I joined Cub Scouts when I was six, and continued on in Boy Scouts through high school. I am proud to say I’m one of the 2.01% of Scouts since 1912 who’ve reached the rank of Eagle. Scouting has been a major part of my life, and the experiences and lessons I learned during my time in the khaki uniform shaped me into who I am today. My Boy Scouts experience, and how it helped me grow, is exemplified in the story of my first campout.
I was incredibly nervous about my first night in the wilderness, and I begged my father to go on the first campout with me. He agreed, but only under the conditions outlined in a contract he and my mother wrote—sample line, “I will not cling to my father, lest he get annoyed.” Seeing no other legal recourse, I signed the contract. The campout went smoothly—except when a few other newbies and I accidentally set our portable stove on fire—until it came time for all the new Scouts to take the swim test. It was late September at the time, and once I dipped my toe into the lake at the dock I realized just how cold the water really was. I decided I was not getting into that lake. And then my father, the kindest and most peaceable man you’d ever meet, walked up to me and said something I’ll never forget:
“Either you get in the water or I throw you in.”
I got in the water.
The rest of my Scouting career was filled with similar experiences that forced me out of my comfort zone, with each one becoming easier than the last. I started Scouts as a shy, awkward boy, and by the time I attained the rank of Eagle I’d become a confident, mature young man thanks in large part to the Boy Scouts program.
Which is why I understand the reason many girls want to join the Boy Scouts. It teaches leadership, civic responsibility, and teamwork, among a host of other life skills that aren’t reserved for only one gender. The virtues Scouting teaches aren’t gender specific, however the way it does so is through merit badges and rank requirements that are designed to help boys become men. Boy Scouts teaches life skills in a very male-oriented manner, and allowing girls in threatens the organization’s ability to carry out its mission.
The increasingly unpopular but still scientifically accurate fact is there are differences between the sexes. The male and female brain differ in structure and are quite literally wired differently. These differences don’t indicate superiority in either of the sexes, merely differences and strengths in different fields. The evidence suggests boys, much more than girls, learn best through hands-on experience and movement. It makes sense, then, that a program meant for boys would emphasize the outdoors and learning through doing.
Scouts also offers a unique opportunity for boys to bond, to have what, for lack of a better term, might be called “guy time.” I am not, by the way, using “guy time” as coded terminology for locker room talk as some seem to—such behavior goes against the principles of Scouting, which teaches boys to treat women with respect. Men just bond differently and will act differently when women aren’t around.
The female brain produces higher levels of serotonin and oxytocin than the male brain. This makes women better at expressing their emotions and bonding with each other than men, especially through conversation. Male friendships are formed through activity, through doing things with each other, which is why athletics are the basis for so many male bonding rituals. Campouts, hikes, and canoe trips provide ideal scenarios for young men to bond through mutual experiences and struggles.
While girls will be placed in a separate program from boys following Cub Scouts, their inclusion in the program confuses the purpose of the Boy Scouts of America. With its new broader audience, I fear the mission of Boy Scouts will be lost. Now the needs of girls will have to be taken into account, which may result in changes to the boys’ program as well. Will the requirements for Eagle Scout be the same for boys and girls? If they aren’t, then society will always make a distinction between the Boy Eagle Scout ranking and the Girl Eagle Scout ranking, making it more likely the Scouting administration will alter the requirements for boys instead of creating different requirements for girls that recognize their strengths and learning styles. The end result will be a badge that doesn’t command the respect it used to and doesn’t help boys or girls mature as they strive to earn it.
Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim