The Boy Scouts found themselves in the news again today. This time, the reports were thankfully free of scandal.
In a unanimous decision, the Boy Scouts Club of America’s board of directors has moved to begin allowing girls to join.
The decision won’t come into effect until 2018—when girls ages 7-10 years old will be allowed to join, and in 2019, older girls will be permitted to try for the Club’s highest honour: Eagle Scout.
“The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls,” Boy Scouts of America said in a statement. “[T]he organization evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders, as well as parents and girls who’ve never been involved in Scouting—to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.”
Which is wonderful. But also begs the question, really? Really, Boy Scouts of America, it took years of requests, evaluation, research and input from leaders, parents, and kids before you finally allowed, in the one hundred and seventh year of your club’s existence, to allow girls a seat at the table?
I know I am supposed to be thrilled by this announcement—but what I feel is tired. I am weary with the knowledge that in 2017 we still have so far to go. It hasn’t been a good week, month, or year for women and girls, and I can’t manage to feel excited about what feels like the crumbs from the table.
It doesn’t help that the Boy Scouts cited convenience as one of the principal reasons for the change. “Families today are busier and more diverse than ever. Most are dual-earners and there are more single-parent households than ever before, making convenient programs that serve the whole family more appealing,” said the BSA statement.
That’s fine and dandy, really, but it’s too bad they didn’t cite gender equality as their number one reason, and convenience for parents as a nice supporting detail.
Parents and kids have been lobbying for this for years. Several parents have gone so far as to take the BSA to court. Which means that this announcement feels like too little, too late.
Should girls even want to join the Scouts? The organization’s dark history of rampant child sexual abuse cases has recently come to the fore. (In 2010, a jury ordered the BSA pay one Scout $18.5 million dollars in damages—the largest amount ever paid to a single plaintiff in a child abuse case in the US.) It has a long, sad history of bullying within the ranks. And it has some very out-dated views on gender and sexual organization—it ended its ban on openly gay Boy Scout leaders in 2015.
As Christina Cauterucci reported in Slate, “[the] BSA began as a response to turn-of-the-century worries that rugged American boys were becoming urbane weaklings, GSUSA (Girl Scouts of the USA) began soon after as a space for girls to explore the adventuresome, outdoorsy sides of themselves that were discouraged by mainstream society. … If the Boy Scouts were founded to tether boys to stringent gender norms, the Girl Scouts were founded to challenge them.”
Given that the BSA has changed very little since the 60’s, and the Girl Scouts has evolved its curriculum and social stances, Cauterucci cautions parents against placing their girls in the BSA. She says, “The 21st century doesn’t need Boy Scout troops with girls in them. It needs a Boy Scout curriculum that challenges and expands traditional notions of masculinity, doing for boys what GSUSA has done for girls. Instead of chipping away at the Girl Scouts’ membership, the Boy Scouts should heed its example.”
It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by the Girl Scouts of America. While the GSUSA haven’t commented on the Boy Scouts’ new move specifically, their feelings are pretty clear: you’re trespassing in our territory.
“The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today—and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success,” the organization told CNN.
“The benefit of the single-gender environment has been well-documented by educators, scholars, other girl- and youth-serving organizations, and Girl Scouts and their families. Girl Scouts offers a one-of-a-kind experience for girls with a program tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs,” read the statement.
The National Organization for Women also issued a statement, which can be described as tepid, at best:
“I think it’s a good thing in that the Boy Scouts have a long history of discrimination and they are taking action,” NOW President Toni Van Pelt said. “The devil is in the details and we need to wait and see how this plays out.”
Currently, there is no information available on exactly how the BSA plants to integrate girls into its ranks. What will an inclusive Scouts Club look like in 2018? Absolutely no one knows. While the decision to include girls is a good one—I welcome the elimination of exclusive spaces in favour of inclusive ones—this one smacks of tokenism. The Boy Scout’s overdue move serves as a reminder of just how outmoded and out-dated it really is, and shows that the Boy Scouts has much catching up to do before it earns our gratitude or praise