The Wholly Unproductive Integration of the Scouts
The Boy Scouts of America describe themselves as "one of the traditional membership divisions of the Boy Scouts of America, is available to boys who have earned" blah blah blah. Two bits stick out there: "tradition" and "available to boys". Alas, both have fallen, as this week the Boy Scouts put in motion a plan to incorporate girls (who are notably not "boys") into the program. It's a striking move for an organization that has an incredibly old-school mentality, evident in its ban on LGBT adult leaders (which was abandoned in 2015), its former requirement of presenting a birth certificate to make sure you weren't transgender (which just ended this year), its still-in-place policy against atheists and agnostics, and its longstanding culture of sexual abuse and child molestation (which rivals the Catholic Church). But as of October 2017, the gatekeepers have abandoned their posts, and welcomed with open arms all the new funds and dues ready to stream in.
It's hard to not be cynical about this move – after all, it seems like an overcorrection for diversity problems they've had in the past, and a band-aid fix to their hemorrhaging financial and membership numbers. But it deserves to be judged by impact as opposed to intent, since the latter is localized to a small group but the former has widespread consequences.
Many of the reactions were irate. Esteemed businessman Don Trump Jr. tittered (excuse me, twittered) "Strange, I thought that's what the Girl Scouts was for???" In a somewhat condescending pile of vomit, Fox's Mike Baker suggests that most boys don't care that they couldn't join the Girl Scouts, although he acknowledges that he hadn't done the "research [since] it seems like a lot of work and [he's] been busy whittling." A website called the Giant Bomb had a thread called "Is Boy Scouts for Losers?" (oh wait, that was a seven year old message board). The Washington Times ran a piece under their 'Threat Assessment' column titled "The Boy Scouts are waging a War on Boys" which details the author's experience of slowly becoming a man while being hazed. Liz Wheeler, host of a show on something called One America News Network, ragged on the "gender-bending cultural Marxists" who sought to "water down masculinity" (part of a two-minute tirade well worth a listen).
Of course, these were expected. But letting girls have a foot in the door isn't inherently progressive, it's fiscally conservative. The Girl Scouts have likewise faced declining membership and financial support since the mid-2000s, and the Boy Scouts saw an option to capitalize on parents who tire of driving around to multiple places every night. And there's something to be said for the toxic masculinity that exuded from the pores of all those commentators. The whole notion of a necessity for this 'locker room talk'-type environment is outright unnecessary – there's plenty of room for the fractional femininity of men and the masculinity of women. In Liz Wheeler's insistence that "boys are boys and girls are girls," she overlooks the fact that it's beneficial to have boys learn some girl stuff and girls learn some boy stuff. Wouldn't it be nice if boys could get merit badges such as 'Simple Meal Preparation' and 'Good Credit'? Or what if girls had access to 'Sports' and 'Rifle Shooting'? Isn't a holistic approach the best when it comes to out-of-classroom preparation? By the way, many Boy Scout troops (including mine) have a woman in senior leadership, including as Scoutmaster. And I don't know if some of these mouthbreathers would be thrilled to know that the Girl Scouts are centered around diversity, social justice, and (gasp) feminism.
On the surface, it does appear to be an unnecessary change, since girls do have their own program, and can actually join several sub-programs in the BSA including Venture Scouts and Sea Scouts. But if you were to ask the average person what they know about Girl Scouts vs Boy Scouts, the responses would be pretty different. Most people would say that the Boy Scouts go camping, learn how to tie knots and pitch fires, and a good portion would know that that the high award is called 'Eagle Scout'. But Girl Scouts? Their highest honor is called the Gold Award, which isn't evocative of the same kind of grandeur that someone conjures when they tell you they've earned Eagle. It probably holds less weight on a resume than it deserves, too. In the past, groups that opened themselves to integration – including several military branches and academies – didn't have a viable female alternative. But isn't the notion of having a female 'alternative' antithetical to the whole point of equality? Girl Scouts will undeservedly hold a position subservient to the Boy Scouts for the forseeable future because that's how people think. People will always have to explain the Gold Award as "Eagle Scout, but the girl version." But they sure sell a mean cookie, so it's probably fine, right?
On a related note, aren't we getting mad about the wrong thing here? If the program had been called 'Scouts of America' (without the 'Boy'), no one loses their mind over it, right? But since it's called the 'Boy Scouts', letting girls in doesn't let boys be boys. After all, a campsite doesn't look too much like a kitchen. And man, is it hard to play the classic game of nut-punching when you've been told that grabbing someone by the pussy is bad.
Quick tangent: We see this level of toxicity in sports all the time. It's considered un-manly to sit out of a game because you're sick or injured, consequences be damned. In any normal job, you're told to go home if you feel sick, not because you don't care or aren't committed, but because it's the best option for the team. Even though LeBron James is paid millions of dollars to play basketball and has access to the best medical care in the world, his broken leg would take just as long to heal as mine. It's an anime level of stupidity to think that you can exercise your demons by the sheer force of will and heart. The reward, however, makes it worth it – if you embrace the masculinity, you get called a 'fighter' and that you 'toughed it out' by 'manning up'. That's what emphasizing 'what it means to be a man' does. But no one's obligated to climb this hill of masculinity when you can walk right around it. Because when you get to the top to claim your reward, with all the appropriate badges of douchebaggery and misogyny and Hitler Youth, just know that it's a long fucking way down.
On the other side, some kid named Charlie welcomed girls to join his troop (gee I wonder why). Asha Rangappa joined the many parents disillusioned with the Girl Scouts, citing their relative lack of exciting activities, and the administrative burden of getting their kids involved. Some would argue that the Girl Scouts cultivates obedience in a dull, unadventurous kind of way. There are classical examples of catering toward gender norms – Girl Scouts can earn merit badges like 'Savvy Shopper' and 'Social Butterfly', while Boy Scouts have the choice of 'Backpacking' and 'Athletics' – that serve as commentary to how differently the groups truly function.
For all the progressives who don't count this as progress – the idea that girls joining an organization built upon serving young men can be harmful certainly does seem alluring. But too often in the 'what kind of message does it send the children' argument, we forget to actually ask the children. The ones who come up through the Boy-Girl Scouts hybrid unit won't have known any differently. They wouldn't be prone to thinking that their achievements are devalued because they were designed by men, or that they're trying to meet someone else's definition of success.
Allowing girls into the Boy Scouts prioritizes convenience and infrastructure over effectiveness. The two don't need to be together for them to learn the lessons they currently lack, or for both the units to be effective. Having the organizations work in tandem would eliminate virtually every problem – that's exactly what the Fins did with their counterpart groups.
Why not establish an umbrella organization for both the Boy and Girl Scouts, and have them fill in the gaps wherever necessary?
Boys and girls spend time together in almost every aspect of their lives. They spend hours on end together at school. Most non-team-sport activities are co-ed. The vast majority of parents have two kids. They'll end up in a co-ed college where they live in close proximity, and their workplace will be co-ed too. So it's fine if they have their time apart – not because integrating them would wipe out manliness or activate the gay gene in these adolescent boys, but rather because they have different needs in the context of what the scouts tries to reinforce. You teach girls differently than you teach boys because they have fundamentally different triggers. You include girls in different activities than boys because they may well have different wants. And you have girls work independently of boys because in those age brackets, there's a huge be a bigger gap in maturity.
Let me tell you what I got out of Boy Scouts. I barely remember any of the fucking knots, or any of the concepts behind fingerprinting. I do somewhat remember how to orient a compass, shoot arrows, and administer first aid. But besides all the hard skills, it was the soft (pussification of America alert!) skills that served me the best. At 11 years old, I was your typical socially awkward skinny Indian kid. At 16 when I got my Eagle rank, I knew how to talk to people. I could manage people. I had the chance to help people. All of those – as you may have astutely recognized – are in relation to people. And yeah, I knew how to carve some wood, for whatever that was worth.
So we can create different programs for boys and girls, but let's not conflate that with having *separated* (but equal) programs. Let's not craft a narrative about boys needing their space so they can let testosterone seep through their skin, or one about girls being put down because of things they won't even consider important. Let's create a program for them to be better people, not just better boys or girls. They can learn, engage, and understand in their own arenas where they will thrive the most, but those shouldn't morph into dens of isolationBecause boys will have to learn to talk to girls. Girls should learn how to manage boys. And boys sure as hell should learn how to help girls.