Discrimination is a learned behavior. Nobody is born with notions of the superiority of one group over another, nor would we even perceive much of a difference between people if these dissimilarities were not taught to us. But from an early age, we are segregated by sex, whether by direct grouping or by internalized societal pressures, so we grow up learning not to cross imaginary lines. The divide between the sexes is enormous and older than the human historical record. It’s high time the gap was filled, and what better place to start than the minds of America’s children?
Since the early 1900s, scouting programs have been teaching generations of children responsibility, leadership, community service and independence. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts alike work toward badges that reward them for adequacy in areas ranging from first aid to physical fitness, but the two groups of scouts were established on vastly different principles. Boy Scouts was founded to create new generations of the ideal 20th century American man, a figurehead that is traveling toward extinction in socially progressive communities as people continue to take a critical eye to gender norms. Conversely, Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low organized her scouts in recognition of the need of young girls growing up in the tumultuous era before women’s suffrage to develop into powerful and independent women able to sustain the war on gender inequity. Girl Scouts was established as an alternative social space where girls didn’t have to be the girls society told them to be.
Today, the two scouting groups have much in common, including overlapping badges and curricula focused on adventure, life skills and community service. All in all, the two groups aren’t really so different. So when the Boy Scouts of America announced on Oct. 11 that they would be allowing girls to join the Cub Scout ranks, it seemed like a decision that was not only logical, but in accord with the BSA’s current social trajectory. After finally lifting their ban on openly gay scouts in 2013, openly gay troop leaders in 2015 and transgender boys this past January, the BSA made a seemingly appropriate next step by allowing girls to partake in the program.
Rather than trying to sabotage the ranks of Girl Scouts to compensate for its own sagging membership, BSA is simply offering an alternative scouting option to families who are inconvenienced by the current gendered system, either because of transportation conflicts or because their children don’t feel comfortable in a single-gendered setting. The girls and boys of this generation of scouts are being presented with an astounding opportunity to learn from one another and challenge the traditional separation of the sexes. Although the first new Cub Scout dens will remain gender-segregated, this shift in the BSA is an important step toward gender-inclusivity, which might one day mean that all children — whether they identify as boys, girls, non-binary persons or anything else on the expansive spectrum of gender — can associate in a group setting that crosses all the imaginary lines past generations have drawn for themselves.
This does not mean that the Girl Scouts ought to be forsaken. BSA might benefit from combining forces with its sister organization to incorporate into its own program badges already a part of the Girl Scouts’ curriculum that focus on social skills, introspection and other attributes essential to workplace settings that are focused ever more heavily on teamwork and social networking. By adopting some of the more traditionally feminine badges awarded by the Girl Scouts, such as those for babysitting and cooking, the new and improved Boy Scouts would offer their members a space to explore interests that do not align with traditional gender norms. One central organization of scouting created from the combined forces of Boy and Girl Scouts could better itself by encompassing the principles of both groups and adding “a commitment to striking down the gender-binary system” to its collective motto.
We should honor the vision of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America by preparing our young men for their futures in a world that is realistically changing faster than the old traditions can withstand. We should take a note from the founder of the Girl Scouts who saw scouting as an opportunity for social defiance in the name of progression. We should give every child, regardless of gender, the same opportunity to live free of bias. Instead of supporting a history of sexism, homophobia and traditionalism, the new scouts of America would raise each generation to come on the good old value that all people are created equal.