Forget the Media Hype — Boys Scouts Will Still Be Boys

Boy Scouts attend a Memorial Day weekend event in Los Angeles, Calif., 2013. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Alcorn)
The decision to allow some participation by girls was made by families of current members, not activists or leftist lawyers.

When word went out late Wednesday that girls would be allowed to participate in some Boy Scout programs, conservative reaction was swift and not subtle:

“Gender benders, ” said Fox Host Laura Ingraham. “I thought that was what Girl Scouts was for?????” tweeted out Donald Trump Jr. “This is a slippery slope. Where does it stop?” asked Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. “Another notch in that Leftist, anti-God, anti-traditional family belt,” announced Cheryl Chumley in the Washington Times.

Whoa. Pull back them reins. The Boy Scouts are not turning your sons into pajama boys.

Let’s start at the beginning. Boy Scouts of America (BSA) are not being pushed into this policy change by outside forces. No activists are hovering over this decision — no PC corporate offices, progressive school districts, left-wing lawyers, or rude liberals of the kind that booed the Scout color guard at the 2004 Democratic convention. Unlike previous decisions relating to sexual orientation, this change came from two quarters: the families already within BSA, and intensive market research over more than a year’s time to identify opportunities for future growth. Keep in mind that this decision was approved unanimously by the BSA board, on which sit a solid contingent of conservatives and traditionalists. 

What might surprise people, given media coverage of BSA’s announcement so far, is that no girls will be joining any Boy Scout troop. Scout troops, for boys eleven to 18, will continue to be all-boy, using the patrol method, whereby boys of similar age and interests work closely together, as envisioned by Lord Baden Powell more than a century ago. No changes are being made to requirements for rank advancement or merit badges. The Scout oath, law, motto (“Be prepared”), and slogan (“Do a good turn daily”) remain unchanged. Yes, girls will be allowed to work toward the rank of Eagle — in an all-girl program starting in 2019.  

In Cub Scouts, for boys six through ten, women have long served as den mothers. There, little girls can be allowed to join a Cub pack (the rough equivalent of a troop) next year, but that will be the decision of the local Cub pack. The pack can remain all-boy, or it can create a mixed or an all-girl pack. In a mixed pack, the boys and girls will be in separate dens, subunits of the pack.

Skeptics might think that they’re starting co-ed in Cub Scouts to test the idea before mixing girls in Boy Scout Troops a few years from now. That’s not going to happen.

Skeptics might think that they’re starting co-ed in Cub Scouts to test the idea before mixing girls in Boy Scout Troops a few years from now. That’s not going to happen. They are two very different programs. Cub Scouts are designed to be adult-led. Boy Scouts are boy-led, with the (usually male) adult Scout leaders acting more as guardrails than drivers. The purpose is to develop the character and leadership skills of boys as they evolve into young men, with lots of practical life skills learned and outdoor adventures enjoyed along the way. That happens best in a single-gender environment. The same holds true for Girl Scouts, which help young girls grow into young women. Both organizations share this belief, based on scholarship, common sense, and lots and lots of observation. 

So what about Donald Jr.’s point, asking why girls should be chasing the Eagle Scout rank when there is already Girl Scouts?

Lots of American girls are willing to man up for long, sometimes strenuous hikes, snowshoe outings, and gun-shooting, and they find Boy Scouts more congenial to those activities. I like Girl Scouts and know many families involved in the program. It has been a wonderful program for many girls for generations. But some girls want something more physically challenging. That includes the path toward Eagle, for which the requirements are unchanged and very difficult. Only one Boy Scout in 20 attains the rank. 

As for the claim that allowing girls access to some Boy Scout programs amounts to an attack on traditional families, let’s remember that if you want to reach the children most likely to benefit from a virtue-centered program, you’ll need to appeal to more than just stable married couples with one stay-at-home parent. Boy Scout chief executive Michael Surbaugh points out that with so many two-earner and single-mom households, these changes are especially welcome.

The Boy Scouts have about 2.3 million members; Girl Scouts, about 1.6 million. American Heritage Girls, a more conservative organization, has 43,000 members. Trail Life USA, a more conservative program for boys, has 26,000. Plenty of high-tech parents dismiss these groups as hopelessly retro. Fair enough. They may not be fashionable. But they are indispensable. The world of scouting isn’t plugged into a wall socket. It’s plugged into nature, hiking, survival skills, friendship, and service. Any organization that gets kids off the couch and into the wilderness, that has them staring over the horizon instead of glued to a video screen, that encourages them to help a classmate with homework instead of mindlessly texting their friend four feet away, is an organization America will always need.


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