and physical, the events we planned were harsh, and the skills sets that were nurtured were very militaristic. I can hold 5 rounds of .22 inside of a dime at 50 feet consistently because of Boy Scouts. I can be left anywhere with an ounce of topography, a map, and a compass and find my way home. There isn’t a great deal of compassion or luxury involved. All of these things are in order to produce the highest quality adult male. The scouts I know have twice the confidence and competence of the average person I’ve met. That is all thanks to scouting not forgiving our mistakes, but adding weight to our packs the next day to teach us not to make them again. I don’t doubt that some girls have the mentality, physicality, and motivation required for this, but none of these activities or mentalities have girls in mind.
Girl Scouts, in my limited experience, doesn’t provide the opportunities for leadership and growth that the BSA does. That is a serious problem, and it needs to be addressed for that organization to survive. The female world no longer revolves around Dutch oven cookoffs at camporees. Girl Scouting needs to play some catch up, but that needs to happen because the girls and their parents change it rather than jumping ship to Boy Scouts. A friend from another Boy Scout troop and I had a brief conversation today about this today and neither of us could recall the highest rank in Girl Scouts. That is absurd. Girl Scouts, as an organization, has done a terrible job of saying “These are the young women we have trained, sculpted, and turned into leaders”. I would imagine that 90% of America knows what an Eagle Scout is, but one Eagle and one near-Eagle can’t come up with the rank associated with our sister organization? Shameful.
I’ll close with an anecdote to show my opinion of girls involved in scouting. When I was 12 I went to Northern Tier High Adventure Camp in Minnesota for a 2 week canoe trip. When we encountered a Girl Scout unit along the way, we naturally raced them to the US/Canada border. I was paddling as hard as I could, along with my late friend Chris and my father. Those girls smoked us. We didn’t stand a chance. They’re not lacking in physical ability, they’re not lacking in aptitude, they’re just not the right social fit for Boy Scouts.
Chris Crowley and I, trying to evade the largest turtle I’ve ever seen in the wild.