Boys Will Be Girls (Scouts)

By Paul Koch

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote an article about his desire to raise his children to be feminists. In it, he opines that he wants his sons to “escape the pressure to be a particular kind of masculine that is so damaging to men and to the people around them.”

While he doesn’t go on to unpack just what he means by this damaging kind of masculinity, I have this deep suspicion that he might be targeting much of what I tend to think is good and laudable about being a man. Now, I didn’t worry too much about all this because, well, he’s Canadian, and I don’t think I’ve ever worried too much about what our neighbors to the north say or do. But then, later the same day, I read a piece about the Boy Scouts of America allowing girls to join this coming year, and my head began to spin.

Now, I was a proud Boy Scout (a Life for life) and have lots of fond memories about my Scouting days. My older brother was an Eagle Scout as was my father, and my grandfather was a dedicated Scoutmaster who led young men on many hikes through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My love for the mountains today and many of the skills I have honed for life in the backcountry where first shaped by the Scouts. The lessons I learned during those critical days of my youth were important, and I thank God that I had them, but I wonder I they could still be had these days.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Many years ago, I began to notice something about the local Scouting Troop sponsored by our congregation. There was an increasing number of women in the leadership roles. I’m not saying that a mom cannot teach the skills and lessons we learned about backpacking, knot tying, or wilderness first aid. Of course they could. But one of the great blessings of the Boy Scouts was that it was all boys. There were no women there. It was men leading boys, and there was something important about that. There was a language and ritual to it, from the stories told around the campfires to the dirty jokes told along the trail. There were fears to be mastered and scars to be earned. And it seemed to me that it was important that mom wasn’t there for it. This is something that she had to let her son go and do with the men.

I guess what I’m saying is that there was more than simple education happening in Boy Scouts; there was also the imparting of a spirit of manhood, a deliberate understanding that a man must not only be prepared but also be strong, courageous, and honorable, and even be able to lead other men when called upon. These are things measured and reinforced in the company of other men. And I don’t know if the presence of a woman will allow it to unfold.

I fear that the Boy Scouts can no longer be what it once was, or at least it won’t be able to for much longer. It seems that the spirit of manhood that the Boy Scouts cultivated is perhaps the same dangerous form of masculinity about which the Prime Minister of Canada is so concerned. Men left to their own devices will only continue to bring inequality, oppression, sexism, and a host of other social injustices. And so perhaps a change is long overdue.

So tonight, after I read my son his bedtime story and get him a drink of water, I’ll silently make him a promise. I’ll promise him that he won’t be a Boy Scout, that I’ll do what is necessary to find another group of men where he can learn what strength, courage, and honor are all about—where he can master skills for this life while being tested by a more dangerous form of masculinity no longer welcome.