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Phil Peck's Weblog (Scouter, Outdoorsman, Father, and Husband)

The Problem With Women in the BSA

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The Scouting movement has been alive and well for over 100 years now. Since the beginning of the movement the BSA has had the premier focus on educating young men to make moral and ethical decisions throughout their lives. For over 100 years adult men have lead Troops of Scouts into the outdoors in the search for adventure and to train the leaders of future generations. A proven history of success with over 2 million young men being awarded their Eagle rank.

 

Not until after the introduction of Cub Scouts in 1930 were women allowed to participate as adult volunteers in the BSA. Even the early years of Cub Scouts had no women. It wasn’t until 1932 that women were allowed to serve as Den Mothers, and then still under the guidance of a Boy Scout Den Chief. Nearly 60 years passed before the BSA removed all gender restrictions on adult volunteer positions. In February 1988, when I was 10 years old, I may have been one of the first groups of Cub Scouts to move into a Boy Scout Troop that had the opportunity to be lead by a female Scoutmaster. I never made it to Boy Scouts and I have no idea if at that time there would have been any female Scoutmasters in my area, but only in that year would that have been possible.

 

So you ask, what’s the big deal? Why am I even talking about it? It’s the 21st century, right? Well, here’s the deal, I’m upset about the role women play in modern day Scouting. Ya, that’s right, I’m not happy with it at all.

 

This last weekend I had the fortunate honor of taking part in my Ordeal ceremony to become part of the BSA’s honor society, the Order of the Arrow. An honor that was granted to me by my district and something I don’t take lightly. Upon my return home I learned something, something I’ve known to some extent for some time, but I guess I never fully understood. My wife pointed out that I was now part of the “Boys Club” and one step further away from the two of us being on equal terms in regards how we are perceived in Scouting circles. This is the first thing since we both joined Scouting many years ago that we did not take on together. I’m not going to get into the politics of how she did not get elected into the OA, but let’s just say I feel she was cheated out of it by someone that has not devoted their life to cheerful service of others. My wife deserved the nomination from the district way more than the person that was nominated in by our unit, and to be honest, she deserved it way more than I did.

 

But there’s the rub. When it comes to perception of our roles in Scouting she is often looked upon by others as not a proper member of the BSA. She hears comments like “How are you able to be a Boy Scout?”, “Oh, you’re a Den Mother, right?”, “I didn’t think they let girls be in Boy Scouts.”, “When did the let women in Scouts?” and worst of all “You’re not a real Boy Scout.” Most of these comments come from non-Scouters and typically those of older generations. But sadly she is often looked upon within Scouting as not an equal. The two of us are fortunate to do so much together, but when we meet up with fellow Scouters they look at me when they talk, her opinions are not always heard, and her advice is not always asked for or sought after.

 

In 1971 a women by the name of Catherine Pollard became the Scoutmaster for Troop 13 in Milford, CT. She took on the role as no male adult was willing to serve as the guide for the young men of the Troop and she felt a duty to take that on for the sake of her Scouts. The BSA didn’t recognize her position and it wasn’t until 1988 that she was able to officially register as a Scoutmaster. Sad to think that was only 23 years ago. You walk into any BSA event today and you’re going to see many women filling many important roles with the organization. I’ve met many female Scoutmasters and I look upon their service with no less admiration than any male Scoutmaster.

 

The issue is so many of my fellow Scouters do not share that view. My wonderful wife thinks to herself that she is less important and less impactful to the youth of the BSA than men that wear the same uniform. In my house I wear the patch of Scoutmaster, but that is only because I’m more outspoken and more comfortable being in the spotlight. My wife should wear the patch of Scoutmaster Advisor. She’s the one that often gets the things done that I often get credit for. She keeps me in line and guides me in how I lead. I have no doubt that she has the ability to lead any Troop out there and do it better than most other Scoutmasters. She has a passion, she has skills, she has it all.

 

My wife questioned her role in Scouting this weekend and wondered if it was all worth it. In this day in age were women have achieved so much in terms of equality, it’s a sad state that her time in the BSA has not been played on the same field. Why should she have to fight to gain a voice in a male dominated organization when we all have the same mission and equal skills to accomplish it? I don’t understand.

 

It saddens me to think that as we go out to better the life of boys in this world and to take our skills and focus on training the future leaders of society that she is still fighting to have her voice heard. She has to struggle to overcome a roadblock that is put in front of her that holds her back from being able to be an effective leader. This is a waste of her amazing talents.

 

I’d like to say to my wife I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with it all. I’m sorry I didn’t take enough notice of the internal struggles you go through. I’m sorry that I haven’t stood up for you more. I’m sorry that you’ve come to the point of finding the challenge too much to bear.

 

I’d also like to thank every female Scouter for your unselfish service to these young men. You have taken on a role that is not easy to live out and for that you have my heartfelt thanks.

 

To my wonderful wife, you are an amazing person and the model of a true Scouter. You live every day by the Scout Oath and Law. You live a wonderful life of cheerful service. You are an amazing mentor to both adults and youth alike. I wish I was only half of what you are as that would make me a million times the person I am today. I dedicate my life to support you and to allow you to live the life you have always wanted.

This picture shows just how my wife has traveled through Scouting. Often alone and with many difficult paths traversed, but she goes forward anyway. This was the day she was presented her Wood Badge beads, recognized for her unselfish service and dedication to others. She stood alone on Gilwell field this day, but she had the thoughts of every Scout in her heart. That is something she will never loose.

 

9 Comments

  1. Phil

    I started reading your post with sadness in my heart thinking it was another tyraid about women and girls in scouting coming out of the USA.

    I am delighted that I chose to read on, it is a good to hear a positive message about females in Scouting.

    I do my scouting in the UK and from 1993 we have been fully co-educational at all levels of scouting from the littlest beaver to the oldes leader.
    I will also look into if there have ever been any restrictions on adults, I believe that there will be external social restrictions during the BP times but I know since 1979 girls have been part of the old Ventures.

    So all my scouting life, females have been part of scouting to me a Scout is a Scout regardless of Creed, Colour or Gender we are all part of the largest youth movement on the planet with some 31million members.

    As and adult in the movement we should have one thing in common we are there to support and enrich the lives of the young people we meet and more than likely they will support and enrich ours too.

    I wish you and your wife an long and very fufilling scouting life.

    p.s. Tell your wife the OA is full of men doing funny hand shakes (for more info look here http://www.jabbering.co.uk/2010/01/the-order-of-the-arrow/ :) )

  2. Thank you Phil. I have experienced much of the attitudes expressed by scouters and nonscouters. I have heard it said in more than one arena that “Cub Scouts are for the Mom’s and Boy Scouts are for the Dads” so much I started to believe it.
    I had a pack party a few years ago where I was the Tiger den leader and a mom approached me and felt my role would best be served by a man. She felt her son needed the male influence more than what the program could offer. She was looking because she needed a good dad stand in because her child’s wasn’t around. That is a frustration for me. I was very offended. I am a mother of 4 boys and yet I am unqualified? I didnt bother to tell her that no man stepped up to the job, though there could have been. In fact I have seen more men turn down leadership, and I have seen incorrect unsafe behaviors from male leaders. Men do not have the corner on absolute perfection in Scouting. Men are human and therefore err just as women do. I feel that each woman who steps up to help lead the youth (boys and girls because BSA is coed which most still refuse to believe by the way) is a person who saw a need and filled it. I have witnessed this summer the lack of respect in our future generations of young men and their poor attitudes towards female Venturing Crew members. Why? Because their leadership which includes their own parents taught that attitude. We have an opportunity within these programs to influence the future of our world and some of our “leaders” seek only to saddle our future with poisonous ideas and values which are not really values.
    People only teach what they know and that even goes for the ones who propigate bad behaviors such as this issue here. I can guarantee you those that harbor such prejudices and teach it will further damage the hearts and minds of our youth with allowing other bad behaviors to go on as well. I dont believe either gender rides the high road over the other. And I dont and won’t let myself be saddled with their poison and take it to heart. Phil your wife is noble and kind with a smile that can lift anyone’s day. She is a great woman of service, I know because I have seen her in action. Keep your chin up Peck family keep looking to the future and know you have my support always.

  3. I volunteered as an adult in the BSA in 1992 after a 9 year hiatus from my involvement as a youth. The Scoutmaster was set upon the previous gender policy and I was puzzled why he didn’t want a mother in uniform and a real help on the campouts. I attended Scout leader basic at that time and about 25% of the participants were female. I hadn’t realized the gender policy had changed so recently then. I assumed it had let females in for much longer. The Scoutmaster adapted after some education then I serve as SM for 5 years and continue on now as an assistant. Being blessed with just daughters however I began my adventure in Girl Scouting . In 2011 I can not serve in the GSUSA as an “01″ – the registration code of the primary adult girl scout leader. Some glass ceilings are still in place.

  4. Phil,

    First, congratulations on completing your Ordeal! For me, it was one of the most moving and meaningful experiences I have had in Scouting.

    Women have made great strides and advances in the BSA. Their presence has only enhanced the program and given it more depth of character. Our troop committee is about 30% female including several in main positions like Secretary and Advancement Chair. While we don’t have any female Assistant Scoutmasters, I know of troops that do. Our district committee is almost half female as is our training team, and nearly all wear a lodge flap.

    Moms understand boys probably better than dads do. Dads seem to enjoy the outdoor program, camping and hiking, and even cooking, but moms know what makes boys tick, and are more comfortable with the personal issues such as encouragement and behavior. A mom who is committed to the program and adheres to the ideals of boy leadership can be a highly effective adult leader, one who any unit would be glad to have on board.

    I admire couples like you where both are involved in Scouting. We have a few in our district and it seems to draw them closer. Your wife’s commitment to cheerfully serving will someday get her nominated to the “brotherhood” as well.

  5. It is sad that sexism still pervades so many places. I am sure that the kids truly appreciate everything that you and BJ do for them. You are changing the next generation of kids to be more amenable to women having a stronger say and place in groups.

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  7. Phil:

    Would you advocate men volunteering in droves to be Girl Scout leaders? Can you see no reason why young men should not be able to belong to an organization led by male role models, so essential in the Scouting years? You must be convinced that this makes boys become evil, sexist male chauvinist pigs. Studies show that sex-segregated activities led by the respective gender can be very beneficial to adolescent development. If women do this, it’s OK, If males do this, it’s an “old boys’ club”. Just look at America’s youth to see the impact of fatherless families with young men lacking older male role models who model the values we in Scouting espouse.

  8. I just came across this old post. Your experience couldn’t be more different than what has been happening for years in my area.

    Here, many women have flocked into cub and scout leadership. It seems to have become a way for moms to be involved with their kids without needing to have an interest in sports.

    As with other activities where women come to dominate (church?), men tend to withdraw to the fringes. Planning meetings are long and talky. Likewise, troop meetings are usually about crafts and talk and co-ed outings. There are games here or there but fear and control are always in the air. There is always the possibility, of course, that the boys will get out of control and break something or hurt themselves.

    Unsurprisingly, just like at school, the boys are always in danger of being bad and of being shamed for being bad (that is, behaving like boys).

    Scouts has more or less become a bunch of moms getting together to pool evening childcare. Not a bad idea, but is this what Baden-Powell had in mind?

  9. I am the (female) Scoutmaster of a very active Boy Scout troop in CA. I have nine male ASMs. If I could ever get a woman to step up, I would choose a woman as ASM too. Adult males do not back off from leadership in my troop. We act together, fairly seamlessly, as leadership. However, I am clearly in the lead. I have a strong personality…pretty demanding in terms of behavior expectations. But I would never shame a scout in front of anyone. If I have something to say to a scout about behavior, it’s done in plain sight, but out of hearing. I do it simply: You did this; it’s wrong because (“A scout is loyal” etc). You’re not going to do that again. We scout-shake on it. It’s done.

    When we reach a site, if the boy leader hasn’t already done this, we speak to the ranger and ask what we can/can’t do. My scouts climb/hike all over the place. The BSA President two years ago said he wanted to see more scouts with broken legs/arms, more risk-taking. I agree…Let’s get out there and have some fun! In guidelines, if a patrol comes to their SM and has a plan approved for a campout/hike, etc. they can proceed without adults present. I’m one SM who readily approves patrol outings. They’re great team-building experiences.

    At every turn, I push for boy leadership ahead of adults stepping in. I know we adults like to “show our stuff,” but this program is not about us. We teach a boy or two a skill, and let them teach the rest. We do not lead hikes. We do not call out commands. We speak in the ear of boy leadership as needed and grow our scouts into leaders. It’s a long, sometimes difficult process that takes patience and humor, but it’s a core part of Boy Scouts.

    I felt accepted in my council, even by the older male leaders…until recently. I was picked to be 1st ASM (because of my qualifications) of our council’s Nat’l Jambo contingent. The tour was great. Jamboree was another animal altogether. Every time I used the restroom, female leaders and staff were talking about the sexism they were experiencing. They felt devalued and demeaned. I have always noticed that male leaders from other troops address my ASMs ahead of me. It never bothered me before because I don’t like all the schmoozing, back-slapping stuff anyway. But the Jamboree experience was tough with it being on such a large scale.

    I have given 7.5 years to my troop, 5 as SM, and I have loved every minute of it…even the hard stuff, the heartbreaking moments. Many people don’t realize how much work being SM is, how many hours, phone calls, dealing with upset parents, family visits, letters of reference, letters of condolence. Over that time, I have gone through three CCs, four Rank Adv Chairs, 4 Treasurers, and lost my best friend (Rank Chair) and another dear friend (ASM) to cancer. SMs also typically have a lot of info that no one else has. Our troop is steeped in tradition and wanted longevity from its SM. I was asked by the Church’s Org Rep to our troop to be SM, and asked how many years I could give. Pre-menopause, I said 11 years. Now it’s looking more like nine with my joints aching from arthritis. I could and would keep going if I didn’t sometimes feel like a placeholder for when they find a male SM.

    I’m talking about the parents, not the boys. If the boys hear me talking about a succession plan, they get really upset.

    Recently, I took a new ASM on an outing. We encountered a bear. I was teaching the scouts how to be large, loud, move the bear on when it was done eating. We were successful, but the male ASM was wondering if we shouldn’t be sitting in our cars instead. I told him my ancestor is Davy Crockett (true), and bears are afraid of me (maybe when I’m yelling), and that I absolutely believe in my abilities and act accordingly. We stood as one, and when the bear looked our way, we were one huge yelling mass, and we moved that bear back to the woods. We talked about not being prey, how prey acts, etc. The scouts learned a lot of info, but nothing more important than believing in themselves and their abilities.

    Everyone needs to stop talking about male vs. female leadership. Let’s talk about leadership that lets the boys lead, grows boy leaders…how Boy Scouts is supposed to be “done.” If we’re “doing” scouting right, who or what gender the adult leadership is would be less important. What would be important is consistancy and competence.

    Thanks to my husband who makes my volunteering possible by supporting me in whatever I choose to do, and for funding more scouting than he realizes. :) )

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