Boy Scouts of America made an announcement that shocked many when on Oct. 11 — the International Day of the Girl no less— organization leaders said they would allow girls to join.
It's a significant shift for an organization that has seen a number of them in the past five years. In 2013, Boy Scouts lifted its ban on openly gay Scouts and in 2015 began allowing gay leaders. Earlier in 2017, it began allowing transgender members, saying it will allow Scouts who self identify as male.
However, the move to allow girls to join doesn't mean Boy Scouts will suddenly be filled with co-ed troops. Rather, as plans have crystalized, leaders have said the troops will remain single gender. Cub Scout dens for ages 7 to 10 can be all-boys or all-girls starting next year. It will likely be similar for girls 10 through 18, who will be able to join Boy Scout troops beginning in 2019. Details of what that looks like haven't been finalized, but it will have a similar curriculum to Boy Scouts and allow girls to earn the top rank of Eagle Scout. Boy Scouts have, for years, opened up certain programming to girls, such as its Venturing program, which in Carroll County has produced the multi-time state champion Envirothon team.
Besides folks who are worried about comingling of young boys and girls on overnight camping trips (which it appears won't be a concern if the troops indeed remain single-gender) and those who may view this as another case of our "politically correct culture gone crazy," the biggest opponents to the move thus far have been the Girl Scouts of the USA organization.
Perhaps understandably so. Membership of both organizations have been on the decline, and the Boy Scouts decision to start programming for young females will potentially siphon off potential members of the Girl Scouts.
According to the latest data available from each organization, the Boy Scouts of America have about 2.3 million youth members and Explorers registered in individual programs as of the 2015 annual report. The Girl Scouts' website cites a membership of 1.8 million girls.
All of this begs a few questions, first and foremost being: Why would girls want to join the Boy Scouts anyway?
For one thing, there's the chance to earn a prestigious and widely known Eagle Scout ranking, which has long opened doors for many leaders academically, professionally and in the military. The Girl Scouts have a similar accomplishment for its top ranking members known as the Gold Award, which like the Eagle Scout, has several requirements including an intensive community service project.
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But the Gold Award doesn't have nearly the name recognition of Eagle Scout. Both organizations and awards are over 100 years old, but let's be honest, most of those 100 years were in a male-dominated culture. Is that fair? Probably not, but it's a reality. There are plenty of females who know about an Eagle Scout ranking but haven't heard of the Gold Award. When discussing this very topic with my wife earlier this week – who, granted, works for the U.S. Army and grew up with a father who led a Boy Scout troop and whose brother was an Eagle Scout – said the Girl Scouts don't have an equivalent ranking. I had to be the one to tell her about the Gold Award, which admittedly, I only became aware of a few years ago when we wrote a story for the Times about the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts.
There also seems to be a bit of disenchantment with the Girl Scouts among some females, who wish to participate in a number of the outdoor activities that are staples of the Boy Scouts.
A few Girl Scout troop leaders interviewed by CNN noted they had changed activities to improve membership by focusing on outdoor skills like camping and redesigning programs to resemble Boy Scout activities. Support for some of these activities had lessened over the years to focus on science, technology, engineering and math skills to help prepare girls for entering the workforce. Undoubtedly, those skills are important, but it shouldn't be surprising that declines in membership coincided with cutting activities that immediately jump to mind when you think about the word "scouting."
Of course, my biggest question in all of this is: Why are there two distinct groups to begin with? In 2017, it seems obvious that there would be programs offered by Boy Scouts that would appeal to young women and probably some Girl Scouts programs that may appeal to young men.
The Girl Scouts insist that the all-female model works. "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 Girl Scouts said in a statement. While I certainly agree it's important for these young girls to have strong female leaders to look up to, it has always been welcoming of male troop leaders. Likewise, Boy Scouts has never shied away from having den mothers and other female volunteers, and for nearly 30 years have allowed women to hold leadership roles, including scoutmaster.
In other countries, the two organizations work closely together and, in a few, even fall under the same banner of scouting. Perhaps the Boy Scouts of America have just taken the necessary step to become more of an umbrella organization for two distinct boys and girls troops. Regardless, it's clear both organizations are now competing for the same group of people.
Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at email@example.com.