I would like to think that I have enough experience with the Boy Scouts of America to comment on the organization. I joined scouting at the youngest possible age, as a tiger scout, and proceeded all the way up the ranks to achieve my Eagle Scout a few years ago. Even after the scouting cutoff age of 18, I went on to hold an administrative position in a prominent local BSA summer camp. With over 10 years of scouting experience that I will hold with me forever, I have skills, memories, and friends that will last me for the rest of my life. Scouting is (was) one of the last great men’s organizations in the United States, and as of Last Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America will be allowing girls to begin joining. Personally, this brings up many concerns regarding the future of the organization and its ability to maintain its reputation.
I recall one year while away at our week long summer camp, I had even engaged in a pretty in-depth conversation with one of my fellow scouts regarding girls in scouting, where the fifteen-year-old me would want nothing more than to spend more time with girls. As I look back across my scouting career, I will easily say that the exclusivity to boys and young men has been one of the key factors that has made scouting, for me, a worthwhile experience.
I would like to address a few things before I proceed further. First, the actual organization of the Girl Scouts is a common joke and meme among the boys of scouting. Girl Scouts has never held the same core values as the BSA and has a reputation of being more like a glorified daycare. To my knowledge, no one with experience in both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts would say that they are equivalent. Second, the Boy Scouts have been plagued by the scandal of discriminating against gay scouts and gay leaders in the past. I am extremely glad that they have changed their policy in regards to this, as I believe that scouting has something special to offer boys of any stripe.
Outdoorsmanship is a critical component in scouting.
As many boys grow, there is a tendency to be surrounded by women in their early years. A large majority of elementary school teachers are women, as well as daycare workers, and even babysitters. Scouting offers boys a chance to connect with the men in their community and to meet role models. I have learned so much from great adult leaders, as well as older scouts. The ability to have real male role models is absolutely priceless to a young boy. Adding girls to the mix doesn’t particularly remove the possibility of this, but it does largely change the dynamic. In the presence of their female peers, boys may have a harder time forming brotherly bonds with each other and instinctively turn to gaining the favor of the girls. Additionally, as troops gain female scouts and leaders, less male leaders will need to be involved and there will be overall less opportunities for the real male bonding and mentoring experiences that makes scouts great.
There is a fairly decent about of friendly competition in scouting. The troops are separated into patrols which often compete with each other. Scouts in a troop often compete to see who can achieve rank first, or tie a knot fastest, or they just play competitive games. Boys thrive on cooperative competition (competing in groups) and it’s part of the reason that young men these days can be found playing many kinds of competitive team video games. My concern, which I don’t believe is unjustified, is that the healthy competitive nature could lessen over time as girls are integrated into scouting. This is a trend that has occurred over time in educational institutions and workplaces. This change will just further drive boys away from scouting and all of its possible benefits.
Boy scout camp during the summer is a wonderful time for the guys. For one week a year, the teen boys are mostly in charge of themselves, free from girls, and often unsupervised… so most of us cursed like sailors for the whole week. I remember that one year, one of the scout’s mom came to stay some of the nights with the troop. There are often no walls in sight (being in the middle of the woods and all), and this scout mom nearly immediately aired her grievances with the scoutmaster over our language. It was only the second day when the Scoutmaster called us to fall in and ridiculed us over our language and the improperness of speaking in such a way with a women around. This annoyed lots of us in the troop pretty greatly, but we still went on talking like sailors for the whole week. As an add on to this, boys are known to playfully insult and tease each other, something which will likely not be tolerated. Sometimes, It’s just good for a boy to get to be a boy and say what he wants without having to filter for the sensitivities of some women.
My concerns regarding the future of the BSA are by no means guaranteed to happen. I think that If the Boy Scouts are able to integrate girls into their program without sacrificing their core values or fundamentally changing the scouting experience for the young boys that it has long served, then this could be an amazing change to reach out and provide a better program for girls. Personally, I am highly doubtful they will be able to pull it off without a loss to something that has been truly impactful on the lives of countless boys.