Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Camaraderie in Boy Scouts should not permit gender discrimination

A group of 10 to 13-year-old girls in the “liberal-minded community” of Santa Rosa, California, told Boy Scouts of America leaders this month that they “want in.” The girls, who call themselves the Unicorns, have said that they want to participate in programs like the Boy Scouts do, rather than selling cookies. 

“None of them want to be boys — they just want to play like them,” an article from The New York Times read.

The girls wanted to participate after taking a “skills-building course” affiliated with the Boy Scouts that is offered to boys and girls. “The Unicorns moved quickly from the course lessons to more formal Boy Scout activities: earning badges, hiking alongside boy groups and buying uniforms that mimicked those worn by boys,” the Times article read. 

These girls aren’t the first to insist upon inclusion — according to the Times, girls have been petitioning to join the Boy Scouts since the 1970s. Some say the process goes back even further than the conflict over admitting gay men, which was somewhat resolved this summer when BSA leadership voted to allow gay adult leaders. But as of now, Title IX, which prevents discrimination based on sex, makes an exception for the Boy Scouts.

“Expanding the definition of ‘Boy Scout’ is alarming some parents, who voiced concerns about the prospect of shared tents, the erosion of valuable boys-only time and the possibility that girls — who already outperform boys in many areas — might start to snap up all the leadership positions,” the Times wrote.

“Maybe their approach should have been to go to the Girl Scouts and say: Instead of painting our nails and clipping our — whatever they do — to do archery and do climbing,” scout leader Randy Huffman told the Times. “Going through that process.”

Jennifer Masterson is one of many parents who want to avoid co-ed groups for sexual reasons. “Would I want a girl sleeping in my son’s tent? No,” she told the Times. We hear this argument all the time. It’s a shame these parents cannot simply teach their children how to respect each other so as to not have sex at every opportunity possible. But because this is unlikely, it suffices to say that if parents are so concerned, they can simply have boys and girls sleep in separate tents on a co-ed camping trip.

In an ideal world, the Boy Scouts of America would be a co-ed program, just as Scouting is around the world. This has proven successful in many other countries — according to the international Scouting organization, Scouting is active in 216 countries and has 31 million members, male and female, including co-ed programs in the United Kingdom and Australia.

The Boy Scouts of America does include a program for 13 to 21-year-olds called Venturing, in which both boys and girls are invited to participate in outdoor activities similar to those the Boy Scouts practice in their everyday program.

It’s arguably true, however, that Girl Scouts in the United States seems to be an organization that confines women to predictable tasks, such as baking casseroles or having pizza parties. Many Girl Scouts never even had the opportunity to go camping, hiking or rock climbing. Girls are rewarded for going shopping, while boys are rewarded for building fires. There is a huge double standard here that shows in the fact that many people take Girl Scouts much less seriously solely because it seems to be a weaker organization. Of course there are benefits within the Girl Scouts organization. Selling esteemed Girl Scout cookies each year, for example, teaches these young women to be successful businesswomen. On the whole, however, Girl Scouts in this country isn’t a feasible alternative to Boy Scouts.

Even the most liberal-minded of people sometimes see value in a “boys will be boys” camaraderie that comes with being a Boy Scout. But this environment that breeds a strong fear that girls will suddenly take over all of the leadership roles within the organization is exactly the reason women need to be included in this program.

The Title IX exemption afforded to the BSA paints a picture of the last vestige of “boy’s club” culture that harkens back to time in which the Boy Scouts was created, when men dominated more so than they still do now. This fear of females speaks to the fact that many involved in the Boy Scouts want to retain that dominance that the organization still holds. Parents’ call for “boy time” is unnecessary — this world has consisted of “boy time” for hundreds of years. If we teach boys they need to have their own entity in which they can talk about being strong young men, we automatically limit outside viewpoints. And what does it say about masculinity if it needs a place to take shelter from girls?

This all comes from some power trip that claims men can only be validated when women can’t possibly vouch for the same leadership positions or participate in the exact activities a man can. In some parts of the BSA, female leaders are honored for their service to these young boys. But for some reason, girls still aren’t allowed to don the same tan shirts and hiking boots as their male counterparts.

If the Boy Scouts were to completely collapse over a decision to include girls — which is highly unlikely, considering girls are just as and in some cases more capable than their male peers — there are plenty of other places in which these parents can find “camaraderie” for their sons. After all, most sports teams still remain gender-split.

The fact is, Boy Scouts remains an enormously influential organization that has the power to form boys’ attitudes from a very young age. We should not be using this opportunity to mold young minds to teach these boys that women shouldn’t be encouraged to take on leadership roles. Positions, in the real world and otherwise, should be given to those who earn them. And although that fact hasn’t proven true among many organizations and companies that remain male dominated solely due to gender discrimination, perhaps Boy Scouts is the place where we can start making a change.


  1. What in the world? This is ridiculously biased and uninformed. Girl Scouts as naps, nails, and pizza parties? In my time with Girl Scouts as a girl and leader, I’ve spend months sleeping in platform tents, backpacking, riding horses, climbing rock faces, whitewater rafting, summiting a 8,000 ft peak, and traveling internationally — and I am not an exception. And yes, scouting is cogender in many countries, but you completely ignored WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which includes 147 countries with 10 million members where scouting is female only. And let’s talk about GSUSA’s long history of inclusiveness and the feminist ideals promoted since our founding in 1912, while the Boy Scouts are STILL bickering about “the gays.” Sounds like these girls had an experience that they didn’t like with a less than adventurous local GS troop, not considering the obvious possibility that they can start their own troop and do whatever they want. But my issue is not with them — it’s with the bias and poor journalism in this editorial.

  2. Have you ever talked to a Girl Scout about her personal experience? I highly doubt it. Baking casseroles and pizza parties were never included in my Scouting experience growing up (and if pizza parties is rite of passage for femininity, then the Boy Scouts might as well join the Girl Scouts too). My experience with adventuring, camping, and exploring the outdoors has shaped my childhood and made me a better person today. Along with that, the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts, is much more work and requires a sustainable project, something essential to creating a lasting impact on a community. In turn, the Boy Scout’s Eagle Award project, something that many boys just build a bench with and be done, is inferior in ranks of creating a real impact on the community and making a change. Perhaps we should introduce casseroles into the Boy Scouts’ curriculum–because if you’re searching for equality, it has to go both ways.