As part of their new “Lifetime of Leadership,” campaign, The Girl Scouts of America released a very political and interestingly timed PSA highlighting the scores of highly influential women who were once Girl Scouts. While the ad is promising and rightly means to showcase all the ways in which the Girl Scouts can specifically prepare young girls for greatness, its rhetoric fits very neatly into their ongoing struggle with the Boy Scouts of America who, much to the chagrin of the Girl Scouts, recently kicked off a new campaign to open up their programming to young girls.
The 60-second PSA is narrated by musician and actress Queen Latifah and is, among other things, a very clear flexing of the organizations activist bona fides. As Latifah speaks on teaching girls about “Not just making our mark but making a difference,” the PSA cycles through the faces of well-known women such as philanthropist Melinda Gates, tennis legend Venus Williams, and journalist Katie Couric, all of whom have spent time in the Girl Scouts.
Despite the famous alumni, the Girl Scouts’ membership has taken a hit in recent years. According to the AP, their membership fell from its peak of more than 3.8 million, in 2003 to 2.8 million by 2014. Similarly, The Boy Scouts have been dealing with lowered enrollment as well. Their ranks have dwindled by more than a third since 2000, and now the organization boasts a much more modest two million by 2016. Kathy Hopinkah Hannan subtly accused the Boy Scouts of only looking to appeal to girls in light of their dwindling enrollment in a letter she wrote to them after they announced their push to be more inclusive.
She wrote that it was “inherently dishonest’” for them to “claim to be a single gender organization while simultaneously endeavoring upon a coed model.” Still, that critique won’t hold up for very long. The Boy Scouts haven’t just changed their structure, but even renamed their organization to be more gender neutral, now electing to call it Scouts BSA. “Boy” is now only in the title because it’s the name of the parent organization. Kids who enroll, regardless of gender, will now just be called scouts.
Still, it’s not clear how the “Lifetime of Leadership,” campaign will pan out in terms of enrollment and remaining competitive. According to Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh, the Cub Scouts (the youngest members of Scouts BSA) will officially be taking in girls starting this Summer, and more than 3,000 girls have already enrolled in the program ahead of that. When the Boy Scouts announced that they would eventually be enrolling girls for the first time last year, Lisa Margosian, the Chief Customer Officer for the Girl Scouts wrote in a statement that her organization has “had competitors come and go,” and that the Boy Scouts were “yet another competitor.”
Even though the Girl Scouts are in much better shape in terms of avoiding scandal, enrolling kids, and managing their finances, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that both organizations could perhaps just be clamoring for social justice points. The Boy Scouts are trying to reckon with their history and become more inclusive, and the Girl Scouts are continuing to emphasize the very real importance of women-led and women-only organizations. Nothing either of them is doing seems particularly bad, yet the debate rages on.