The decision by the Boy Scouts of America to become the Boy (and some girl) Scouts of America was bound to raise a few eyebrows, but now it’s turning into a real battle between the two traditionally gender-specific organizations. In an op-ed for Time, one member of the national board of the Girl Scouts urges the BSA to cool their jets and rethink this idea.
Before you become too confused, the board member in question is actually a guy. Charles Garcia was just invited to join the Girl Scouts board this month after having previously served as the Chairman of the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Garcia doesn’t seem to be arguing any sort of old-school, “keep them separated” line of thinking, but rather feels that the BSA has a lot of work to do in cleaning up their own house before they begin inviting in the girls. Having overseen the sexual assault scandals that rocked the Air Force Academy, he seems to be coming at this problem from a position of grim but valuable experience.
The horror story I saw at my cherished alma mater, I now see in vivid colors being played out at BSA. If you want to see it too, google three words: Boy Scouts abuse.
In a significant investigation in 2012, the Los Angeles Times used data and case files from 1947 to 2005 to report that approximately 5,000 men and a handful of women were expelled from the Boy Scouts of America on “suspicion of sexual abuse.” BSA commented at the time that it had improved its policies over the years, conducting criminal background checks on volunteers since 2008 and reporting concerns about abuse to the police since 2010.
Reports of abuse still come out. Just last Friday, a judge ordered a former Scoutmaster and physician to pay $120 million for allegedly sexually abusing a boy.
Garcia quotes some alarming statistics. I’d been aware that the occasional crime took place when pedophiles infiltrated the ranks of the Boy Scouts, but I’d no idea of the scale. 5,000 cases of scout leaders and volunteers being ejected for sexually abusing children is staggering. Even when you consider that those numbers cover nearly sixty years, that’s still an average of more than 80 per year. And if the young boys are encountering these sorts of assaults, one can only imagine what the girls would run into.
This isn’t just a case of worrying about the adults abusing young girls in the scouting program, either. The older boys can be a daunting and occasionally uncontrollable crowd at times, particularly when sent out without mom and dad into a camping environment. Running as part of the pack, older boys going through their first experiences with surging testosterone can be problematic, and dumping some young girls into the mix is, I’m sorry to say, asking for trouble. Doing a quick check of related news stories, such things do apparently happen in the Girl Scouts, but far less frequently.
In any event, Garcia’s argument is a valid point to bring up, but is that really the only reason to avoid integration? First of all, you can see some brand marketing warfare building up here. Every girl that the BSA tempts away is one less participant in the girl’s program. A common complaint is that the Boy Scouts just have a “better” program which prepares young men for leadership roles and success more adequately than the Girl Scouts. But if this is the complaint, why not focus instead on improving the Girl Scouts so they offer the same advantages and opportunities? Yes, I’m sure that sounds suspiciously like separate but equal, and I’ll get to that presently.
Garcia’s complaint about how the BSA doesn’t recruit enough urban, minority boys is also worth a look. Since it costs very little to get into scouting (I was a Life Scout myself when I left and joined the military), perhaps this is more of a cultural thing. I don’t see any hard data on that aspect of it at a quick glance.
But underlying all of this is the question which Garcia fails to address. What’s so wrong about having gender-specific scouting programs? It’s a good environment where kids can experience a broader range of activities led (hopefully) by inspiring role models. Boys and girls can learn from dynamic Men and Women and hopefully get a leg up toward assuming those roles themselves after they graduate. These recent moves, by contrast, sound suspiciously like more of the modern era’s propensity toward trying to obliterate gender differences in the United States, with social justice warriors continually trying to blur the lines of what it means to be a man or a woman.
Yes, I agree with Garcia that the Boy Scouts absolutely need to back off from this decision and take a fresh look at the question. I just think the author skipped over a number of key arguments supporting his premise.