Boys Scouts? Girl Scouts? The need for girls-only organizations

avatar-2191931_1920The announcement of the name change from Boy Scouts of America to Scouts BSA is, unsurprisingly, causing discussion. On one hand, traditionalists cannot comprehend the need to change something that has been around for 108-years nor understand the need for political correctness. On the other…as this writer points out, changing it to “Scouts BSA” is such a blatant, passive aggressive, “weak measure” in trying to create a gender-neutral or girl-friendly name: why is not simply “Scouts USA”. (BSA = Boy Scouts of America…so the name is Scouts Boy Scouts of America?).

Another article shows us that, even though girls and transgender youth were welcomed into the  organization last year, there is still the fine print to consider:

Starting in the 2018 program year, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls. Using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program, the organization will also deliver a program for older girls, which will be announced in 2018 and projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families.

So they’re not actually integrating girls into their fold – opposite sex siblings will not be participating in joint step – they are creating an entire separate stream for girls. In a letter addressed to Buzzfeed, the Girl Scouts of USA have come out against the focus of Boy Scouts to include girls in their marketing, with the intention to simply transplant the boys’ programming onto a girls group, and going so far as accusing the Boy Scouts for a “covert camp gain to recruit girls”.

feminist-2136191_1280Well, holy! Is this not what we wanted all along? The opportunity to participate on even ground with the boys? Aren’t we (women and girls) getting what we’ve been asking for? How can both “sides” be upset? As one (male) friend asked: Does that mean Girl Guides (Girl Scouts is the US version) is done?

The answer: No, not even close.

Allow me to point out that the Scouts Canada first allowed girls in their groups in 1993 and by 1998, all chapters allowed girls. They also have an explicit statement that there is no discrimination for reasons of gender, culture, religious belief or sexual orientation”. Second, let’s recognize that Girl Scouts was created nearly in parallel with the Boys Scouts, with Lord Baden-Powell noticing that girls, too, were keen on the outdoor and leadership skills being offered to their male counterparts (and I’m not overlooking the fact that Girl Scouts has a large domestic emphasis but this is a blog post and not an in-depth essay on the evolution of the Scouting movement).

I’m about to drop some legal knowledge on you: Canada – and our Charter – promotes a concept called substantive equality which is the result of formal equality being overturned in our justice system. In the simplest of explanations, substantive equality recognizes that equality – treating everyone equally – does not mean treating everyone “the same”. Due to various factors, treating everyone the same without consideration for their circumstances can result in inequality. Formal equality says as long as we are all treated the same, than nothing is wrong. For example, if a woman was denied employment benefits because she was pregnant, it was ok because all pregnant women are denied benefits (does that seem like a silly example? That was the 1979 decision in Bliss v. Attorney General of Canada, [1979] 1 S.C.R. 183). This is the legal justification and allowance for organizations that are based on things such as gender, race, physical and mental ability, and orientation. There is recognition that certain groups have circumstances that limit their ability to be treated equally and, as such, organizations can form to assist in levelling that field.

And all of that brings me around to explaining why, although it’s great that Scouts are allowing girls to participate, providing girls the opportunity to participate, learn from, and be in a room with inspiring women can have more value to a young girl or woman. We need women designing and leading programs that address specific issues all females  experience:

  • A young girl during her menses will probably feel more comfortable discussing how to “deal” with it if it has already been discussed, openly, during an in-class session.
  • How about peeing in the woods?  She-we? What’s the best angle or other factors to consider to reduce backsplash? Pee rag or no?
  • Sports bras! Oh my, the discussion on the best “sports bras” is…well, limitless! And that translates into a general discussion about women’s clothing!
  • Nutrition needs are different and actually vary depending on where we are in our cycle. We are not “mini-men” and we should not simply be eating smaller portions of their requirements.

Yes, yes; of course many men can answer these questions! That is wonderful. I am not dismissing those who are already very comfortable with gender differences but, seriously, do you want a congratulations for being a decent human being? I know many dads are raising super awesome girls and I’m sure they will figure out how to address and have these types of conversation with them. The possibility that men can actually start having these conversations is fantastic and an example of how gender equality is moving forward but until we can all have these discussion (and there are many women who are not comfortable with discussing things like periods…) than we need to provide that outlet and safe space for our young girls to ask questions.

But we must remember that gender parity does not yet exist. Simply because you have not experienced outright harassment (or, for any men reading this, committed acts of harassment) does not mean equality exists.

In the outdoors industry*, women are still:

  • Paid less
  • Given fewer opportunities (at anything: from getting started to competitions, sponsorships, and careers, )
  • Experience extreme abuse and harassment
  • Forced to look and dress a certain way (in order to be paid less…)
  • Comprise fewer leadership roles
  • Experience concern over their “lady bits” and are prevented from engaging in certain sports

Until we recognize and accept the institutional and systemic barriers that are still in place and actively preventing us from opportunities, we will continue to require groups that are designed, led, and intended for women or girls only.

*This is actually pretty well relevant across all women’s experiences but this blog is about women in the outdoors…


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