Fraternity Integral to Boy Scout Experience: The Inherent Value of Gendered Organizations

In 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote what would become the most immortal words of any decision handed down from that body in all of our nation’s history: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

That simple sentence articulated the moral bankruptcy of so much of the nation during that period and captured perfectly the problem of segregation. This goal of equality — one that we all have a duty to further, not just as Americans but as members of the human family — was the pretext of the Boy Scouts of America’s recent decision to allow girls to ascend their ranks alongside male counterparts.

However, the exclusion of girls from the Boy Scouts is not analogous to segregation, and is not even an issue of gender equality. The exclusion of girls from the Boy Scouts is not steeped in prejudice, but rather in the spirit of promoting fraternity.

There is simply nothing wrong with — nay, there is tremendous benefit in — the bonding of male youth outside the presence of young girls, and the bonding of female youth outside the presence of young boys.

It speaks volumes that no group was more doubtful of the value of this ostensible step toward equality than the Girl Scouts of America — perhaps the institution most responsible for the empowerment of women in this country in the past century — who accused the Boy Scouts of attempting to poach their girls to pad their declining numbers.

I am not saying that this justifies any difference in the way anyone treats women, whether in the workplace or otherwise. Stamping out gender inequality in this country must be a top priority.

What I am saying is that there is nothing wrong with gendered organizations, especially those promoting fraternity or sorority.

Before I proceed any further, allow me to issue the following caveat: Much of this opinion is colored by my own experience. That’s all I have at my disposal. Though I cannot speak for the organization as a whole, having known other Boy Scouts, I think it is fair to say that it is generalizable to at least some portion of the Scouts larger than myself alone.

I was a Cub Scout for a few years as a child. I never quite had the dedication to continue throughout middle and high school, but I can say this: My experience would not have been the same if its ranks had been filled with girls as well. And this is to say nothing of the father-son bonding it facilitated, the memories of which I still cherish.

Part of what make my memories of the few years I spent as a Cub Scout so fond is the fact that Boy Scouts provided me with a space filled with other boys my age, where we could bond over camping and group songs.

Of course, I never realized it as a child, but those activities — clearly chosen to mold us into classic young men of the 1950s persuasion (not altogether a bad fate) — were never ends in themselves, but means to an end. Through the woodworking, the fishing and the campfire stories, the organization promoted healthy friendship, boy to boy.

Girls can, of course, enjoy these activities that have been traditionally classified as masculine. But when I was 10-year-old, an environment filled with young girls would have induced self-consciousness and insecurity; and at that awkward age, I would not have been the only one affected.

Introducing young women into the equation would have exacerbated at the very least, the insecurity of some significant plurality of us, and we would have augmented our group dynamics to cope. Our interactions would have devolved into precisely the hyper-masculine pissing match that people with no experience in the organization probably think it already is.

Had I been accompanied by young women, instead of making fart jokes and playing with worms, I would have been trying to channel some suave pickup artistry I saw on a Nickelodeon sitcom the night before.

I have no doubt that some subset of the Boy Scouts would find the newfound girls among their ranks a welcome addition. But there are co-ed clubs and camps that subsume many of the same roles as the Boy Scouts. For those scouts who do not seek fraternal bonding, they can find what they are looking for with countless other institutions.

The inclusion of girls in Boy Scouts simply would not have been as conducive to bonding. But more importantly, it would have no tangible effect on gender equality. The Boy Scouts do not stand as obstacles in the path of young women, and nothing about the group dynamics with the addition of girls would have promoted the dissolution of sexism. The addition would have merely modified our behavior — and not in a way that elevated our consciousness, only our self-consciousness.

Gender equality is important, and every minute without it constitutes a massive moral failure. But its realization does not require that we overlook the benefits of fraternal and sororal bonding to young children.

Grant Osborn in a College junior from Springfield, Ohio. 

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