By Julia-Grace Sanders
When I was three years old, I joined “scub scouts,” as I called my older brother’s Cub Scout troop. Both my parents were leaders, so my attendance was simply the collateral damage of lacking a babysitter. I did it all- I carved the soap, I made the leather keychains, I ran in the relay races, you name it.
Sporting my brother’s hand-me-downs, I never felt unwelcome at Cub Scouts. As far as my mom can remember, none of the boys seemed to have an issue with my presence either. My blissful inclusion came to an end when the troop started going on camping trips, and the “dads and boys” unspoken rule was enforced. I was left on the doorstep, enviously watching as my dad and brother took off on countless camping, canoeing and backpacking adventures.
At the time, my parents didn’t think to ask if I could continue Boy Scouting – it simply wasn’t done. Wanting to provide me with another outlet to learn skills and earn badges, my mom searched for a program that suited me after determining our local Girl Scout troop was “too girly” for my rough-and-tumble ways. She settled, ironically, on a program entitled “Keepers at Home,” a book that “opens the door to a world of creativity, crafts, homemaking skills, sports and character training.” I dabbled briefly before settling on the boy version of the book.
As an adult, I’m passionate about the outdoors and I can’t help but get a little angsty that my Boy Scouts education was cut short at the soap-carving unit. I’ve had to invest time and energy into learning skills I would have otherwise learned in Boy Scouts. When put in context, girls’ exclusion from scouting is a manifestation of the patriarchal knowledge divide.
Last week, The Boy Scouts of America announced plans on to broadly accept girls, a historical shift that will allow girls to take part in the scouting adventures they’ve been excluded from for over a century.
Surprisingly, the Girl Scouts of the USA backed one of the main arguments against the Boy Scout’s announcement, arguing that girls learn better in all-female groups.
While the importance of women-only safe spaces certainly cannot be understated, neither can the need for comparable resources when genders are separated.
In the 1996 landmark case United States v. Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down a long-standing male-only admissions rule for the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), saying that the school violated the Equal Protection Clause by failing to offer a comparable option to women. VMI made a weak attempt to offer an institute for women, but it came nowhere near comparable without the same rigorous military training, facilities, faculty, and reputation.
While the Boy Scouts have been ruled a private organization in past cases and thus can set their own membership standards, the comparable option framework is still relevant.
Although Girl Scouts are meant to be the female counterpart to Boy Scouts, the reality is that some Girl Scout troops simply don’t offer some of the more adventurous activities that Boy Scouts do. The Girl Scout curriculum varies widely dependent on the troops’ leader, so in some cases, troops focus more on crafts and less on camping.
The gendered impact of women’s exclusion from Boy Scouts reaches beyond the knowledge learned as member. The Girl Scouts don’t offer an equivalent to the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout, which holds weight on college applications. Starting in 2019, Boy Scouts plan to offer a path for girls to become Eagle Scouts. For those seeking a female-only space, Girl Scouts will remain an organization that provides invaluable community and education for young women.
Moving forward, gender inclusion in Boy Scouts will do nothing but open doors for young girls like me who’d rather shoot bow and arrow with the boys than do anything with a glue-stick. It’s likely that many girls won’t join Boy Scouts – that they’ll choose another organization more tailored to their interests. The important progression is that they will have a choice.
If I decide to have children in the distant future, I’m relieved to know being rejected from Boy Scouts is one obstacle they won’t have to face, regardless of their gender identity. This time, rather than watching from the doorway, I’ll be right there along with them.
Julia-Grace Sanders a storyteller who is passionate about human rights and committed to justice. She strives to demonstrate how law and policy affect everyday people through writing, photography, and the occasional video.