“Mom, I really don’t want to go Scouting today. I’ve got homework to do, and it’s not like I don’t know anything they’re teaching. It’s just review, and-”
“You’re going to go tonight. And besides, review is good for you.”
“I know you know that I don’t like going, because I just want to get this over with. I don’t even have friends there!”
I curse, silently. I’ve already sealed my fate, and arguing more will get me nowhere but into another lecture with my mom. It’s like a second sense, feeling that one will come in the car, a time where I tune out and occasionally check back in to hear the points I’ve heard for ages and ages. Firstly, if I want to quit, why don’t I quit? I don’t quit because I’m one of the first girls to be let into our Troop, one of the original six, about a year and a half ago. Secondly, do you know how good an Eagle Rank will look on your college applications? Now that’s the reason I continue, fighting through the ranks from Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class (where I am now), Star, and Life. It’s the only thing other than simply being in the outdoors when we camp that sets me on fire, urging me to finish and do the thing that’s good for me.
But what the boys, adult leaders, and even my mom may not notice is that it’s hard being female in an institution that for a century only let in young men. Hard can mean frustrating – when the younger Scouts you have to deal with are all middle school boys who can’t sit still and insist on talking every other second. Hard can also mean that you feel alone, unable to connect with the girls you’ve known for so little at this older age. I wish that I can say that I didn’t always feel this way, but the nagging desire to quit has grown and developed since the beginning.
Earlier, before the pandemic hit, we met in person at a local church. Although Boy Scouts is now not a religiously-affiliated association, we receive a space to work in and occasionally have “interfaith” services that still predominantly settle on Christianity. We’re called in for flag: a couple of Scouts are assigned with color guard, to carry in the local flag of our Troop and the American one, too. The Scout Oath and Law are recited by everyone, even the youngest Scouts, and the American Outdoor Code follows before our Senior Patrol Leader gives a run-down of what we’re doing this evening. I can’t help but think of all the homework I have to do, the math I struggle to understand or the history paper that I haven’t yet finished drafting, and as my mind
wanders and wanders, I realize that it’ll be awhile until we have another Senior Patrol leader that’s a girl. The first and only was Lotte – she’s standing in front of me as we are sorted by Patrols, the boys with their two and the girls with our overflowing one.
“Okay, boys, let’s-” the Scoutmaster stops himself to correct his mistake. My eyes drift downward to the ground: If my mom was here, she would’ve chided me for my bad attitude.
“Alright, everybody. Let’s get working.”
It’s clear to see that due to the simple lack of female leaders and younger female Scouts, the women here are frequently overlooked. Gender just has to be one of them; a smaller percentage of women and girls means we have to make sure our efforts are shown. The mentality of female Scouts having to work harder towards rank advancement than everyone else does not escape our Troop; it’s mainly due to that BSA didn’t let girls in until recently.
Along the margins of the troop are the adults; parents of younger Scouts line up by the children. It’s mostly proud fathers, whose sons and, only as of recently, daughters are currently going through the program. But there are only three mothers who show frequently; Lotte’s mother, mine, and one of the boy’s. One of the most frequent topics that are not part of the upcoming activities list is Philmont – it’s short for Philmont Scout Ranch, and it’s a twelve-day trek in the backcountry. The Scoutmaster has been reminding my mom that we need a new adult leader, because Scout Youth Protection guidelines dictate that kids need another person of the same gender to be with them at all times. Lotte’s mom is reluctant to go again, and Rachel’s mom worries about her health, so the only mother left is mine. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say that she is nowhere near ready, and even with her I fear for the worst.
The Scoutmaster breaks us off into our activities, but as a bad mood drifts over, I decide to “take a break” from what’s going on. So I sit, quiet and alone with a pen in my hand, drawing flowers on my wrist. We’re probably supposed to be doing group work at the minute, and I know soon, I’ll get reminded by the adults to come in and join. I wonder what it would be like to talk to someone, to not view Scouting as pure work, to be able to experience it like the boys my age did when they were in sixth grade. They almost look like they’re having the time of their lives. The current Covid-19 pandemic has prevented them from going to a real Troop meeting at the church, where kids their age are supposed to be playing while the older ones like us are supposed
to be guiding them. I feel compelled to be of assistance to the younger Scouts for a reason I can’t ever say out loud: that I am the leader, they are the follower, and because the other older boys have not done a single thing about the obligation has been passed along to older girls like me.
For the jobs and tasks that the Scouts are required to do for themselves and their rank advancement, the girls my age have been taking charge compared to our peers. Sincerely I wish this was just a comparison, but the boys that were my age in eighth grade had already achieved their Star and Life ranks, the two right before Eagle. As of now, even though the latter ranks are much harder to achieve, some of the older boys haven’t advanced much at all. It’s as if they’re fizzing out when the girls are starting to begin their last great efforts to Eagle. For example, Lotte has gotten her life rank in just over a year along with two other high-school girls right behind her. This quick advancement is because we were worried when we first started that we wouldn’t finish before we aged out of the program at eighteen.
It must be said that I do enjoy talking to one of the sixth grade girls, but I’m sad to say that there are just two in total. To put it frankly, most middle-school girls aren’t interested in joining BSA. But a freshman, if put on an aggressive enough path, could still make it to Eagle in time. There are several reasons that I can think of why girls are reluctant to join. First and foremost, BSA is still labeling itself as Boy Scouts – that’s what the “B” in the acronym stands for, and girls can be afraid to join an organization that challenges their ideal of femininity. Perhaps she’s afraid of being seen as weird, or she’s instead prioritized other activities by now that take up her time. Either way, girls aren’t given the encouragement as children to break the gender norm. At this tender age, girls and boys are once again divided, left to form misconceptions about each other as the stereotypes burn themselves into daily life.
I call myself a female Boy Scout. Never once have I said that I was in Scouts BSA.
This writing of mine is simply another walk into my day-to-day experiences. My current feelings about the time I have had with my Troop, the local branch off the larger organization that serves my area, are divided. Half of me wants to be able to appreciate the greater meanings and efforts of what we learn and the values we are taught, but it’s difficult to do so when I don’t feel like I’m a part of the community. Several of the girls I talked to who joined BSA feel similarly as I do, that the discouragement we feel whether it be patronizing or simply forgetting
that girls exist, makes them want to reconsider their path. The journey to becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement in BSA, is already tough. But when a supposedly integrated experience continues to make girls and women there feel like a minority, the impact BSA has on its Scouts as a whole is belittled. Boys and girls won’t grow up together, and I wonder if new girls will want to join. It’s a silent plea for change.
On the other hand, people have begun to realize, finally, that in the 21st century it is paramount to raise girls as leaders. It’s important to bring them up right and teach them the skills they need to succeed across all fields of life, not just home duties or baby-raising. So Scouting for girls is a first step out of many more, and I was both fortunate and unfortunate to get caught in the beginning. BSA’s mission and values have remained intact over the years and now, and every effort made is still an effort. Girls in the organization are learning how to serve their community and how to lead alongside boys, and the impact it has made on my life is nothing short of obvious. I have started volunteering for many different organizations and I’ve gotten outside to experience the great outdoors. Friends or no friends, whether I feel included or not, my positive feelings about BSA give me hope. My thoughts wander farther from just getting my Eagle rank, but knowing that girls will not only be able to have my experience, but one better, resides with me. As much as hard work is work, it still gives great rewards – and that concept can unite us all against the gender divide.