When the Boy Scouts are not just for Boys, do we also lose the Men?

On the first day of Boy Scouts (circa 1989) for my older brother, my mother—who had been über active in our Cub Scouting career as a den mother—walked into the room intent on sticking around. The Scoutmaster (a friend of the family and genuinely good guy) put his arm around Mom and walked her back out to the sidewalk outside the building. 

He gently but firmly let her know that the 7-8 capable men in that room (one of whom was my dad) would take it from there. When she tells the story today, she smiles at the offense that she took at the time. Why were women not allowed to help shape these boys?

It’s not that I want girls to be excluded from all of the opportunities that scouting afforded me, or that I think women are less than capable of shaping boys into respectable and capable men. It’s that part of the magic of scouting (which made it as valuable as it was for me) was that there were no girls or women there.

The bottom line is that I believe boys and girls are different. I know that’s crazy-edgy to say in 2018, but I still believe it.

Note that I did not say that boys are better than girls, or vice versa. I said we are different.

Note also (again) that I don’t think that women are less capable of teaching boys than men. Many of my most influential teachers were women.

But when there were no women around, something happened to those men who were my scoutmasters and leaders. I don’t mean some toxic locker room talk (though there were far more bodily functions expressed and discussed), I mean those men stepped up in ways that they would not have, had a woman been around and stepping up for them.

When there are no women around, and a little boy cries because he’s terrified of sleeping in a tent by himself, to see a grown man waddle out of his sleeping bag and across the moonlit field to grab him a bottle of water and put an arm around him is something I’ll never forget.

And it wouldn’t have happened had there been a female scoutmaster there. She’d have beat him to the water bottle by 5 minutes. You know it’s true just as much as I do because on the whole women are more readily compassionate than men. I know that’s a generalization, and some of you just queued up a list of 6 guys you know who would have rushed across the field.

And you may be right, maybe my generalizations are unfair, so let’s get specific: I know my mom would’ve beat my dad across the field in a heartbeat. My wife would beat me across the field today, in a heartbeat.

But I needed to see my dad (and other men like him) do it. And that only happened because someone told my mom (and other women like her) she couldn’t come.

I know that opens up all sorts of wounds for some people around toxic masculinity and I (very incompletely) get it.

But what I am saying is that FOR ME, part of the magic of scouting was that there were no girls there, which is not a bad thing. Just like an all-girls school provides an atmosphere where learning can happen differently, scouting provided a space for my teenaged brain to learn things that I am not sure I would have otherwise, including how to value and treat women.

I guess I’m just saying, please don’t put me in some misogynistic box if I think it’s a bad thing to “let girls in” to scouting. I’m just mourning the loss of a part of my childhood that deeply shaped who I am.

If we don’t let boys see men being men, do we risk the men just disappearing?