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OPINION: Boy Scouts do good by permitting women to become Eagle Scouts
I am in an exclusive club with the likes of Neil Armstrong, Gerald Ford and Steven Spielberg. While it would be cool to share some of their astronomical, presidential or directorial prestige, our commonality is profound in its own right.
All four of us are Eagle Scouts. We are some of the mere five percent of Boy Scouts who have achieved the organization’s highest rank. Our group currently holds about 2.5 million men, and sooner than later, we will be welcoming our first woman.
On Oct. 11, the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into Cub Scouts and to deliver a scouting program for older girls that will enable them to earn their Eagle Scout rank. The decision sparked conversation across the country and promptly led the Girl Scouts to release a statement defending their organization.
“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 statement reads.
The Girl Scouts are 2.6 million strong- 1.8 million girls and 800,000 leaders. They are doing tremendous work in turning young girls and women into the leaders of today. According to their statement, 90 percent of female astronauts in the U.S., 80 percent of female tech leaders, 75 percent of current senators and all U.S. Secretaries of State are Girl Scout alumnae. It is discouraging to see that they believe they are the only ones to help guide young women, though.
This move is the latest in a line of decisions from the Boy Scouts to become more inclusive. It took over 100 years before the BSA lifted their ban on openly gay scouts in 2013. It took two more years before it ended its prohibition on gay scout leaders. Just this year, it opened room for transgender members by allowing members to self-identify as male. One thing that makes this announcement noticeable, and a reason why the Girl Scouts need to consider just what they mean by their assertion, is how the Boy Scouts conducted their research when considering the change.
The BSA say that they acquired input from current leaders and troops, but they also reached out to parents and girls who had no affiliation to scouting. The Boy Scouts stated that they had received requests from girls and families for years. This February, the National Organization for Women called for the BSA to permit full membership to girls. Other groups and families are on board with the Boy Scouts’ integration, so it is concerning to see the Girl Scouts become immediately defensive regarding the announcement.
The discussion about single-gender learning is a necessary one, and the Boy Scouts have taken measures to show it is paying attention to the concerns. In its statement, the BSA are giving individual packs (the Cub Scout equivalent to a troop) the choice to establish all-girl packs, a group that consists of girl dens (groups of scouts by a certain age; i.e. Tiger, Wolf, Bear) and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. BSA announced that all dens will be single-gender, though, allowing girls of the same age to move up together.
When it comes to Boy Scouts, girls have been incorporated in programs well before this month’s momentous announcement. I didn’t know about this myself until my first year at a week-long summer camp where I saw a handful of girls poised in green button-downs alongside other camp counselors. I came to find out that they were members of Venturing, a Boy Scout subsidiary aimed at outdoor activities.
Venturing is one of four programs girls had the opportunity to enter within Boy Scouts. Girls could also enter another outdoor-centric group in Sea Scouting, a career-oriented program in Exploring or math- and science-focused STEM. The caveat to all of this is that none of these four gave girls an avenue to achieve scouting’s highest distinction. It is great to allow young adults the chance to concentrate in a particular area through scouting, but it pales in comparison to the opportunity to become an Eagle Scout. Starting next year, young women will have the chance to finally combine those values through the BSA.
Boy Scouts are commonly associated with camping and outdoorsmanship, two things I embarked on in my days. When I look back on my scouting experiences, though, the tangible skills are mostly irrelevant. I remember people instead.
Between Pinewood Derbies, perpetually camping in inclement conditions and weekly meetings, my friends and I continued to bond through our scouting expedition. I met people through the organization who I would not have encountered otherwise. Together, we shaped one another into the people we are today and I am glad to consider many of my fellow scouts some of my best friends today.
While male leaders and scouts were at the forefront of my 13-year journey, women undoubtedly made their mark on my scouting experience. My mom began as a leader, and while she only took a formal role in my first year, she became latched onto scouting along with my brother, another Eagle Scout, and me. She went beyond chauffeuring us to meetings and harping on us to complete our rank requirements. She became a merit badge counselor for Eagle Scout-required merit badges in citizenship and family life, becoming a teacher and mentor to other scouts in our troop using some of her expertise.
My mom was not the only mother merit badge counselor in the troop, either. We had women in leadership and counselor roles throughout our troop, diversifying the group of supervisors the other scouts and I worked alongside. Other troops in my hometown had women figures in even higher roles, too. I have benefitted from having a female presence in my scouting life and am optimistic other scouts will, too, as young women get the chance to work towards the Eagle Scout rank.
The decision to integrate girls into the BSA was one from a group of higher-ups in the organization, but it is up to individual troops, leaders and scouts themselves to prove that this is a great change. The Girl Scouts have asserted that the BSA is ill-equipped to properly mentor young women and help them succeed. It is up to scoutmasters to ensure their troop is guiding everyone and up to the individual scouts to ensure they are abiding their Scout Law and oath in helping one another.
There are organizational politics and gender conversations surrounding the BSA’s latest announcement, but at its core, this landmark decision gives women another avenue to become better leaders and citizens. In this day and age, I am not going to argue with any decision that enables kids and young adults to make a positive change in this world. I am proud of the Boy Scouts, honored to have reached the organization’s pinnacle and am excited to welcome women into the Eagle Scout club.