The recent legal and recruitment showdown between the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts reveals a double standard threatening both organizations — and it shows how the death of male-only spaces is taking a paradoxical toll on female ones.
The Girl Scouts of the USA are embroiled in a bitter battle with the Boy Scouts of America. After opening their doors to girls, the Boy Scouts have allegedly tried to poach prospective Girl Scouts, leading their rival to lose out on recruits at a time when interest in both organizations is on the wane. With so much choice, girls who would like to be any variety of Scout are now splitting the market.
Given their supposed extraordinary blessings under the patriarchy, men and boys — or at least those without other “intersectional” grievances — have become the only groups that don’t get to have their own spaces.
The logic appears sound: Who knows what the boys get up to in there? There may be lifelong friendships that lead to jobs and inequitable career advancement, foul language, misogynist humor and, not to forget, the usual patriarchal scheming and finger tenting. Left to themselves, boys may act too much like boys.
As the current standoff over Scout enrollment shows, male spaces also seem to insult through their very excellence. While membership in both organizations has shrunk since their heydays, the Boy Scouts have gained more than 120,000 female members since they and the Cub Scouts opened their doors to girls.
The basis for the Boy Scouts going gender-inclusive was that — in addition to camping, knots and badges, most of which the Girl Scouts offer in one form or another — girls would have access to the prestigious Eagle Scouts program. Eagle Scouts aren’t just the capstone of the Boy Scouts experience, but an alleged gateway to significant academic and career prospects.
The Girl Scouts don’t have an equivalent program. More precisely, a program exists but is less prestigious. This, according to the activist types, isn’t the organization’s fault, but just one more unfair advantage that accrues to men from male spaces. When men get together without supervision and do well, women fail.
And of course, integrating the Girl Scouts was out of the question. After the boys decided to integrate, the Girl Scouts released a statement insisting that they would continue to “serve girls, and girls only.” The principle is clear: Female spaces are a right, male spaces are a threat.
Beyond parental and activist pressure, the Boy Scouts’ decision to admit girls seems to have been motivated by recent sex-abuse allegations involving the group. Of course, overall declining membership numbers were a concern, too. The organization was on its way down, and to use a term beloved in Silicon Valley, it decided to pivot.
The new value proposition strays from its initial appeal of being one of the last true spaces for boys. As with any pivot, it will be interesting to see if the target market “bites.” This isn’t a given. Integrating Boy Scout groups with girls inevitably leads to adaptation — preteen and teenage boys and girls aren’t exactly known for their neutral stance toward the opposite sex.
Boys also have different intra- and inter-group dynamics than girls do and benefit from things like rough-and-tumble play and physical competition differently. As toxic as our learned betters may deem these dynamics, they are also a training ground for civic and, dare I say, masculine virtue: camaraderie, strength and stoicism. The idea that sex-segregated spaces are either natural (for girls) or exclusionary (if boys populate them) is deeply unfair to those who need to give them up.
There’s, of course, a delicious irony in the fact that the Boy Scouts’ adhering to woke doctrines on inclusivity might end up destroying . . . the girls’ group.
The Scout Wars underscore the confusions of our gender ideologies. Male spaces, we’re told, are both so toxic and so aspirational they ruin female spaces. They are both fountains of career success and dens of iniquity. They shouldn’t exist — still, their virtues are needed, but only if they are transformed into something they aren’t.
In a culture where maleness is regarded with reflexive suspicion, it’s no wonder that the drive to extinguish their fledgling cabals is so powerful there are barely any left. The twist is, they are taking female spaces down with them.
Alex Kaschuta is a Romania-based writer.
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