The Boy Scouts plan to admit girls into their ranks. Again.
The national office of the Boy Scouts of America recently announced that girls will be able to join Cub Scout packs this fall. Under a new program category called “Scouts BSA,” girls will be able to rise through the ranks in the coming years, all the way to Eagle (in other words, the Gold Award for boys). The expansion campaign will be known as “Scout Me In.”
But while proclaiming the move as a victory for inclusion, equality, and parental convenience, Cub Scout packs will be single-sex only. This paradox either confirms the value of single-gender group or indicates that Cub Scouts are afraid of girl cooties.
Including Some Girls
This is not the first time that the Boy Scouts have provided a participation option to girls.
On October 17, 1968, the Boy Scout organization launched a new membership initiative called “Boypower 76.” The ambitious program set national goals to be achieved by the US Bicentennial Celebration of 1976. Specifically, (1) Expand membership so that one of every three American boys is enrolled. That would require adding 2 million new Boy Scouts by 1976. (2) Double council budgets to a combined level of $150 million.
New members would be recruited through two efforts: establishing troops in inner cities and retaining older boys by allowing girls to participate in the special-interest, career-focused segment of the Explorers program. In other words, girls and ghettos.
The Girl Scouts outlined this new initiative in the October 1969 Leader magazine. According to the article, potential female Explorer participants must be:
- registered Girl Scouts or Camp Fire Girls
- invited to join by a post sponsor
- in high school, unmarried [!!], and at least 14 years old
Participants will not become members of the Boy Scouts of America and will not pay a membership fee to the Boy Scouts of America. (They may pay post dues and “pay their own way” for activities and events.)
Leader (October 1969): 55.
The national slogan for Boypower 76 was “America’s Manpower Begins with Boypower.” What girl wouldn’t feel welcomed by that greeting?
A key difference between the 1968 announcement and those of 2017 and 2018 is that the earlier expansion news was delivered in a joint statement from the national presidents of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls. Furthermore, the cooperation proposal originated with the Girl Scouts.
Not everyone was pleased with including girls in 1968, prompting a Boy Scout spokesman to reassure the faithful, “We are not going to try to build girls. Our business still is boys.” Then why add girls? According to BSA chief executive Alden Barber, it was to improve older boy retention.
Young men are interested in young women.
This statement makes girls sound like recruitment incentives, not a group worthy of program initiatives.
Councils were given strict monthly and annual membership goals to keep them on track to achieve the expansion envisioned in Boypower 76. As the girls were only Explorer “participants,” not members, presumably the main source for new members would be high-poverty pockets in both urban and rural areas.
The strategies mentioned in the press reeks of racism and do-goodism. A widely syndicated New York Times article from February 1970 discourages block-by-block recruiting for new Boy Scouts because it might trigger gang conflicts; a new handbook in comic book format appropriate for “youngsters with a minimum of education”; and badges that include treating rat bites.
By April 1971, girls could be full members of Explorer posts, thereby contributing to the overall membership goals.
The Controversial Collapse of Boypower
BSA canceled the Boypower program two years early, amid widespread reports of inflated membership numbers. Articles in the New York Daily News, the Central New Jersey Home News, and many other newspapers enumerated the problems. The Chicago council was accused of selling one-month memberships for ten cents; other councils for inventing names to register. At least 13 major cities were discovered to have falsified records, involving some 30,000-40,000 “phantom” scouts.
Furthermore, only about half of the $65 million fundraising goal was met, and much of that was from long-time donors who directed their gifts to the national organization instead of the local council.
I will be watching the rollout of “Scout Me In” closely. This initiative also comes at a time of falling membership among the Boy Scouts, and I certainly prefer enrolling real children who will actually participate instead of inventing new members.
It is also important to note that the Boy Scouts are enrolling girls, not necessarily Girl Scouts. I have not seen any statement preventing girls from being members of both organizations. There have always been “bi-Scoutal” girls enrolled in both Girl Scouts and Venturing, the current incarnation of the Explorer program.
Personally, I’ll stick with Girl Scouting. I have a hard time seeing myself as a welcome, valued member of any organization whose very name fails to include me. Girls are more than just membership statistics. Girls, and especially Girl Scouts, are great!
© 2018, Ann Robertson