Boy Scouts of America to begin accepting girls, which raises issues with Girl Scouts

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Friday, September 22, 2017

This week, the first official female Cub Scouts formed dens and commenced earning badges as part of the Boy Scouts of America.

In October of last year, the Boy Scouts of America announced that their board of directors had unanimously decided the century-old children's organization would begin accepting girls as Cub Scouts and allow them to apply for and earn Eagle Scout status, a unanimous decision by their board of directors. This has raised questions about the future of an independent but related organization, the Girl Scouts.

A young man at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor in 2006. The Boy Scouts of America have announced they will begin allowing girls to earn this award starting in 2019.
Image: Tom Anderson.

The decision does not mean there will be mixed groups, called dens, of male and female Cub Scouts: "Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls," the Scouts said in a statement, and it will be up to local scouting organizations to decide whether to establish girls' dens. These dens can be combined with others to create larger groups, called packs.

The Boy Scouts already admit girls to some of their programs but this move would allow them to become full members of the organization, so long as they are young enough to become Cub Scouts. A new program, slated to begin in 2019, is designed to allow older girls earn the Eagle Scout Award, which is the Boy Scouts' highest honor.

"I just want to do what the Boy Scouts do — earn the merit badges and earn the Eagle Award," aspiring Eagle Scout Sydney Ireland told NBC News. "The Girl Scouts is a great organization, but it's just not the program that I want to be part of. I think girls should just have the opportunity to be a member of any organization they want regardless of gender." Ireland has been an unofficial member of her local Boy Scout den since she was four and authored a Change.org petition requesting that the organization admit girls.

The National Organization for Women approved of the decision but the Girl Scouts of America did not. Membership in both the Boy and Girl Scout organizations has dropped by millions since the early 2000s, and this measure may bolster membership in the Boy Scouts. The president of the Girl Scouts has accused the Boy Scouts of poaching girls in the past.

"We've had 105 years of supporting girls and a girl-only safe space," Lisa Margosian, chief customer officer for the Girl Scouts, told the press. "So much of a girl's life is a life where she is in a coed environment, and we have so much research and data that suggests that girls really thrive in an environment where they can experiment, take risk and stretch themselves in the company of other girls." Margosian also said the Girls Scouts were "blindsided" by the Boy Scouts' announcement.

"The problem with the Girl Scout curriculum is that it's very focused on who your leader is for your particular troop," said Rebecca Szetela, one mother of four from Michigan. "If you have a mom who's really into crafts and girlie stuff and being a princess, then that's what your Girl Scout troop is going to be like. If you have a daughter who's more rough and tumble, it's not going to be a good fit."

Girl Scouts working on the Mission Ocean Challenge during the USS California Science Experience at Naval Surface Warfare Center in 2010.
Image: U.S. Navy photo by Greg Vojtko.

A 2011 study in the journal Gender and Society found the Boy Scouts were less likely to engage in artistic projects and the Girl Scouts less likely to engage in science, though the Girl Scouts have made attempts to foster science programs since then.

The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated in 1910 and the Girl Scouts shortly later. The organizations also differ from each other with respect to politics and progressivism. "In some very fundamental ways the Boy Scouts was always backward-looking. It harkened back to a time when men were men, when they were apt in the woods, when they were muscular and strong," says Arizona State University women's studies professor Mary Logan Rothschild. "[With Girl Scouts] all the things they were doing were not backward-looking, but forward-looking. These were new things for girls: to be adept at making fires, marching, and doing all these outdoor things. [...] It's my profound belief, based on academic research, that they really have fundamentally different visions."

Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts announced they would accept trans boys as members. In 2013 and 2015, it lifted its ban on openly gay members and leaders, respectively, after years of public debate. The organization still bars entry to atheists and agnostics, and about 70% of Boy Scout organizations are affiliated with religious groups of some kind. In 2015, a Washington State Girl Scout troop returned a $100,000 donation because the donor had stipulated it could not be used to support trans girls.

"The Girl Scouts see it as a threat to their territory and the Boy Scouts are saying 'we are offering another option,'" New York Times reporter Niraj Chokshi told NBC News. "Depending on how it plays out, we will see how targeted it was at the Girl Scouts."


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