*Photo Credit: Lauren Kurkimilis/MGN

Steering away from tradition and embracing progressive change, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Board of Directors today approved a plan to allow girls to join their ranks.

 

Under the new system, girls will have the opportunity to participate in Boy Scout curriculum and even obtain the rank of Eagle Scout.

 

When asked about the reasoning behind this new plan, Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s chief scout executive, stated, “We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children.” In essence, Boy Scouts believes their services are desired by parents for their sons and daughters.

 

In response, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the president of the Girl Scouts of America, wrote, “I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts.” Hannan’s quote reveals the GSA’s frustration in response to this change. There is a bond between the two groups that has lasted for over a century, a bond that is now strained. GSA claims they have been “blindsided” by the new policy, suggesting there was no forewarning from BSA on the issue.

 

As a former Girl Scout and Gold Award Recipient (the Girl Scout equivalent to the rank of Eagle Scout), I am not surprised at all by this, but I am disappointed. As the little sister of an Eagle Scout, there were moments when I wished I could do more “boy scout things” like go backpacking in the mountains for a week. But as I got older in Girl Scouting, things changed. Girls were given more power to decide what they did.

 

As a Girl Scout, I was given the opportunity to create a group for any activity I wanted to do or learn, including more stereotypically male activities like backpacking and tying knots. Being a Girl Scout doesn’t prevent you from having the same opportunities as Boy Scouts, it’s just a different forum for doing so, and arguably better catered to young girls. Yes, breaking gender barriers is important, but allowing girls to join Boy Scouts doesn’t accomplish this. Boys and girls are fundamentally different and those who influence the hearts and minds of girls and boys should be aware of these differences and embrace them for the benefit of all. Girl Scouts can best help prepare young girls for the challenges they will face in the future because, as a female organization, it understands the needs of women in society. As psychologist Andrea Basiani Archibald states, “We [Girl Scouts of America] are unparalleled in our ability to build great female leaders who contribute to society at every level.”

 

Girl Scouts was established by Founder Juliette Low after she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts, because she believed girls needed a program reaching across economic, cultural, and ethnic boundaries to ensure all girls, including those with disabilities, had a place to grow and develop their leadership skills.

 

In my 13 years in the Girl Scouts, I built courage, confidence, and character that shaped me for adulthood. I met my best friends through my involvement in Girl Scouts. I was able to travel to Ireland, England, and Wales with girls from all over the country because of Girl Scouts. I learned how to take action and initiative to solve problems I saw in my own community because of Girl Scouts. I discovered female role models that I strove to emulate and had unique discussions about what it means to be a woman in the world today.

 

Girl Scouts all across the world share a special bond that unites them. I simply would not be the individual I am today had I not been a Girl Scout.

 

The question, though, is whether I would have had these same experiences if I’d been a girl in the Boy Scouts. I don’t think so. These are unique experiences that Boy Scouts cannot provide for girls as well as Girl Scouts can. Besides, if girls decided to become Boy Scouts instead of Girl Scouts, where will everyone get their Thin Mints and Tagalongs?

 

A Chief BSA executive stated, “The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women.” But these values are already instilled in young girls through Girl Scouts. Girls don’t need to join the Boy Scouts in order to be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave, and reverent.” Girl Scouts nurtures and gives girls all over the world a voice. Through pen-pal programs, for example, girls learn to understand the difficulties women face in different cultures and develop an understanding of the world that is unique.

 

Girl Scouts is tailored to girls, it was designed to empower young women and develop them as future leaders through programming that makes sense for girls. It provides girls with a safe environment, without boys, to try things and express themselves. Issues that apply more so to girls, such as body image, are talked about and focused on, something you wouldn’t see within Boy Scout programming. This doesn’t mean boys wouldn’t benefit from these discussions too, but the two organizations have different means of accomplishing their ultimate goals.

 

This new policy, along with other recent policies like the allowance of homosexual leaders, signal a cultural shift in scouting. Boy Scouts is traditionally more conservative whereas Girl Scouts is typically seen as a more liberal organization. Girl Scouts was the first to integrate their troops in 1965 with the help of Martin Luther King Jr. Girl Scouts added a focus on social justice to their mission while Boy Scouts continued to embrace their ties to religious institutions. If Girl Scouts is to survive, it will need to focus on the unique girl experience it provides for its scouts. Sure, some girls may enjoy Boy Scouts better, but I believe that the proven success of Girl Scouts in producing young leaders and the tradition of scouting that many women have will lead many parents to continue signing their daughters up for Girl Scouts. And what’s wrong with Boy Scouts wanting to maintain their traditions? Boy Scouts should embody their tenet of bravery by sticking up for the conservative values they believe in, instead of caving to outside pressure from those who know next to nothing about the program.

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