I was reading this New York Times article about girls who want to join the Boy Scouts, and was smacked upside my butch skull with nostalgia. I was a Girl Scout for three years or so as a young kid*, and although I liked many aspects of it, I always wanted to join the Boy Scouts instead. It wasn't fair: the Boy Scouts learned how to start fires, tie knots, and survive in the wild. I highly doubted that they had to sing as many songs as we did, and I was certain they weren't required to sell cookies. Their uniforms did not include skirts or tights, and they got to be named after animals (cubs! eagles!) while we were named after flowers (daisies?) or food (brownies?). Something about Boy Scouting seemed competent and tough, while something about Girl Scouting seemed a little... girly. There was lots I liked about being a Girl Scout,** but the differences between the genders echoed other differences between what a girl was "supposed" to be and what a boy was "supposed" to be. At that age, I did not need gender differences reinforced.***
Two components to the gender restrictions on scouting are worth separating for the sake of discussion. One, which was my childhood beef, is the differences in activities, uniforms, and other aspects of scouting. This could be solved simply by allowing all-girl troops into the Boy Scouts (and, we might assume, all-boy troops into the Girl Scouts). For most activities (which are within-troop only), this would maintain the gender separation so near and dear to many people's hearts. As a kid, this would have been fine with me. And there is some evidence that suggests single-sex activities benefit girls, in part because it makes them see other girls in a variety of roles: a girl is the strongest one, the fastest one, the one who's best at math, etc.
Still, this second component--the idea of gender separation itself--is problematic. Any time one group enjoys social status over another group (e.g., race, gender), separation between the groups creates an inherent status difference. What message are you sending to girls and boys every time you separate them from each other? To me, you're emphasizing a distinction society has already overblown. When girls and boys aren't allowed to tie knots, start fires, or sell cookies side by side, what are kids supposed to glean from that? And you're foreclosing opportunities for opposite-sex friendships, which are already all too rare.
Of course, there's also the obvious importance of mixed-gender groups for trans or other gender-nonconforming kids, but mixed-gender troops would have advantages even if all the kids in question were cisgendered heterosexuals.
I'm writing about this more to start a conversation than anything else. While it's tempting just to say that any gender separation is wrong, I recognize that it's more complicated than that. I hope some readers will weigh in on this. Did any of you want to join a group you weren't allowed to as kids because of your sex or gender? Do any of you have kids who are dealing with this now? Is the bigger problem that Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts do different activities, or is the bigger problem that both groups restrict one sex from joining?
* I joined again for a couple years in high school, but that's a different story because my tiny troop consisted of three other like-minded young women and we basically did whatever we wanted, including camping and public service stuff.
** My mom was one of our troop leaders. She is VERY big on being a "survivor" (in the life sense, not the lost-in-the-woods sense), and also very big on creative expression. So I think because of her, our scouting activities tended to be cooler than many troops'.
*** Thus far, I have not experienced any age at which I have needed gender differences reinforced. But I'm only in my 30s, so I'll keep you posted.
(By the way, the Girl Scouts have let in trans girls. I don't know whether the Boy Scouts let in trans boys. And if anyone's curious, here's an article from the Advocate about some LGBT-relevant differences between the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts.)
Really looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
11/24/2015 10:42:14 am
I have been for 7 years in the Italian scouting association, where the "boy" scouts are mixed since the 70s. Even though the troops (groups of 7/8 people) are single gendered, there are many activities that are made by all the group, as for example camping out every month ( I LOVED IT!!), starting fires and making wooden constructions... As a little butch I really found my place especially in those more 'boyish' activities. And the gender separation among troops is mainly justified as every troop share a tent.
11/24/2015 02:39:42 pm
I don't think so, but I know of some groups in which the activities are more separated, like they have different meeting time and staff, but I guess at a certain point the boys' and girls' associations just merged. From the all-female / all-male groups I know there is more differentiation of activities, but they are regarded as "weird" and from an educational point pf view not really appropriate/up to date by many other groups.
11/24/2015 10:56:54 am
I definitely wanted to do more Boy Scouts activities as a kid than Girl Scouts. I wasn't involved with either, but my brother was a Boy Scout and I always wished I could have build a pine derby car to race, which wasn't an option in Girl Scouts at the time (is it now?). Anyway, he was also required to bake something at one point that I remember, which makes me think if there isn't going to be a group just called, "Scouts" for every kid to join regardless of sex or gender, allowing all girl and boy scouts to partake in all kinds of activities would be my go to. Also allowing each boy scout and girl scout to tailor their uniform as it matches their presentation is super important. So no forced skirts or button ups if that is not a kid's thing. I would SOOOO have joined girl scouts if I could have worn shorts and a short sleeve button up and got to sell cookies along with building a pinewood derby car.
11/24/2015 11:14:14 am
Ha--I just remembered that in my first BW post ever, back in May 2011, I mentioned that I'd wanted to join the Boy Scouts. http://www.butchwonders.com/blog/first-post
11/24/2015 11:48:52 am
I was a "brownie" Girl Scout and hated it. Cooking and sewing, etc etc when the boys were off doing cool stuff building shelters fires and making box carts..... Ended up being "asked" to resign from my troop for persistently climbing trees and lighting fires (in the fire pit) and not behaving in a manner becoming of a girl (early 1980's).
11/24/2015 06:45:13 pm
I was in brownies and Girl Scouts. I was lucky enough to have a camping focused Girl Scout troop, but we also did badges that focused on hair and makeup.
That's a super interesting point. Quiet, responsible, not "needing recognition" for things... all characteristics we might consider noble in general, but they are SUPER gendered and have serious implications later. Being "invisible" is exactly what women need to NOT do.
11/24/2015 09:28:59 pm
I am involved in girl guides in Canada (essentially girl scouts, just Canadian) and have been for several years. Our "boy" scouts is now open to anyone and has mixed gender troops who all participate in activities together.
11/24/2015 10:04:51 pm
I was in Girl Scouts when I was younger, around age 10 I switched over to Camp Fire, which was boys and girls. In that group we did do more camping. I earned a badge for learning to start a fire, hiking, more outdoors stuff. Change of leadership had us back to the same stuff that prompted my switch from Girl Scouts and that was the end of it for me.
12/7/2015 11:04:23 am
I was involved in Canadian Girl Guides through high school and really valued having the all female space (trans and NB considerations aside, for the moment). Scouts Canada has been all genders for 20 years or so, and both of the Canadian organizations have always been progressive for their time (even by Canadian standards) on LGBTQ issues. I know the Girl Guide uniforms had formal pants/shorts options by 1990, and had pants/shorts camping uniforms a long time before that. My experience - though perhaps at an older age than when you gave it up - definitely included camping and knot tying. (More than once, I've smiled sweetly while tying someone up and told them that I learned the skill at Girl Guides.)
12/7/2015 05:16:04 pm
I agree with this completely. Being one of those NB/transmasculine people passing as female makes things a little bit more complicated, but it's still been a hugely beneficial experience for me.
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