After announcing a move to admit girls into their ranks, the Boy Scouts of America are changing their name. Kind of. Soon, male and female khaki campers aged 10 to 17 will be part of Scouts BSA, which basically means the organization is just going to stop spelling out the word “boy” — relegating it to the vestigial acronym. The awkward, half-hearted name change is newsworthy, sure, but mostly indicative of what’s really behind the coed push, which has nothing whatsoever to do with girls or their needs.
Scouting has been losing popularity across the board. Membership to both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, which are often mistaken for the same organization despite being extremely not, has been in sharp decline for the last decade. Some of the declines are predicated on the changing tastes of American youth. But, at least for the BSA, dwindling membership roles are also linked to the turmoil in the organization that began after allegations of sexual abuse were surfaced by a 1991 Washington Times investigation and subsequently aired in court. And then there was the protracted battle over the organization’s backward “don’t ask, don’t tell” hiring policy, which made the BSA seem not only bigoted but archaic.
Controversy has proven hard for the organization to weather. Corporate donations have shrunk as the businesses that once came for the halo effect shy away. It makes a cynical kind of sense, then, for the BSA to attempt to appropriate the cultural moment surrounding an energized women’s movement as an opportunity to do something radical and radically self-interested that can be billed as progressive and modern. And that is exactly what’s going on.
While the organization is feinting towards an idea of equality, there’s nothing really “woke” about admitting girls. It’s not as if the organization that traditionally served female scouting needs was not meeting the educational and recreational needs of young women. In fact, while the BSA has floundered in controversy, the Girl Scouts have continued to quietly steer an extraordinarily smooth course through dynamic cultural waters. That’s good news for the 1.8 million girls served by the organization, which has real expertise in speaking to its constituency.
A coed BSA might further weaken Girl Scouts, an organization actually founded to help women and run predominantly by women. It’s no wonder that current Girl Scout president Kathy Hopinkah Hannan considers the BSA’s move reckless and shortsighted.
What’s worse is that many liberal parents will buy the BSA move as emblematically progressive. They will consider it a sign that girls are busting down barriers and helping to tear down the patriarchy. That would be nice, maybe, but it’s not what’s happening and it might not even be that good a thing. In an ideal world, kids could enthusiastically self-sort or gravitate towards organizations run by experts on the various issues that might affect them. Instead, we’re watching a fight over market share. Can competition be good? Sure, but it rarely leads to positive outcomes when the person paying the fee is not the person having the experience (and the person having the experience is seven years old).
Sadly, the move may hasten the decline of scouting for boys and girls both. That’s a terrible consideration as children are increasingly immobile and distanced from the natural world and their own communities. When the Scouting organizations thrived, they were integral to teaching each new generation about important topics like conservation and personal and civic responsibility. Should they be snuffed out, there is not an organization waiting in the wings to pick up the slack.
If the BSA really wanted to help girls, they would stay in their own lane and help the Girl Scouts thrive. And if they really wanted to help boys, they would take the advice of the Girl Scout president and work to welcome kids of color who have traditionally felt disconnected from scouting. Now that would be progressive.