The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has recently announced that it will change its name to Scouts BSA next February. Along with this title change, it will also start welcoming all genders into its ranks. This announcement was greeted with equal parts support and criticism. Some lauded the progressive decision to become more inclusive, while others have speculated that this decision will negatively affect the membership rates of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA). The controversy surrounding the gendered differences between the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts is a long-standing one and not one with a clear answer.
The BSA has only recently begun making strides towards inclusivity. Compared to the GSUSA, which has been open to essentially all genders since the early 2000s, the BSA has only started being more inclusive in the 2010s. The BSA has made drastic changes to their antiquated policies by opening its doors to openly gay members in 2013, gay troop leaders in 2015 and transgender kids in 2017. Some have speculated that BSA’s recent change of heart is a marketing response to its sharp membership decline. This is a point of contention between the BSA and the GSUSA, as both group’s membership rates have dropped significantly in the last decade, with the BSA decreasing by 300,000 members in the last five years and Girl Scouts down 27 percent since 2003. This begs the question: Does the BSA have people’s best interest at heart, or just their membership rates?
The GSUSA will likely face a sharper decrease in membership due to the change, leading to strife between the once amicable groups. Proponents of female-only scout organizations argue that girls excel more while surrounded by other girls. In a letter to the BSA written in early 2017, the GSUSA accused the BSA of “surreptitiously testing the appeal of a girls’ offering to millennial parents.” More recently, following the BSA announcement, the Girl Scouts Twitter account tweeted on May 3, “Research shows that a girl learns best in an all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly environment. As a Girl Scout, she’ll practice different skills; take on leadership positions; and even feel allowed to fail, dust herself off, get up, and try again.” This tenet of the GSUSA is exemplified in various organizations in the US as well. There are many women’s colleges that have thrived using one-gender programs for decades.
It remains unclear whether it is better to support groups geared towards bridging the gender gap or groups that offer equal opportunities for all genders. It appears that many girls thrive in programs designed specifically for girls, as the leaders of GSUSA have asserted. However, after the BSU changed their policy to include all genders, 3,000 girls have joined. Those girls, for whatever reason, chose to become scouts through the BSA, and it would be wrong to deny them that choice.
While it is important to have safe space options specifically designed to foster confidence in young girls, it is also important to broaden the number of opportunities available to them. Allowing girls entry into Scouts BSA may encourage more girls to take leadership positions if they did not find their place at the GSUSA. While the motives behind the BSA’s decision to include people of all genders are unclear, it’s still a step towards a more inclusive environment, and more inclusion is always good. While the BSA has been problematic in the past, we are happy to see them making positive changes. In our opinion, the BSA and GSUSA should put aside their differences and do their best to provide modern leadership opportunities for children of all genders.