It's Boy Scouts vs. Girl Scouts as BSA moves to admit girls


Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts pledge to be friendly and helpful. But their parent organizations may find that promise hard to keep as they head into a potentially bitter competition triggered by the Boy Scouts of America's dramatic move to admit girls throughout its ranks.

The BSA's initiative, announced Wednesday, has already chilled what had been a mostly cordial relationship between the two youth groups since the Girl Scouts of the USA was founded in 1912, two years after the Boy Scouts.

"We have always existed in a space with competitors," the Girl Scout's chief customer officer, Lisa Margosian, said Thursday in an interview. "What happened yesterday is that we have another new competitor."

Rather than altering its message, Margosian said, the Girl Scouts will "double down" with a commitment to empowering girls.

"We believe strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides," the GSUSA said, describing itself as "the best girl leadership organization in the world."

The Boy Scouts' official announcement of their new plan made no mention of the Girl Scouts, although BSA board Chairman Randall Stephenson said girls should have the chance to benefit from his organization's "outstanding leadership development programs."

The BSA's chief scout executive, Michael Surbaugh, said in an interview that the Girl Scouts offered "great programs" but argued that many parents viewed the two sets of programs as significantly different and wanted the option of choosing between them for their daughters.

Under the Boy Scouts' new plan, Cub Scout dens — the smallest unit — will be single-gender, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders. A program for older girls — mirroring the Boy Scout curriculum — is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.

The Girl Scouts learned back in January that the Boy Scouts were considering opening their ranks to girls, Margosian said.

"They never reached out to let us know what was happening," she said. "Given our history, as a courtesy, they could have let us know."

Jan Barker, the long-serving CEO of the Girl Scouts' Heart of Michigan Council, suggested that Boy Scout programming would not be appropriate for many girls.

"The Boy Scouts' approach is very militaristic and top-down, and I don't know if that's the best environment for girls to feel nurtured," said Barker, whose base is Kalamazoo, Michigan. "Girls and boys are wired differently — you can't just put out the same curriculum."

Barker noted that many of the older girls in her council were interested in talking about issues such as the sexual-assault problem on college campus. She questioned whether that was an issue of concern to boys in the Boy Scouts.

The new challenge from the Boy Scouts is only the latest in a string of difficulties faced by the Girl Scouts over the past 15 years. There was a wrenching realignment in 2006-2009 that slashed the number of local councils from 312 to 112. There have been layoffs at many councils and at the national headquarters as the organization grappled with a large deficit. And there have been deep rifts between leadership and grassroots members over the direction of programming and efforts by many councils to sell summer camps.

Suellen Nelles, who heads the Farthest North Girl Scout Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, suggested that the series of problems caused the Girl Scout leadership to neglect their relationship with the Boy Scouts.

"All of our issues have weakened us to the point where the Boy Scouts now see opportunities," she said.

Nelles also said she was embarrassed by the harsh tone of some GSUSA statements assailing the Boy Scouts, such as one written this week by Latino civic leader Charles Garcia, a new member of Girl Scouts' national board.

"The Boy Scouts' house is on fire," Garcia wrote in the Huffington Post. "Instead of addressing systemic issues of continuing sexual assault, financial mismanagement and deficient programming, BSA's senior management wants to add an accelerant to the house fire by recruiting girls."

Joni Kinsey, an art history professor at the University of Iowa, has been both a youth member and a troop leader in the Girl Scouts and fought against the possible sale of camps in her region.

She is among many Girl Scout alumni concerned that camping and other outdoor activities have lost their prominence in the programming now promoted by the GSUSA. As a result, she has mixed feelings about the Boy Scouts' new overture to girls.

"I'm very happy that the girls who want to do the kind of camping I grew up with have a place to go — more power to them," she said. "I just wish it were with the Girl Scouts."

Mixed feelings also were expressed by the president of the National Organization for Women, Toni Van Pelt. She welcomed the Boy Scouts' decision to admit girls, yet in the same statement bemoaned the fact that Girl Scouts seem to struggle more than the BSA in terms of financial support.

Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have experienced sharp drops in membership in recent years. Both organizations have also faced competition from conservative Christian youth groups, including American Heritage Girls and Trail Life USA.

Those groups said the Boy Scouts' new initiative would not weaken their commitment to single-sex programming.

"As gender blurring only increases, it is more important than ever that someone provides a safe environment where boys can be boys, and where their natural talents and tendencies can be affirmed, encouraged and developed by men who can offer a positive role model," said Mark Hancock, the CEO of Trail Life USA.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Molly Ringwald recounts sexual harassment, assault by 'the other Harvey Weinsteins'
Molly Ringwald recounts sexual harassment, assault by 'the other Harvey Weinsteins'

Molly Ringwald, an ’80s teen idol, opened up about being sexually assaulted by a director in Hollywood in a new op-ed published in The New Yorker. In a piece titled “All the Other Harvey Weinsteins,” the “16 Candles” star described her own experience with sexual assault in Hollywood in the wake of the Weinstein...
2 women accused of trying to rob bank while dressed as nuns
2 women accused of trying to rob bank while dressed as nuns

The FBI has apprehended two women suspected of trying to rob a bank in Pennsylvania while dressed as nuns, The Associated Press is reporting. Melisa Aquino Arias, 23, of the Dominican Republic, and Swahilys Pedraza-Rodriguez, 19, of New Haven, Connecticut, were actually charged with robbing two banks in New Jersey while wearing head...
Boy sleeps for 11 straight days, baffling doctors
Boy sleeps for 11 straight days, baffling doctors

When a 7-year-old boy fell asleep following a late-night wedding party, his mother expected him to be tired, but she could never fathom what would unfold. The boy, Wyatt Shaw, was admitted to Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, during the first week of October after his mother tried and tried and tried to wake up him following...
Wife stabbed 123 times in alleged 'cold medicine' killing, autopsy shows
Wife stabbed 123 times in alleged 'cold medicine' killing, autopsy shows

An autopsy has found 123 stab wounds and cuts on a woman who police say was stabbed by her husband after he said he awoke from a dream with blood all over him. WSOC-TV's partner in Raleigh, WTVD, obtained the autopsy report for 29-year-old Lauren Phelps which details 24 stab wounds and 20 cuts to her head and neck, as well as dozens of wounds...
Convicted rapist won't have joint custody of victim's child after judge rescinds ruling
Convicted rapist won't have joint custody of victim's child after judge rescinds ruling

The Michigan judge behind a controversial ruling last month, which granted a convicted sex offender joint legal custody to the child conceived by his 12-year-old victim in 2008, has rescinded his decision, CBS News reports. Sanilac County Judge Gregory Ross ruled Tuesday that 27-year-old Christopher Mirasolo will not have any parental...
More Stories