NEW YORK – I’m not a traditionalist. Progress is good. The fact that we’ve always done something a certain way is no argument for continuing to do it the same way.
I’m not a fan of single-sex environments, whether they be schools, workplaces or civic organizations. I’ve worked in all-male spaces (a Wall Street trading room, a taxi garage) and found the testosterone-fueled machismo toxic and thoughtless. I lived in a 99 percent female college dorm and worked in a 80 percent female office (banking consultancy); there was oppression there too, in a more groupthink conform-or-die way (like in the movie “The Beguiled,” but less murderous and more inane). The majority gender always discriminates against the minority.
So after it was announced that girls will be allowed to join the Boy Scouts, I wondered: Why does this decision feel so weird? Not so much a bridge too far — objectively, admitting transgender Scouts earlier this year, and gays in 2013, felt more radical but also exactly like the right thing to do — as much as pointless and poorly executed.
As an only child raised by a single mom who saw my father six hours a week, I thrived in the male energy of Boy Scouting. Someone wrote that a father is a parent who doesn’t mother. That’s what I loved about it. At the Woodland Trails reservation the troop leaders sat around drinking beer while we chased each other with pointy sticks, set fires with few regards for safety protocols and blundered into mayhem, like the time members of my patrol burned wood covered with poison oak and half the guys breathed in the smoke.
You see what I mean about stupidity and testosterone.
The world is mixed-gender. If the argument is that scouting prepares young people for adulthood, then gender segregation should go because it’s counterproductive and sets the stage for the same-sex sexual abuse scandals that have already occurred. Seen through that lens, a merger of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts into one mixed-gender youth organization would have made sense.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead of striking a decisive blow against sexism, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) “blindsided” the Girl Scouts without consulting with the group in advance, according to the latter group’s spokesperson, deploying a policy change that seems intended to boost the BSA’s sagging membership by poaching girls who are more into camping than making stuff in someone’s house. “If you have a mom who’s really into crafts and girlie stuff and being a princess, then that’s what your Girl Scout troop is going to be like. If you have a daughter who’s more rough and tumble, it’s not going to be a good fit,” Rebecca Szetela, a mother of four from Canton, Michigan, told The New York Times.
Oddly the BSA, historically more politically right wing than the relatively progressive Girl Scouts, continues to prohibit atheist and agnostic kids from joining the organization.
Where there were once two, easy to digest options for kids, now there will be 2½: Boy Scouts (for boys and girls), and Girl Scouts (girls only).
The BSA is about to begin a transition period. Initially there will be a parallel girls-only program within the Boy Scouts in which those girls who want to do so can earn the same Eagle Scout award I got at age 16. Unless that blows up somehow, I’d expect a full gender merger after 2020 or so, followed by the BSA dropping the “B” for Boy and simply becoming Scouts of America, or just Scouting.
That will leave the girls-only Girl Scouts, currently at 1.6 million members to the BSA’s 2.3 million, out in the cold — doomed to a slow fade or forced to fold shop and integrate their members into the Scouting Borg.
From the insane continuation of the Boy Scouts’ ban on atheists and agnostics (why force religion on an 11-year-old?) to their embarrassing decision to let Donald “You know life. You know life. So — look at you” Trump speak at their Jamboree, to this out-of-the-blue stab in the back to Girl Scouting, it’s evident that the national leadership is badly in need of clues.
The idea of girl Boy Scouts is novel — and it required a smooth rollout preceded by a careful explanation of the pros and cons for all kids and for both organizations. Instead, a big change was dropped on our laps without any preparation or the cooperation of the girls’ organization. The end result comes off as unwarranted, motivated by ill will and just plain silly.
After the way they announced it, girls in the Boy Scouts makes almost as much sense as allowing Republicans to vote in a Democratic primary.
Ted Rall is the author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of Donald Trump in comics form.
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