by Ursula Perano | U.S. Navy photo by All Hands Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Todd Frontom
On October 11, 2017, the Boy Scouts of America made a groundbreaking decision to offer girls full membership in the organization.
Previously, women could serve as troop leaders, and older girls could partake in Boy Scouts’ venturing programs or explorer posts. But girls had not been able to join a troop or achieve the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.
Until this point, young girls interested in scouting were primarily directed to the Girl Scouts of the USA, an entirely separate organization from BSA. Both rooted in the Scout Movement of the Early Twentieth Century, the groups share many of the same goals. These include to promote community service, provide leadership opportunities, and to develop life skills to serve scouts into adulthood. Even the Girl Scouts’ Promise and the Boy Scouts’ Oath practically mirror one another:
Girl Scouts’ Promise:
“On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.”
Boy Scouts’ Oath:
“On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”
However, Girl Scouts has faced criticism in recent years, with some calling its programming dated and overly domestic. Reports have come forward of girls saying activities were commonly based on home economics, such as sewing and cooking, and not on outdoor pursuits.
The GSUSA promptly issued a response condemning the BSA’s move to expand membership to girls, stating, “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 response then went on to reaffirm Girl Scouts’ confidence in their program and their continued commitment to achieving its goals.
The Boy Scouts of America has emphasized that the shift in policy is about catering to the needs of modern families. Alluding to the drop in membership Boy Scouts has seen in recent decades, their statement released Wednesday said, “Families today are busier and more diverse than ever. Most are dual-earners and there are more single-parent households than ever before, making convenient programs that serve the whole family more appealing”.
Outgoing Scoutmaster Bryan Ayers of Tallahassee’s Troop 23 says he has “no issues with the changes”. As a fourth generation scout who has served for a decade as a leader, Ayers has seen the organization evolve firsthand throughout his life. “It has changed a lot,” he said, “but so has society as a whole.” Ayers acknowledges that often those changes have come too slowly, but he believes the delays ensure that children and families remain in a “safe and comfortable environment.”
Ayers is the proud father of three children, two of which are now young women pursuing their college degrees. But throughout their childhoods those two girls served exemplified the issue that the BSA now intends to address.
Growing up, Ayers’ two daughters both enrolled in Girl Scouts for a period of time before deciding the program did not cater to their interests. But one of his daughters decided she wasn’t ready to give up the pursuit. When she turned 14, Ayers enrolled her in the BSA’s Venturing Program, which facilitates outdoor activities on a co-ed basis. She was able to enjoy camping, hiking, and engaging in other endeavors with her fellow ‘venturers’. But alas, she could never formally be a scout.
Ayers now says he likely would’ve enrolled his daughters had the option been available, stating, “I want them to have every opportunity for pursuing their interests that they can.”
Yet, Ayers is still recognizes the logistical issues that need to be figured out.
It has been announced that in Cub Scouts, BSA’s program for elementary schoolers, “dens” will remain single-gender. The BSA has said this is to “maintain the integrity of the single-gender model.” These groups will begin enrolling in 2018, with girls eligible to join Boy Scouts in 2019. It remains unclear whether Boy Scouts will be kept single-gendered as well.
This presents some questions about how Boy Scouts will then cater to the needs of all scouting members.
Foremost, there will be an immediate need for additional adult leadership to service new female scouts. Adult leadership is thoroughly screened, and is required to participate in an extensive youth protection training before beginning their service. Presumably, the organization will have to make strong pushes to recruit enough adults to accommodate the influx of new members. The question as to if certain leadership positions will need to be female also remains unanswered.
Furthermore, large amounts of outreach will be needed in order to populate these female-only troops, and to make them viable options for girls to pursue. While girls have clearly expressed enthusiasm, it is still yet to made clear if there are enough girls interested to effectively fill a nationwide program.
Nevertheless, figures like Ayers are ready to welcome the program’s first generation of girls, stating, “We’re going have some dynamics to work out, but as far as being able to offer young women the same leadership and opportunities for growth, it’s a great thing.”
Measuring by the requirements to qualify, it is likely we will see the first girl to achieve Eagle Scout in 2020, the year of the program’s 110th anniversary.