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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.

MaryAnn October 06, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Get over yourself! Boys scouts is for BOYS! If you don't like what girls scouts have to offer change it! Don't infiltrate the sanctity of boys hanging out with boys and not wanting girls around. I was mad when I heard about England allowing girls in their Boy Scouts and I was glad it wasn't happening in the US. There are other organizations that allow both - Sea scouts, Adventure scouts. You are just trying to stir the pot because you are obviously unhappy with yourself and feel you are entitled to whatever you want and everyone should bow down to YOUR needs. Get a life!
Chris F. October 06, 2012 at 04:41 PM
MaryAnn, I agree that Boy Scouts are for Boys, but the fact is many dens are run by Mom's..
Emily Henry (Editor) October 06, 2012 at 04:56 PM
MaryAnn, you have an interesting perspective to offer but I see no reason for you to do so in the form of a personal attack against a complete stranger.
karen October 06, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Why do so many people post such hateful comments on patch? I have received a ton of mail from the UK in support of our son. The UK sounds like a great place to live and I am so glad that Maryann had the opportunity to be a part of something she loved!
Norman Gee October 06, 2012 at 05:51 PM
It's only in the US and I believe one other country that Boy Scouts are not COED. Girls are part of the Boy Scouts in the Venturing program from age 14 and up.
Chris F. October 06, 2012 at 05:59 PM
@karen, I didn't write anything hateful, I agree that the boy scouts are for boys not girls. As per Ryan, he sounds like a wonderful person that has been wronged by a bigoted person and organization. He sounds like he would be a great ambassador to the Boy Scouts. I applaud all the people that have stood up for him, I heard other children and den leaders have stepped away from the BSA organization in protest, I also heard some children didn’t accept their eagle badge in protest. My son is very upset about what happened but he said he wanted to stay in the Scouts and that is his decision. I see BSA's obvious bigotry as a black eye to what could be a great organization for Boys not Girls. I think that the boy that complained about Ryan being gay should be outed so every time someone looks at him and whispers he will be reminded what it is like to be a bigot. Maybe one day he will have a gay child of his own so he can learn compassion. I spoke with a few moms about this and they are up in arms about the BSA, I spoke with a den leader that was crying for Ryan and last night she submitted her resignation because of the BSA rules about gays.
The Merry One October 06, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Isn't it a wonderful thing that Girl Scouts in the U.S. has a robust outdoor program that allows girls to focus on those activities that are of interest to them, whether it's backpacking, camping, orienteering, geocaching, taking care of the eco-system, etc? Or not, because there's something for every girl in Girl Scouting.
thomas cooper October 06, 2012 at 08:48 PM
Girls are able to join Boy Scouts through the Venturing Program, ages 14 to 21. Venturing has its own path to learning, leadership and personal development, quite rigorous in my opinion.
Dee Springer October 06, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Why would someone like MaryAnn write such horrible things like she has? Such hatefulness.
jjobes October 06, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I agree with MaryAnn. Besides Venturing 14-21, boys should be allowed to have Boy Scouts on their own. Do Girl Scouts allow boys? Does your women's gym allow men? We're at the stage men have to open up everything to women, but goodness, women are protected for their organizations-and I am a female.
BethAnne October 06, 2012 at 10:44 PM
jjobes - About the girl scouts allowing boys. It would seem - sort of. Quoting from a news story: "The Girl Scouts of Colorado are allowing a 7-year-old boy to join a local troop because he is “living life as a girl.” 'We make the distinction that if a child is living life as a girl and the family brings the child to us and says my daughter wants to be a Girl Scout, we welcome her,' Rachelle Trujillo, vice president of communications with Girl Scouts of Colorado told CNSNews.com." When the Girl Scouts made this decision several conservative groups started an effort to boycott Girl Scout cookies. This confused me because with the Boy Scouts conservative groups keep saying that private organizations should be allowed to set their own policies.
Ki October 07, 2012 at 02:22 AM
I was a member of a Brownie group in England when I was a child and the activities we partook in ranged from sewing to camping and raising money for charity to orienteering. I don't think the segregation of male and female members would pose a major problem if the activities offered to both sexes were as varied as those experienced by myself as a youngster, but to ostracise gay children is just close minded and cruel. Why punish them purely to please a minority? Everyone is entitled to their opinion of other human beings, whether it be race, religion or sexual preference (no matter how racist, bigoted or downright ridiculous it may be!), but the American Scout organisation should be upholding the basic ideals of any youth club - teaching children life values and giving them a safe, fun environment to do so. And if they are being taught that homophobia is the 'correct' way to feel about gay people, then we had all better 'be prepared' for a very close minded generation to follow us.
Rae October 07, 2012 at 03:55 AM
No girls. No gays. "Meanwhile, both are allowed in the UK — which happens to be the home of the entire international Scouting movement." MaryAnn, with regards your blatant rant, which killed the point you were trying to make....might I suggest you get over yourself.
Barbara Fiorica October 07, 2012 at 06:46 AM
Wow MaryAnn! What a belligerent tirade! Was that really necessary? Maybe Emily hit a nerve? Something in your childhood, perhaps. And as Rae said, you completely negated your point. As for your last few vicious comments, it seems you may be describing yourself.
John Bobincheck October 07, 2012 at 09:22 AM
Simple fact. Scouting would not exist without dedicated Moms.
John Bobincheck October 07, 2012 at 09:40 AM
Scouting is an opportunity for boys to work on becoming better men. And the program can most probably help girls become better women. Going through it together might lose the value for both.
Kendra loveless October 08, 2012 at 02:11 AM
I just can't get past the fact that an organization that prides itself on teaching character, patriotism, and the importance of civic duty, would so blatantly flout some of the most important ideals that this nation was founded on, most importantly equality for ALL, and the quest for the personal freedoms of religion and speech.
MaryAnn October 08, 2012 at 06:06 PM
@ Barbara - You right, it did hit a nerve. But not one from my childhood. One from my adulthood where I often see self proclaimed rule breakers having to be included in EVERYTHING especially those things that do not include them.
Emily Henry (Editor) 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 (Editor) 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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