The Boy-Girl Scouts of America

The Scouts open their ranks to girls without going gender neutral.



The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced Wednesday that next year it will allow girls to join the Cub Scouts. By 2019 it will start a program for older girls to become Eagle Scouts. At first it seems the Scouts have finally surrendered in the culture war, but the reality is more complicated.

Boy Scout membership has fallen by about a third since 2000, and today some 2.4 million young people take part in Scouting. The organization has long tried to broaden its appeal with programs like Sea Scouting and Venturing, which are open to women. In its announcement the organization noted that it wants to offer more programs for entire families. One survey showed 90% of parents not involved with Scouting were interested in getting their daughters into a program like the Cub Scouts.

Scouting conjures images of hiking in the outdoors and learning to tie knots, and the outdoors should remain central to its mission to build confidence that comes from mastering one’s surroundings. But Scouting has long offered merit badges in skills like computer programming and personal finance that are also helpful to girls and boys. 

Currently Cub Scouts are organized into local packs made up of dens of about a half-dozen elementary-school boys. Once girls can enter the Cub Scouts, dens will remain single-gender. Packs can decide whether to be mixed- or single-gender. And girls who want to become Eagle Scouts will do so in a program designed specifically for girls. “This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families,” the Scouts said.

The unanimous decision by the BSA board may also be a compromise to prevent total gender integration. The group’s statement acknowledged that girls have tried to join for years, and after taking so much abuse for resisting gay scouts until 2013, the group couldn’t want another media or court fight over gender. Earlier this year, it opened membership to transgender boys.

The question is whether progressives will accept any compromise. Lawsuits in the 1990s failed to force the Boy Scouts to change their membership requirements. The California Supreme Court in Randall v. Orange County Council (1998) ruled that the group isn’t a “business establishment” and thus not subject to gender-discrimination laws.

But the progressive movement remains committed to stamping out differences between genders. The Boy Scouts of America was created to instruct boys in how to become—pardon the non-neutral phrase—virtuous men. It’s unlikely the cultural left will accept this “separate but equal” proposal.

The Girl Scouts of the USA—a separate organization, and usually a paragon of progressive virtue—isn’t thrilled about the change. In August the group’s president accused the Boy Scouts of waging a “covert campaign to recruit girls into programs run by the Boy Scouts.” And it would be a shame if the Girl Scouts suffered as a result.

Surveying the U.S. in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville noted with admiration the American genius for self-improvement through enthusiastic involvement in church and community organizations. We’re not sure he’d say the same today, which is America’s loss. The Boy Scouts are taking a risk with their gender bender, but for the good of the country we hope they succeed.

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