Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Gender Binary

By: Brooke Claflin

            Recently many articles have been written relating to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to include girls in their programs. For those who feel that the gender binary is just a social construction, this breakdown of gender barriers seems like a positive step. After all the separation from a young age of those who have been assigned male and assigned female at birth into distinct groups encourages future generations to preserve the gender binary. It also enforces the continuation of gendered roles, in which girls learn that playing indoors and focusing on social skills should trump running around outside and learning hands-on skills. However, in reality, neither set of skills should be gendered nor acquired by only around 50% of the population. Such early separation of children into groups can only succeed in “otherizing” and also excluding those who feel that they don’t quite fit into either category.

            Girl Scouts of the USA responded negatively to the decision, seeing it as an encroachment onto their metaphorical “territory.” However, their upset over this supposed breakdown of barriers is not completely unfounded, even if it was based solely upon a capitalist fear of losing their audience. As Claire Cain Miller pointed out in her New York Times article, “Things Boys Could Learn at Girl Scouts,” this unilateral movement towards inclusion suggests that the skills boys learn are more valuable than those that girls are traditionally taught. Plus, despite the downsides of supporting a gender binary, it is true that our world currently lacks adequate female leadership and could use clubs such as the Girl Scouts of the USA to promote female empowerment.

            More specifically Miller explores the different badges offered by the two groups. Miller acknowledges some of the problems with the Girl Scouts’ badges, like ones that emphasize appearance or focus on stereotypical feminine activities. However, she argues that despite these problems the Boy Scouts of America would benefit from adopting some of the Girl Scouts’ badges because the movement between traditionally gendered activities shouldn’t be one sided. In other words, boys should be encouraged to do “feminine” activities like babysitting and cooking just as much as girls are encouraged to learn more “masculine” activities. In general, Miller claims that the Girl Scouts of the USA emphasize the importance of fair play, respect, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and caring for others, which are all skills that are important in today’s job market. Therefore, instead of continuously gendering activities, we should create an environment where children can all have equal access to the same opportunities regardless of their gender identification.

            Thus, I am conflicted over the Boy Scouts of America’s move to include girls in their programs. I think a greater fluidity between and breakdown of gender roles is important, but I also think that is not the real message being put forth. Instead this decision seems to indicate that what are currently defined as masculine values by our culture are superior to their feminine counterparts.