Boys and Girls and Scouts, Oh My!

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts logos over male and female symbols

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts logos over male and female symbols
Back in the day I joined the BOY Scouts because I was a boy. My sister joined the GIRL Scouts because she was a girl. There was nothing ambiguous or confusing about our choices, nor should there have been. It was just part of the natural order of things. Earlier this month, however, Boy Scouts of America upset the natural order of things. BSA underwent a sea change and a sex change by deciding to recruit girls into their ranks. The move left liberals and conservatives alike scratching their heads, and it put me in mind of something Gomer Pyle once said: “What a dumb thing! What a dumb thing to do!”

The national Girl Scout office had a more visceral reaction, saying, “The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire. Instead of addressing systematic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement, and deficient programming, BSA’s senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls.”

The sexual assault portion of that statement refers to a landmark 2010 court case in which the Oregon Supreme Court ordered BSA to release their long-hidden, so-called “perversion files”, containing more than 14,500 documents which detailed complaints of predatory abuse dating back to 1959. For over five decades, BSA had refused to tell police about sexual assaults by scout leaders and, even worse, had systematically guaranteed those offenders that the organization wouldn’t go public if they would just resign and move on. Thus BSA’s cover-up enabled sexual predators to re-locate and re-offend somewhere else. The abuse was far reaching and, according to a 2012 report by the Greensboro News & Record’s Amanda Lehmert, included seven predatory scout leaders in the Triad, along with specifics of their crimes dating back to 1967.

But BSA’s transgressions aren’t the primary argument for why girls should not join their ranks. In an exclusive interview with Lane Cook, CEO of Girl Scouts Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont, she told me, “I hope girls will continue to choose Girl Scouts because we are the girl experts, and are dedicated to ensuring that girls are able to take advantage of a program tailored specifically to their unique developmental needs, not one tailored for boys and adapted for girls.”

And those developmental needs and differences to which Ms. Cook referred, are significant, as I learned back in 1993 while producing a documentary about the value of single-sex educational institutions. I interviewed a number of highly successful women, all of whom had either attended or managed an all-female school. What they told me was eye-opening.

Anne Marie Whittemore, then part of the legal team defending VMI’s right to stay all-male, and now a partner in McGuire Woods, told me, “Educators generally seem to believe that girls perform better in a supportive type of environment.” Cynthia Tyson, then-president of Mary Baldwin College, added, “Women increase in their self-esteem in a single-sex institution, and that leads to higher achievement for them when they go out into the world of work.” And attorney Anita Blair commented, “In my all-girl high school, a girl was president of the senior class. A girl was editor of the school newspaper. A girl was captain of every team, and we learned by being in an all-female environment, that women can do anything.”

Now, nearly 25 years later, those same developmental differences and needs remain the same.

“Girls thrive in an all-girl, girl-led environment such as Girl Scouts, where they can take center stage, and where the constant message is that nothing can stand in their way,” said Ms. Cook. “In Girl Scouts, girls can try new things, take risks, and take on challenging roles. Our girls follow their passions without worrying about what their male peers may think about them. Girls succeed in positions that otherwise might go to their male counterparts in a co-ed environment.”

Clearly, Girl Scouts offers a nurturing experience for their members, but is that going to be enough to stand up against what could be an aggressive campaign by BSA to recruit girls? Lane Cook believes that it is.

“Girl Scouts’ central focus, unlike that of BSA, has always been one of serving girls in an all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly environment, to create a safe space for them to learn, lead, and thrive. Only the Girl Scouts has more than 100 years of experience helping girls tap into their leadership potential by reinforcing and extending their skills in a supportive, encouraging environment, in which they feel safe to just be themselves.”

In all fairness, boys just need to be themselves too, and the best way to accommodate the developmental needs of both genders is to maintain and sustain two distinctly different scouting organizations. Kudos to the Girl Scouts for standing their ground. Thumbs down to the Boy Scouts for pulling a stunt to shore up membership. Sorry, BSA, there’s no badge awarded for disingenuous social engineering. It just has no merit.

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