Yesterday, the Boy Scouts of America instituted a long-awaited policy change. They will no longer rely on birth certificates to determine a boy’s eligibility for the Scouts, thereby clearing the way for transgender boys to join the organization.
We are so glad that, finally, all of the young men of today and tomorrow are now able to join an institution that has been around for over 100 years. That said, it’s deeply unfortunate that it took until 2017 for this to happen. Why did it take so long? Why did it take so much longer than it did for the Girl Scouts?
Compared to the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts have always been ahead of their time: from their push for racially integrated troops in the 1950s to their inspiring move in 2015 to turn down a $100,000 donation that was offered on the condition that it not be used to support transgender scouts. Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts took their fights against inclusion all the way to the Supreme Court in 2000, when in a 5-4 ruling, the court decided that the Boy Scouts had the right to determine who could be included or excluded from membership — including gay boys and men. It wasn’t until 2015 that they reversed their ban on gay scouts and troop leaders, and not until yesterday that they officially allowed transgender scouts.
There’s no question that the Girl Scouts has evolved faster as an institution, but I believe that this difference is, at its core, based in sexism. Women have always had more fluid gender identities than men. Women can wear pants and cut their hair short and still be taken seriously. They can take on stereotypically masculine looks and still be considered feminine. Men, on the other hand, are allowed no such leeway; in order to be “a man” you must fall within narrow parameters of dress, appearance and behavior.
This is because it’s fine for women to emulate men, because men are still thought of as the superior sex. It is not OK for men to emulate women because we are still considered weaker and less valuable.
Of course, homophobia and transphobia are their own kinds of hatred and fear. But I would argue that at their core is the belief that men are better than women and therefore it is far less acceptable for a boy or man to blur those boundaries than for a girl or woman to. The difference in the timelines of gay and transgender acceptance between the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts is a real-world example of how sexism is still a factor in our society that influences our policies and behavior.