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Confessions of a Girl Boy Scout

This editor recalls her time as a "Boy" Scout in England — home of the Scouting movement — and ponders the tighter membership restrictions in the US.

One of the rules of being a Scout is that you should be "obedient," to Scout law — with one exception: If a Scout thinks these rules and laws are unfair, "he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobey them."

But I was a "she" as well as a Boy Scout. I guess I was a rule breaker from the start.

I had just turned 6 years old when I became a "Brownie" and joined the Girl Guide troop of a small town in Buckinghamshire, England. The honor of being a "Brownie" Guide is supposed to be reserved for girls aged 7 to 10. At 6 years old, I should have been a "Rainbow" Guide. I remember one of the other girls asking me how old I was. I put my finger to my lips and drew a '6' on my knee. It would be our little secret that I had infiltrated the troop. 

Here's what I did at Brownies: I learned to make tea (useful). I learned how to arrange flowers (not useful). I learned how to jump rope on one leg (definitely not useful). Of course, I also learned how to sew (arguably useful, until the invention of fabric glue), so that I could fill my sash with badges I had earned doing the aforementioned activities.

The social side of Girl Guides was great, and I enjoyed earning recognition for taking the lead or helping others — but I wanted adventure. And I couldn't stand the muddy brown, pleated skirt I had to wear as part of the uniform.

So, when it came time to move up to Girl Guides proper, I opted out and went to investigate what the Boy Scouts were up to. It turned out that building fires, camping and playing Capture the Flag on a field in the pitch black of night was much more appealing to me than arranging flowers in a skirt.

I was surprised to learn this week that girls aren't allowed to join the Boy Scouts in the US. In fact, membership policies are pretty strict — as Ryan Andresen recently discovered when he tried to get his Eagle Award and was denied because of his sexual orientation. 

No girls. No gays.

Meanwhile, both are allowed in the UK — which happens to be the home of the entire international Scouting movement.

British Army General Baden-Powell — founder and Chief Scout — formed the Girl Guides, or "Brownies", in the UK in 1910, three years after the Scouts. He was firm about the fact that there should be separate organizations for boys and girls, and that the girls should call themselves something other than "Scouts." 

His rules stayed intact for about 30 years after his death in 1941. Girls still wanted to be Scouts — and he couldn't keep them out forever.

The Scout Association of the UK decided to officially accept girls as Venture Scouts in 1976. Then, in 1991, allowing girls to join the Scouts became optional for all other sections. In 2007, the organization announced that it was "firmly committed to coeducation so boys and girls can meet the aims of Scouting through one programme." It was official — girls could be Boy Scouts. And last year, girls overtook boys in admissions for the first time in Scouting history. 

In July this year, as a response to the Boy Scouts of America's anti-gay policy, the Scout Association of the UK affirmed that "sexual orientation should not be a bar to membership," adding that "discriminating against an individual simply on the grounds of his or her sexuality is inappropriate, and is contrary to our interpretation of the inclusivity and values of Scouting."

I loved being a Boy Scout, from the outdoor adventuring to the cargo pants. We slept in tents during thunderstorms. We built a "war pole" to sit on and try to knock each other off with pillows. We raced through the woods, compass in one hand, treasure map in the other. 

Now, the "Boy Scouts" are just referred to as the "Scouts" in the UK. And I can make tea as well as fire.

What do you think of the differences in membership policies between the UK and US Scouting organizations? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Emily Henry October 08, 2012 at 06:22 PM
MaryAnn: rule breaking for the sake of rule breaking is one thing. This is quite another. We're not talking about adults. This is about children seeking out opportunities that are the most fulfilling for that individual child.
MaryAnn October 08, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Exactly - and boys join Boy Scouts to be part of something that does not include girls. And each individual child needs to learn, as a child, not everything will be for them. They also need to learn that you cannot fulfill ALL your needs especially if that mean that doing so will impeding on other children's needs. That's called being selfish.
Emily Henry October 08, 2012 at 06:53 PM
I agree that children should learn how the real world will be... and that means preparing them for the fact that, yes, they'll be surrounded by women. I also have a different definition of selfishness: assuming that your opinion and perspective is the only possible right one, and enforcing it upon others. How do you know what will be impeding to a child? And what about the child who is impeded by restrictions meant to "protect" the rights of other children?
MaryAnn October 08, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Really? Cause boys don't hang out with girls in every aspect of their lives?? They can't have one thing that is just for them? And the definition of selfishness is one I got from Webster - "seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others". How do I know what will be impeding to a child? I know what would be impeding on MY child. He joined Boys Scouts knowing it was for boys only. He joined Soccer knowing he would be playing with girls and he did not mind it. Not to mention baseball and art class and swimming and everything else he does includes girls. And to him, that is not a problem. So I believe he is allowed to have one part of his life that is just for boys as it was meant to be. You can talk about "rights" all you like but what it boils down to is children and adults alike believing they should be included in EVERYTHING. ME ME ME ME ME.
Daniella Santos Munoz May 25, 2013 at 11:13 PM
I'm a girl and I've been scouting for 9 years in Italy and Canada, and recently moved to the US. I feel it's better for the organization to be coed because the world is coed and you will have to work with women at some point in your life. When guys are able to interact with girls from an early age in scouting, they are able to be more understanding and less sexist. When people grow up in a segregated environment, they will be more close-minded. People may say that Girl Scouts is the same as the Scout Organization, but it does not compare. I was able to receive the highest award in Canada as Chief Scout of Canada (equal to eagle scout), but later learned that girls in venturing are not allowed to have the eagle scout. How does camping with girls "impede" a boy scout's learning? When I helped lash a bridge with my troop in the US, other boys said I knew more lashing than half the troop, which I can teach to those who don't know. The only things that would really impede on a boy's scouting experience would be if their leaders are no good and/or other scouts to not create a good learning environment.

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