OPINION: It’s about time girls were welcome

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By Forrest Berkshire, Editor

I was selling popcorn with my boys last weekend for Cub Scouts when one of our customers struck up a conversation that started me thinking.

She voiced her opposition to the recent decision by Boy Scouts of America to allow girls to join starting in 2018. In fact, she was of the opinion they were “forced to.” I guess because she just assumed it was by a court ruling or something.

The Boy Scouts (and the junior program, Cub Scouts) enjoys a lot of good will and support from the public. I was never a Scout growing up, and didn’t know much about the program until my two boys came home from school a little over a year ago bubbling with excitement after hearing a presentation at their school. We went to the orientation meeting, where I learned their school actually didn’t have a pack, but they were looking to start one, and by the time the meeting was over I was somehow the pack master.

I was reluctant. Most of what I knew about scouting at that time was the controversy over the organization not allowing gay Scout leaders or openly gay Scouts. Its focus on a certain brand of patriotism and its paramilitary trappings of the uniform and other aspects had always kept me at arm’s length. I had this caricature of the program as some sort of patriarchal conservative youth indoctrination program.

But what I found was that the values it tries to instill in its members — integrity, honesty, compassion, responsibility and others — are important concepts that children need to learn from an early age.

And when I say children, I mean boys and girls. That is why I welcomed the decision in October that the Boy Scouts of America, for the first time in its 107 years of existence, would allow girls to join the program. That decision follows its 2013 decision to allow openly gay Scouts and its 2015 lifting of the prohibition on openly gay leaders.

I would like to believe the decision was completely altruistic and is not in response to declining participation in Scouts. There are about 2.3 million boys in Scouts, less than half of its membership in 1973. But no matter the reasons, I believe it will benefit both the boys who are in Scouts and the girls who want to join.

All I know about Girl Scouts is that it is a scouting program for girls and that they were not happy with the decision (and I really like their cookies). I am sure it is a worthy program.

But there are bound to be some girls who want to do the Boy Scout program. We do a lot of fun stuff, like camping, learning to use knives, shooting BB guns and other activities that were once considered “boy things.”

But why should a little girl be denied participating in those activities?

And it is a good lesson for the boys, who need to prepare to enter a world where women are the equals of men and should be judged by their ability and accomplishments, not by their gender.

This year, I stepped down from pack master to be the den leader for our Bears. We have a couple of the boys’ little sisters who come to our meetings, and we have always included them in the activities. But when we have our pack meetings, they don’t get the recognition of earning a belt loop or patch. Why? Because they are girls. It doesn’t matter whether they did every singe thing, or more, than the boys. It is just some arbitrary rule, made by men, that sets them apart.

I understand there are still some who will have difficulty with this change. My bet, though, is that those individuals are adults. Ask the Scouts, and they probably won’t even comprehend how this could be controversial.

And the program is about them, after all.