I was surprised and confused by the Boy Scouts of America’s recent announcement that they were now not only allowing transgender kids into their programs, but also actively encouraging girls to join up. Surprised because, well, I’m super biased and still look at the BSA as a conservative religious group that does icky things I usually disagree with. And confused because, well, why? I mean, what’s wrong with the Girl Scouts?
As time went on, I continued to be confused and to question myself. My gut reaction to the announcement was a negative one, it left a bad taste in my mouth. And yet, on the face of it, the BSA seemed to be doing something open and inclusive that I should feel good about. So why did I feel so bad? Was it just my internal bias? Was I being overly judgmental? Was I putting myself on the side against inclusivity?
It took a fair amount of thought to realize the obvious: No. It was not just my bias. It is not just that the BSA has an ugly history regarding gender and inclusivity. It is okay to feel bad about this idea, because it is a bad idea. It is not inclusive. With this new policy, the BSA are directly excluding the Girl Scouts of the USA. They are excluding all of the women who have worked to make a safe space for young girls. They are excluding the mission that GSUSA fights for. They are excluding the learning that takes place because of it, and the progress that organization has fought for.
This issue is not about the gender of your kid, or which summer camp you send them to, or if its better to have mixed scouts or not. This issue is about the differences in each organization, and how they are perceived by the general public. This issue is about the sexism inherent to our society. Inviting girls to join the BSA is not a step forward in solving the problems of sexism.
I’ve already said that I am openly biased. I think that the GSUSA is a better organization than the BSA. They are a secular organization, not a religious one. They have always been more open and inclusive in their policies, but the rest of the world has not always responded positively.
As early as 2012, the GSUSA has accepted transgender kids. It made news again in 2015, and a spokesperson pointed out that it had never been specifically against policy, but that they wanted to make their position on inclusivity more official. At that time, organizations around the country responded negatively. The American Family Association created a petition gathering over 38,000 signatures of those against the announcement. Some groups responded with quotes like “don’t put our young girls at risk” and “the girl scouts have lost their moral compass.” Many people and groups also responded positively, and applauded the GSUSA for their inclusivity. But still, every single news organization that reported on the topic quoted the negative reactions as well, and even provided links to the anti-pages and petitions.
I wont point out all of the horrible policies the BSA have had in writing over the years. They made the decision to change those policies, and that is an undiluted win. However, I find myself put off by the language they use when announcing that they will now “let” girls in.
More importantly, I am openly disgusted by the way the rest of the world is choosing to talk about it. The same companies that started petitions before have been quiet when this announcement comes from the BSA. I could wish for a world where the leaders of those companies have learned and grown and become more accepting of the world – But I’m too cynical to actually believe that’s what’s going on here.
In fact, most of the negative press regarding the announcement has been directed back at the GSUSA themselves, because they dared to send a negative letter to the Boy Scouts. The same news sites who provided links to the petition against the GSUSA now describe this letter as “accusatory” and “petty” without ever actually quoting it directly. I finally found a copy of it. This is a classic example of women’s opinions being disregarded and belittled. A woman who speaks out is “aggressive,” and the only site that bothered to publish and quote the letter directly isn’t even regarded as a professional “news” site.
So yes, news organizations across the country are sexist in their responses today – this really shouldn’t surprise me anymore. But even if I ignore the ways in which the announcement was handled, the actual change of “letting girls join the Boy Scouts of America” frightens me for the future.
That “accusatory” and “petty” letter the GSUSA sent? I found it very interesting that it seemed like their biggest complaint was that they tried to work with the BSA but were repeatedly turned down and ignored. “…Despite offering to engage in a constructive, collaborative sharing process, [the GSUSA] were disappointed in the lack of transparency…” I am not against co-ed scouting. I believe that if done right, a true gender-neutral scouting program could work. If the BSA and the GSUSA ever chose to join forces and provide opportunities for all children, I would support that whole heartedly. However, the BSA evidentially made their feelings on that idea clear. They are not interested in working with their female partners. This decision by the BSA is not gender-neutral and should not be applauded.
There is a special area on many college applications asking if you’ve received an Eagle Scout Award. If a teen boy gets the award, they get a call from their governor. Adult politicians running for office use it in their campaigns. The word count on the wikipedia Eagle Scout Award page is 4724. The word count on the Gold Award page? 987 (this blog post is already longer.) A New York Times article closes with this quote from a BSA troupe leader: “Everybody knows an Eagle Scout,” he said. But the Girl Scouts’ top award “is just not held as high or as valuable in people’s minds, and I’m not sure why.” Are you not sure? Because I sure as hell know why.
If you’re a young girl who’s looking at your future and listening to what people around you talk about – which sounds better the boy scouts or the girl scouts? As 16-year-old Cassidy says “Eagle Scout gets them somewhere on their resume,” she said. “It will be amazing to say you got Eagle and people know what you’re talking about and know the work you put into it.” Can you blame her? Sure, let the kids make the choice. And yet… How many women are there actually within the BSA helping to develop these programs for girls? What message does it send to a girl that you have to be labeled as a Boy Scout to get the award that everyone talks about?
Many articles on the topic talk about the girls who want to join the boy scouts. One BSA leader was quoted saying “Now, girls are going to be able to have the Scouting experience. …This is progress and overdue.” Let me tell you, I was a girl scout for all of my childhood and I had a great scouting experience. I got to play in the woods and get dirty every summer. I proved last night that I can build a better campfire than my boyfriend. I went camping with llamas, and as 13 year old girls we carried all our own gear. We made fun of the boy scouts who had an extra trailer connected to their van, because they packed too much. But you know what, yes, we also did arts and crafts. We learned about science and nature. We cooked our own meals, and they were delicious. We learned that “girly” things are just as difficult and worthwhile and rewarding to do as anything else. We were given examples of women in science and technology to follow. We proved that we could be brave and strong and adventurous. And you know what, we also proved that we could be crude, and dirty, and silly, and put worms in each others’ hair and be just as gross as the boys.
I didn’t achieve my Gold Award, by the way; less than 6% of girl scouts do. I started a pretty awesome project – I was going to work to record and preserve some heirloom species of roses that grew in a nearby cemetery. Did you know that humans have changed roses so dramatically that most of the original species don’t exist anymore? Like the bulldog, we have shaped roses to match some strange exaggerated image in our minds. We have changed them so much, as they are today they can’t even survive without our help. If you asked me at the time, I’m sure I would have said I quit the project because I didn’t have time, I wanted to hang out with my friends, I had a lot of interests and a lot going on at that time in my life. I wonder now if I was just tired of explaining to people what a Gold Award even was – maybe I just got tired of saying “its like a boy scout Eagle award!” Wild roses are nearly extinct, and I wanted to help save them. Spend one day building a trail bridge my ass.
The Girl Scouts gave me an amazing childhood, and shaped my future. They showed me I didn’t have to be a boy to do anything I wanted. So I plead with you, if you’re a girl in search of adventure, please don’t join the Boy Scouts. If you’re a parent, please don’t encourage your kid to label themselves as someone else out of a misguided idea. If you’re an adult who wants believes in a better world, please don’t applaud the Boy Scouts of America for their falsely progressive idea. There is already an amazing scouting organization out there led by women who know exactly how hard it is to become a strong female leader. The GSUSA have spent over 100 years helping women fight for an equal place at the top, and giving girls the tools they need to be strong and brave and determined in a world that denigrates their every interest. If the BSA really wanted to be progressive and gender-neutral, they’d recognize that.