It has been over a month since the Boy Scouts of America announced it would accept girls into its core programs, but many Girl Scout participants and their parents remain skeptical of the change and its purported usefulness to young women.
For over a century, scouting has been largely single gender. Although the Boy Scouts has co-ed programs such as its Venturing program, it never before welcomed girls into its Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs. And many Girl Scouts don’t see why they should start now.
“Our experiences are created for and with girls,” said Andrea Bastiani Archibald, the Girl Scouts’ Chief Girl and Family Engagement Officer. “I think that’s important when we consider what appeals to them and what benefits them most.”
The Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. has been vocal in its opposition to the Boy Scouts' decision, with its president Kathy Hopinkah Hannan writing to the organization in August, asking the board to refrain from recruiting girls.
Such a decision would “result in fundamentally undercutting Girl Scouts of the USA,” she wrote.
The Girl Scouts has long touted the unique benefits it provides girls, citing its long history of serving young women through programs built around the way girls learn and interact with each other.
Mackenzie Kelly, a 17-year-old Girl Scout in Boston, Mass., said having a girls-only space has been very important to her.
“We have gotten really close and helped each other along the way,” she said of her troop. “I don’t think that tight-knit atmosphere would have been the same if there had been boys too.”
“The majority of a girl’s life is in a co-ed environment,” said Archibald. “But this is a special place where girls learn to take risks and seek challenges without the social pressures that come in a co-ed environment.”
But some note that since the real world is co-ed, it makes sense scouting should be co-ed too.
“I’m a young man in college who does a lot of group work with women,” said Forrest Gertin, 19, who received his Eagle Scout award in 2015 and now attends Georgetown University. “Working with them when it comes to the scouting program makes sense, right? Because that happens in life.”
“Life is not a single-gender program,” he added.
The Boy Scouts of America acknowledged there are learning differences between boys and girls.
“That’s why it’s important to keep it as single gender as we can,” said Lucia Cronin, chairwoman of the National Cub Scouting Committee. She said smaller gatherings of the Cub Scouts, the program for first- through fifth-graders, will still remain single gender, but larger gatherings may be co-ed depending on the decision of the leaders. The Cub Scouts will include girls starting in 2018. The Boy Scouts will do the same in 2019, she said.
This has left some wondering why the Boy Scouts is offering these programs to girls if gatherings will still be largely single gender.
“There’s no need to let girls into Boy Scouts. We have a great program here in Girl Scouts,” said Elizabeth Saltzman, a 16-year-old Girl Scout from Randolph, Mass.
There are young women, however, who think the Boy Scouts would be a better fit for them than the Girl Scouts. Hannah Wheaton, 19, of Chesapeake, Va., said she grew up tagging along with her brother to Cub Scout meetings.
Her sisters were in the Girl Scouts, but she said she wanted more outdoor activities than the local Girl Scouts programs were offering.
When Wheaton turned 14, she joined the Boy Scouts’ co-ed Venturing program and has stayed involved with the Boy Scouts since.
“Girl Scouts says their program is tailored to girls, but there are some girls who want something different,” said Wheaton. “At the end of the day, I think Boy Scouts is trying to create more opportunities for all young leaders to succeed.”
Cronin said parents have long been asking the Boy Scouts about including girls. “They observed the program through their sons and loved it. They wanted the same for their daughters,” she said.
But Archibald said the Boy Scouts would not be “offering something unique for girls” and would not be in a position to offer the type of programming that benefits girls most.
“We do a lot of research on how girls learn best and what sorts of environments really create the best opportunities for them,” she said. “We are the girl experts.”