Long live the Girl Scouts

Published 6:27 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2018

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A year ago, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) stopped calling their members Boy Scouts. Henceforth, the giant youth organization declared, they would be known as Scouts.

The name change was part of BSA’s invitation to parents to bring girls into their program.

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That’s not a totally new concept. Teenage girls have been members of BSA’s Explorer and Sea Scout programs for decades, and those coed programs have worked out well, including the Sea Scout Ship located here in Smithfield.

But this is different. It’s an invitation to Girls, with women leading them, to create Cub Scout Dens and, in time, join Boy Scout programs — which will henceforth be known as Scouts, not “Boy” Scouts.

The Girls Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) reacted pretty negatively to the invitation, seeing it as an unabashed raid on their turf, a cynical effort by one youth organization to grow its membership at the expense of another.

Wouldn’t dream of it, responded BSA. This was a totally innocent effort to include girls who have expressed an interest in the Boy Scout program and to aid families that have both boys and girls and want to seem them in combined programs.

Well, maybe.

I tend to believe the Girl Scouts have a point here, and the numbers seem to support them. Two decades years ago, the Boy Scout program had 6 million boys in its combined programs. That’s a lot of kids. At the same time, the Girls Scouts had 3.56 million — considerably fewer, but still a lot.

Today, the Boy Scouts have about 2.4 million. In two decades, they have lost 60 percent of their numbers. The Girl Scouts today have about 1.8 million. They have lost about 49 percent.

Clearly, both organizations have suffered mightily. The causes are complex. There are more organized sports programs today for both boys and girls and kids are often involved in them from a very early age. I suspect a lot of kids are also spending a huge amount of time in computer-driven activities.

But for whatever reason, both of these exceptional programs have lost huge numbers of members and BSA’s invitation to girls does, in fact, smell more like a raid than anything else.

The Girl Scouts have sued the Boy Scouts over the name change from Boy Scouts to Scouts, alleging that the change is a blatant attempt to capture the “Scout” trademark from their rival.

That’s a complex legal question and I wouldn’t begin to suggest whether the girls’ organization has a legitimate case.

I will, however, say that being pretty old-fashioned in my views, I think there remains a legitimate need for boys to be treated as boys and girls to be treated as girls in some setting, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have done a pretty good job of doing so.

And I will make a prediction. I think this BSA gambit will ultimately backfire. Already, we are seeing locally an energized Girl Scout program, and it’s not just about cookie sales. The Girl Scout troops are offering a wide array of activities and leadership training opportunities for girls, just as the Boy Scouts continue to offer their members.

My wife, my sister and most of their friends were Girl Scouts growing up, and they turned out pretty well. I didn’t remain in Boy Scouts very long and, in that regard was the odd kid of the three. My brother was a Boy Scout for many years and my sister was a Girl Scout throughout most of her school years. And my mother took as much pride in sewing badges on the green sash as on the tan.

I’ve always been, and remain, a huge fan of both organizations, and I hope both of them remain strong for many years to come, but in this battle, I’m inclined to side with the girls.