Leia Pameticky has been waiting for this moment for much of her young life.
When news broke that Boy Scouts of America will allow girls to join, the fourth grader from Kansas said she couldn’t wait to go on the same adventures her father talked about from his Boy Scout days.
“I was like, yes! Finally!” Leia told CNN affiliate KWCH. “There is no boy and girl things. There’s only people things.”
But not everyone is thrilled — namely, Girl Scouts of the USA.
The competition is on
The BSA said its decision comes after years of requests from girls to join. Indeed, girls have been joining Boy Scout troops for years on a case-by-case basis. It’s not even the first time BSA has opened its ranks to youth who are not boys — teen girls, for example, have been able to join its Venturing program since the late-20th century.
The announcement sparked questions about the future of the Girl Scouts and other gender-organized youth groups.
The GSUSA defended the importance of an “all-girl, girl-led, and girl-friendly” environment. As both groups lose members to other afterschool activities, GSUSA’s leadership has previously accused BSA of courting girls to boost falling enrollment — a position it still stands by, spokesman Mike Lopes said Thursday.
Girl Scouts national board member Charles Garcia accused the Boy Scouts of trying shore up revenue in the aftermath of lawsuits stemming from abuse cases within the organization.
“The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire” said Garcia, himself a former Boy Scout. He said the notion that the group is a convenient option for parents is “a smokescreen.”
BSA has not responded to a request for comment about Garcia’s statement.
But don’t expect changes from the Girl Scouts any time soon. In the interest of maintaining safe spaces for girls, boys will still not be welcome, Lopes and other GSUSA members said. The group will keep relying on feedback from girls to shape programming, just as it has always done.
“It won’t force us to do anything different. We are constantly looking at our programming and talking to girls. We change things if they don’t work,” said Sue Else, CEO of Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, which includes Savannah, birthplace of the Girl Scouts.
One change is clear, though — the groups will be competing against each other for members.
“We see it as more market competition,” Else said, “and that’s unfortunate.”
What’s the difference, anyway?
As the story goes, a meeting in 1912 with Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of Boy Scouts, inspired Juliette Gordon Low to establish Girl Scouts. The groups have been separate entities ever since, even as they pursued similar goals of building character and self-reliance through survival skills.
The GSUSA has reinvented itself over the years to keep up with the times. In 2004, it hired a management consultant to address declining membership and revitalize its volunteer system. The group unveiled a “Core Business Strategy” that led to the consolidation of councils and shuttering of camps through mergers. Troop meetings and badges were supplemented by “journeys” offering exercises in developing healthy relationships, identifying community problems and lobbying government, to name a few.
The changes led to increased membership in some markets, Else said. But some parents said they came at the expense of camping and outdoor activities.
Both groups share similarities, from the language in their respective pledges to merit badges. Both the Girl Scout Promise and the Boy Scout Oath vow to serve God and country and to help people at all times; both offer badges for entrepreneurship, cooking and camping.
But some badges are unique to each group. Boy Scouts have badges for rifle shooting and shotgun shooting. The Girl Scouts have badges for babysitting and hosting dinner parties; after the BSA announced the change, on GSUSA’s website, the Eating for Beauty badge turned into Eating for You.
Changes in programming
As one woman claiming to be a troop leader said in an unofficial GSUSA Facebook group, “I am completely fed up with the journeys and badges. We lost so many girls because of the weak programs and lack of support for outdoor activities.”
“We were only able to retain what was left of our troops by redesigning them to not do anything that you would not have Boy Scouts do,” she wrote. “No more glitter, ‘feelings jars’ and ‘Eating for Beauty’ badges. We focused on girl-driven leadership and outdoor skills even though GSUSA doesn’t have programs to support it.”
BSA offered camps to Girl Scouts affected by closures. But one former camp counselor said rules and regulations hindered the experience. No nighttime campfires were allowed, and no cooking over an open flame, said Sarah Ostrowski Simmons, a former resident counselor at Camp Elliott in Volant, Pennsylvania.
“The girls got little to no actual camp experience except sleeping in a platform tent that was set up for them before they got to camp,” she said. “I want my daughter to have the opportunity to camp more than once or twice a summer.”
Else said programming is decided among councils and troops, and that plenty of troops offer opportunities for camping and outdoors activities. The focus on science, technology, engineering and math skills is vital to ensuring that girls are prepared for the marketplace, she said.
“We have analytics that show our programming works,” she said.
Eagle Scout vs. Gold Award
Perhaps the most significant change is that girls will now be eligible to earn the title of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts.
The rank of Eagle Scout is a prestigious and widely recognized achievement, one that can have longterm benefits in academic, professional and even military spheres. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Neil Armstrong and Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are just a few notable men who have attained the rank of Eagle Scout.
While there is a rough equivalent in the Girl Scouts — the Gold Award — the honor is not nearly as well-known as the Eagle Scout distinction. But GSUSA says girls who earn the Gold Award also reap benefits, including college scholarships and the chance to skip a rank in the military.
GSUSA said 90% of female astronauts, 80% of female tech leaders, 75% of the current female senators, and all female US Secretaries of State were girl scouts. But it’s not clear if any of those Girl Scouts were Gold Award recipients.
Though the Gold Award may not be as widely recognizable, it carries weight within the Girl Scouts and among employers who know about it, Else said. She acknowledged the group needs to do more to build its visibility.
“We’ve been striving to get those stories out,” she said.
Girls Scouts girls-only?
GSUSA stands by the benefits of the girl-dominant environment and women as role models. It has not announced any plans to change in light of the Boy Scouts news.
“The need for female leadership has never been clearer or more urgent than it is today — and only Girl Scouts has the expertise to give girls and young women the tools they need for success,” GSUSA said after the announcement.
“Girl Scouts works,” the national organization said. “We’re committed to preparing the next generation of women leaders, and we’re here to stay.”