Jennifer Fitz is the author of Classroom Management for Catechists from Liguori Publications, and a contributor to numerous Catholic books, magazines, and online publications. Find her online at JenniferFitz.com.
The decision of the Boy Scouts of America to create troops for girls is understandably controversial (see Boy Scouts Are Just Scouts Now, And That’s Making Girl Scouts Mad), and I’m not writing today to insist that decision be permanent. What I want to do is talk about one surprising twist in this experiment with female Boy Scouts in this age of gender confusion: The girls and their leaders are learning more and more about true womanhood.
Our Scouting Story
I grew up in a scouting family. My brother is an Eagle Scout, and my sisters and I were the third generation of avid Girl Scouts. By the mid-1980’s, though, my closest scouting friends and I were growing disenchanted with Girl Scouts. While we watched our brothers take on more responsibility and tackle new adventures every year, it seemed like the challenges for girls never got much past third grade. We girls abandoned the scouts and moved on to other, more demanding activities.
Enter the Boy Scouts
By the time the prospect of scouting came in view for my children, our family was already too busy with our own adventures to have time for joining a group. From a distance, though, we heard good things about BSA. As a chastity educator I felt strongly that boys need boys-only opportunities to challenge themselves and grow in masculine virtue. As an outdoor enthusiast I was grateful for initiatives like Venture Scouts, but as a parent and Christian I had no interest whatsoever in seeing Boy Scouts go coed.
Then, invited by her best friend to join a new troop for girls this past fall, my 12-year-old daughter became a Boy Scout. My academic interest in the latest scouting experiment suddenly got personal.
What Does a Girl Gain from Boy Scouting?
I would have vehemently opposed the loss of boys-only troops, but I’ve got to admit that our local girls-only BSA troop has been just what my daughter needed. She loves the regular meetings with other girls who share her interests; she loves the camping trips; she loves the goal-setting challenges and visible recognition of earning merit badges. All that is fine. It’s what scouting is supposed to be.
To me, though, the societal value in BSA’s troops for girls is something more profound. In this age of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, in which girls are using online checklists to decide that maybe deep-down they are really boys and need the surgery to prove it, BSA’s troops for girls are proving, ironically, to be a bulwark against the muddy seas of gender confusion. Opening the Boy Scouts up to girls is helping tweens and teens get a firmer grasp on their identity as young women.
Shedding the Stereotypes
Here is what happens when a girl joins BSA: Her uniform is a khaki shirt and olive pants, just like the boys’ uniform. Her handbook is exactly like the boys’ handbook, word for word, only with pictures of girls in it. There are no special merit badges or pep talks custom-made for her delicate female sensibilities. Indeed there are plenty of traditionally-feminine hobbies that simply aren’t going to be offered by BSA. There are other clubs for that. And furthermore, as this experiment begins, the girls’ troops, in need of experienced scoutmasters, are being led by people who have only ever led groups of boys. They wouldn’t know how to feminize a girls’ troop if they wanted to.
And what do you get when you take a group of girls and drop them into an institution that’s got a century of experience being the boys’ club of boys’ clubs?
You get a group of girls.
The Ten-Minute Reality Check
I teach middle school. I spend seven hours a day immersed in the world of tweenagers. Girls are different from boys. Aggressive, athletic, math-and-science-minded girls are different from boys. Quiet, gentle, people-pleasing boys are different from girls. Masculinity and femininity are not about a particular set of interests or personality traits or fashion preferences.
On a recent weekday evening I watched as the girls rolled in for their BSA scout meeting. They were decked out in their uniforms, many of them wearing hand-me-downs from older brothers. The scout hut was newly-inherited from a defunct boys’ troop; other than some cute graffiti on the dry-erase board, the decor was as random and rugged as any man cave ever could be. On this particular night, athletic tests were underway, so physical strength and endurance was the theme. And yet: Girls. Raw, unfettered Girl-Girl-Girl is what walked through that door.
When you take away all the superficial trappings of girlhood, what shines through is authentic femininity. You can put a girl in khakis, and she is still a girl. It’s unmistakable. The way women speak, and interact, and joke around is distinctly feminine – across cultures, across generations, girls will be girls and boys will be boys, no matter our setting and our outward trappings.
In a single-gender troop, absent the attraction and social pressure of the opposite sex, there is no question of whether a scout is being his or her “real” self in the group.
What’s the Point of Scouting for Girls?
Traditional gender roles don’t come from nowhere. Men are, on average, larger and stronger than women. Women are uniquely endowed with the ability to conceive, bear and nurture young children.
In an earlier time, not every man became a father and not every woman became a mother (still true today), and yet the capacity for fatherhood or motherhood informed our understanding of manhood and womanhood. A firm confidence in one’s innate identity as male or female provided a base of security. You could be large, strong, rugged, no-frills, adventure-seeking woman – and still have no doubt you were a woman.
Today we lack that security. We lack that firm foundation. Having despised motherhood and fatherhood, we are left to define gender by stereotypes. When a girl doesn’t fit the stereotypes, she is encouraged not to reject the stereotype but to reject her very self. Online questionnaires encourage her to decide not that she needs to pursue her own interests, but that she needs to destroy her body in an effort to fit a different set of stereotypes.
BSA’s single-gender scout troops are offering a different path. You can be a girly-girl who wants to try something new, and slip your eye shadow into your pack as you head out to the woods. You can be a rough-and-tumble girl who wants to take on high adventure, and find a group of girls who want to do it with you – no need to pretend you’re one of the boys just to do something fun. You can be any girl of any size and ability, and find leaders who only know how to do one thing: Hold kids accountable to high standards of personal responsibility.
I’m sorry our society has reached the point where the Boy Scouts are taking the last stand for authentic femininity, but I’m sure glad they’re doing it.