Including girls in the Boy Scouts is an empty gesture

Sam Groves

At first glance, the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America to begin admitting girls seems like a good-faith attempt on the organization’s part to put its history of regressive politics behind it. Just five years ago, they were still expelling members for being gay. Just one year ago, they were still expelling members for being transgender. Admitting girls is just one more step in the inexorable march of progress.

Unfortunately, the truth is more complicated. Of course, it’s good that another door once closed to girls has been opened. If girls want access to the unique experience that the BSA offers, then they should have it. There was a time when the group didn’t allow female scoutmasters — now a third of their volunteers are women. Needless to say, this has not resulted in disaster.

But the BSA is facing declining membership, and that’s what could really be motivating this decision. Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the president of the Girl Scouts, said as much in an August 2017 letter accusing the BSA of engaging in a “covert campaign to recruit girls” in order to bolster their ranks. And it’s hard not to agree with that assessment.

The best evidence that this is a cynical ploy to boost membership while appealing to progressives is that the Boy Scouts don’t seem to have a plan to change their organization’s culture in any meaningful way in order to be more welcoming to girls. Each “pack” will get to vote on whether or not to create a separate wing for girls — ensuring that current members are sheltered from anything resembling social change. The organization will continue to align itself with religious groups that espouse conservative views on gender politics, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Catholic Church. And they will still call themselves the “Boy Scouts.”

If you doubt that the culture of the Boy Scouts as it currently exists is toxic, just watch President Donald Trump’s speech to the organization’s national gathering in West Virginia last July. As Trump, a misogynist who has been accused of sexual harassment by more than a dozen different women, recounted the story of a friend’s extravagant lifestyle and implicit sexual exploits aboard a yacht, the crowd went wild. Although Trump and the BSA later faced backlash from the speech, the immediate reception among those gathered was positive. Scouts cheered, howled and chanted “We love Trump!”

The point is, no matter whom they admit, this is still an organization with serious problems. They are a nonsecular organization that requires members to believe in God. They are disproportionately white: Hannan points out in her letter that the Boy Scouts have historically “underserved and underrepresented” African-American and Latino communities. And they have a disturbing history of sexual abuse scandals.

None of this is to say that Boy Scouts shouldn’t allow girls, or that girls should have to suffer exclusion because of cultural problems they have nothing to do with. But allowing girls can’t be an empty gesture, and if the BSA is serious about serving all of America’s youth and not just a subset, they must either cooperate with the Girl Scouts or embrace broad inclusivity — which will require some fundamental changes to the structure of their organization.

Groves is a philosophy junior from Dallas.