Scout leaders and gender roles

I was surprised to read in Thursday’s paper that a Boy Scout leader I know is also a Girl Scout leader. I haven’t had any involvement in Girl Scouts since I was a girl, since by middle school I had lost interest. I do remember, though, that our leaders were mothers of girls in the troop, and I couldn’t imagine having a man lead Girl Scouts.

But they do. While I couldn’t find out much from the national Girl Scouts web site, other than the simple fact that men are welcomed as volunteers, a local council website gave more information.

Can men be leaders?
Yes! Any responsible, caring adult 18 years or older may serve as a troop leader. If a man chooses to become a troop leader, he will need to have at least one female co-leader. Also at overnight trips, men will need to have their own sleeping facilities and their own restrooms available.

Another local council website provided further information.

Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) standards state that when men serve in troop leadership roles they do so as co-leaders with women and when husband and wife co-lead a third adult be present.

So I started wondering – do Boys Scout troops ever have women leaders? Women leaders in Cub Scouts is common – when I was young each den had a “Den Mother,” though I never had any idea either what the Den Mothers did or what the Cub Scouts did (though as a tomboy, I figured it was probably more interesting that what we Girl Scouts did). And I know there are women who are registered leaders, but I had the impression they volunteered in support positions, not directly leading a troop.

But it turns out that Boy Scouts do allow women to be Scoutmasters, and have for the past twenty years. A woman in Milford, Connecticut, had challenged the national organization’s ban on women in certain leadership roles. No man wanted to volunteer to be the Scoutmaster of Troop 13, so she served as their leader. She twice attempted to register as official Scoutmaster, but the BSA rejected her application on the grounds that the boys needed male role models. Finally she filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, claiming sex discrimination.

In 1988, although the case had not yet been resolved, the BSA changed their policy.

The national Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America voted at its February 1988 meeting to remove gender restrictions on all Scouting leadership positions. This change was made after careful consideration. It is time to recognize that in our changing society the unique strength of Scouting lies in the dedicated efforts of both men and women. Our efforts must be focused on helping chartered organizations select the best possible leadership, male or female, to carry forward a Scouting program that serves the youth and adults for whom the organizations are responsible. (BSA Today, Spring 1988)

I am glad for the leaders, both men and women, who serve as volunteers for the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts (and Cub Scouts) in our community. Ideally, both girls and boys would have a number of positive role models, both men and women, to help shape their character and their lives. But where volunteers are scarce, I’m sure any caring, dedicated adult makes an importance difference in young lives.


3 Responses to Scout leaders and gender roles

  1. Karen O says:

    My friend’s husband is a co-leader of our daughters’ Girl Scout troop. He helped talk my daughter into joining. (These are the friends who rent our upstairs.)

  2. renaissanceguy says:

    Shame on the mothers and fathers who won’t volunteer. If enough of them did, there would be plenty of women to lead the girls and plenty of men to lead the boys.

  3. Lauren Oehler says:

    I think the whole Girl Scout ideal of girl power is undermined, when I find a man in charge of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop.

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