My experience as a Girl Scout was short and bittersweet. When we moved to the suburbs from Philadelphia in 1969, I was recruited by the local Brownie troop to make friends, earn badges and sell cookies. I didn’t last long at Troop 454, mostly because I didn’t have the killer instinct to make my cookie quotas and the good-citizenship skills to avoid smashing my unsold cookie boxes in another Brownie’s face after she taunted me about eating Thin Mints rather than selling them.
But memory has been kind — even if my fellow Brownie was not — and I don’t regret the nine months, two weeks, three days, and four hours I spent wearing the Brownie jumper.
My recollections of the times spent with my brothers’ Cub Scout troop are unambiguously happy. My mom was the neighborhood den mother, and we spent many afternoons creating Styrofoam replicas of Valley Forge, making model race cars for the Pinewood Derby, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and rehearsing for plays I would write — like “Pocahontas Meets John Smith.” In a prescient nod to future gender controversies, our Pocahontas was played by a gorgeous little boy who would have brightened any number of wigwams. He didn’t care, we didn’t care, and the show was reviewed glowingly (by me). Like Shakespeare, we stuck with an all-male cast.
I was reminded of this last week when the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would accept girls as full-fledged members. This comes on the heels of the BSA’s decision to allow gay scoutmasters, gay Scouts and then transgender Scouts into the fold. At this rate, it appears that membership in the human species might be optional in a not-too-distant future.
The official reason offered by the BSA was expressed by the group’s national board chairman, Randall Stephenson, who said, “I’ve seen nothing that develops leadership skills and discipline like this organization. It is time to make these outstanding leadership development programs available to girls.”
The Girl Scouts are not as enthusiastic about the prospect of getting raided by their brother organization.
Lisa Margosian, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts, countered that “so much of a girl’s life is a life where she is in a coed environment, and we have so much research and data that suggests that girls really thrive in an environment where they can experiment, take risks, and stretch themselves in the company of other girls.”
Margosian is right about girls flourishing in a same-sex environment. (I should know. I spent 13 years at an all-girls Catholic school and four years at a Seven Sisters college.) But she doesn’t tell the more important part of the story, namely that all children have a right to bond with their same-sex companions.
I know that this concept is considered both antiquated and, increasingly, bigoted. It used to be that advocates of same-sex institutions had to battle against the prejudices of people who thought single-sex environments cut kids off from “real-life” experiences and prevented them from interacting with their opposite-gender peers. That has been disproved time and time again, both at an empirical and an anecdotal level.
But with society’s current embrace of gender parity, gender fluidity and gender obliteration, using any criteria to divide people along the sexuality fault lines is considered prejudicial, anachronistic and a violation of human rights. The idea that we don’t need to acknowledge a child’s sexual or gender identity before they even hit puberty has gone out the window, along with common sense.
The kindler, gentler, “triggered by a lawsuit” Scouts are forcing us to open up the doors to everyone, for everything. And the message that feminine girls are getting is that they are not good enough if they like crafting over rafting, singing over swinging a bat, cookies over rookies.
I personally think the Girl Scouts have every right to be angry. Just because your daughter wants to learn martial arts instead of quilting does not mean she needs to invade the boys’ domain. Hire a Girl Scout leader with a black belt, but honor the integrity of the same-sex environment. And if your boy wants to play Pocahontas in a play, give me a call — there’s precedent for that.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her e-mail at cflowers1961gmail.com.