Thursday, August 24, 2017

Scouts and the Future of Male-Female Relations

I was startled to see that a public fight has broken out between the national leaders of the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts:
The Girl Scouts of the USA have accused Boy Scouts of America of carrying out a "covert campaign to recruit girls into programs run by the Boy Scouts" in hopes of appealing to millennial parents and bolstering their declining membership, according to a letter they sent the Boy Scouts board on Monday.

The strongly worded letter alleged that BSA was "surreptitiously testing the appeal of a girls’ offering to millennial parents."

It also accused BSA leaders of making "disparaging and untrue remarks" about Girl Scout programming at "family meetings" outlining their proposed programs for girls.

A Girl Scouts spokesperson confirmed that Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, GSUSA's national president sent the letter to BSA's national president, Randall Stephenson, and the entire BSA board.

"Through various means we have learned that BSA is very seriously considering opening their programs to girls and we have made repeated efforts to engage with them and talk about the implications," the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.

"It's a potentially dangerous and bad idea," the spokesperson said, citing research supporting "single gender programming" which says that girls learn best in an all-girls environment when it comes to scouting.
Which makes this a good time to ask: what is the future of Scouting? Will it endure much longer as separate boys' and girls' groups, or will they have to merge? I have a feeling that this could blow up into a big issue over the next decade. Many American politicians were Scouts, and some of them feel quite passionately about keeping the traditions they grew up with. But an increasing number of Americans are uncomfortable with such firmly gendered ideas about childhood, and with the idolization of rowdy boyness that has always been part of the Boy Scout experience.

I am ambivalent. My experience has been that all-male groups are very different from mixed-gender groups. Personally I prefer mixing – I hated high school locker rooms with a bitter intensity that still comes back to me when I think about it – but since I recognize that the settings are very different I understand why some men prefer all-male activities.

Over the past 50 years we have seen a major decline in the separation of the sexes, and these days we spend most of our time in mixed environments. This is unusual in human history. Most of the traditional societies I know about had strongly gendered divisions of work, social roles and even religious rites. Some American Indians seem to have regarded men and women as separate species who had to somehow come together on occasion to make babies. But now many people regard any division of society by sex as offensive, and some of them hope to see the very distinction disappear within their lifetimes.

I doubt it. Division by sex is after all as old as animal life, and men and women have important physical differences. It would not surprise me if the next generation sees, not a steady blurring of gender divisions, but an intentional heightening of them. Or perhaps we will see both at once in different segments of society. But whatever happens I expect decades of argument, lots of extreme statements from flamboyant figures on every side, and the occasional public explosion.

So here we are again, arguing over things that in most societies were fixed by tradition and passed over without comment. Here is another way in which we are becoming more free, but finding that freedom inevitably brings troubles in its wake.

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