The Boy Scouts of America announced plans Wednesday to broadly accept girls, marking a historic shift for the century-old organization and setting off a debate about where girls better learn how to be leaders.
The Boy Scouts, which has seen dwindling membership numbers in recent decades, said that its programs could nurture girls as well as boys, and that the switch would make life easier for busy families, who might prefer to shuttle children to a single organization regardless of gender.
The decision was celebrated by many women, but criticized by the Girl Scouts, which said that girls flourish in all-female groups.
“We’ve had 105 years of supporting girls and a girl-only safe space,” said Lisa Margosian, chief customer officer for the Girl Scouts. “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 risk and stretch themselves in the company of other girls.”
Next year, girls will be allowed into the Cub Scouts program, which had been limited to young boys. A program for older girls is expected to be available in 2019, giving them a path to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.
The Boy Scouts has offered girls limited access to some programs before, but it has never before welcomed them into its core Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs. And the introduction of girls still does not mean that Boy Scouts’ gatherings will necessarily include both genders. The smallest groups of Cub Scouts will continue to be single sex.
For some parents, the announcement came as an answer to long-standing complaints that offerings by the Girl Scouts were lacking, particularly for girls with less traditionally feminine interests.
“The problem with the Girl Scout curriculum is that it’s very focused on who your leader is for your particular troop,” said Rebecca Szetela of Canton, Michigan. “If you have a mom who’s really into crafts and girlie stuff and being a princess, then that’s what your Girl Scout troop is going to be like. If you have a daughter who’s more rough and tumble, it’s not going to be a good fit.”
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