Barbara Howard: The Boy Scouts of America will now admit girls. After a decline in membership, the Boy Scouts board announced a unanimous vote yesterday to go coed. It will now let girls into its Cub Scouts program for younger kids, and says it plans to create a scouting program for older girls, as well. A coed Boy Scout troop is not a new concept for some Cambridge families. Nearly 15 years ago, girls were invited to join boys in a troop there, and one of the leaders was Dr. Michelle Holmes — she teaches at Harvard's School of Public Health. Dr. Holmes joins me in the studio. Thanks for coming in.
Michelle Holmes: Thank you for having me.
Howard: So why were girls invited into that troop back in 2003?
Holmes: Well, there were two reasons that I invited girls. One was, girls have always been hanging around. They were usually the sisters of the Boy Scouts and they were interested in the activities that their brothers were doing, mostly the outdoor activities. And the second was that I was on a camping trip with the boys once, my son was in a tent with some other boys, and somehow teenage boys think that a micron of nylon tent stops their voices. Well, it doesn't. And I heard them talking about girls in a way that I wasn't happy about, and felt like they were objectifying women in a way, and I thought they should have an experience that was more wholesome and peer-driven. So I wanted the girls to join.
Howard: OK so you did this — but did you do it in full view of the Boy Scout governing body, the national body? Did they give you any push back, if they knew about it?
Holmes: I was very open all along, what we were doing. I actually wrote to the national leadership, I served on national committees, and I've always talked about it.
Howard: Did the national leadership give you any grief about it?
Holmes: No, they didn't. They basically ignored us.
Howard: So once you did bring girls into the troop, these boys in the tent, for example, who were making remarks that you didn't approve of, did the attitudes change?
Holmes: Absolutely, I saw a real change in their attitudes. They really have come to respect each other as peers. They develop a kind of brother-sister relationship. Sometimes people have been worried about romantic or dating relationships among the scouts, and that actually doesn't happen very much. It's much more of a sibling relationship. When you have to depend on each other to, you know, set up camp and make dinner and put up the tent, it builds respect. What I see among the young men in our troop now is that they respect the other young women as their peers and as their equals.
There's been a concern that in a coed troop, girls will quote “take over.” Well in our troop, the leadership — they democratically elect leaders — has gone back and forth between boys and girls seamlessly. We haven't had to do anything about that. There's a boy leader now. There was a girl leader last semester, and we know that the leader next semester will be a girl.
Howard: So what do you think of this — this nationwide move to go coed?
Holmes: I'm glad they've caught up with us. We're delighted by it.
Howard: When this is played out and girls are allowed into the Boy Scouts, do you have any concerns that it's going to skim off girls from the Girl Scouts?
Holmes: You know, interestingly, around the world, scouting is coed and most of the times what happened is the boy program went coed and the girl program remained. So that single-sex option is still there for girls that want it. I believe girls deserve a choice. They can choose Girl Scouts and they can choose the Boy Scout program now, too.
Howard: Well in recent years it's been a real steep decline in the membership of the Boy Scouts, and a lot of that may be driven by headlines about the Boy Scouts banning gay scout leaders and gay boys themselves. And lately, though, there's been a softening in their stance. But is it too late, though, to recover from the damage that was done in that?
Holmes: I do think that some of the membership standards that were exclusionary didn't send the right message and people would stay away. It looks like Boy Scouts are trying to make up for last time and be more inclusionary.
Howard: Is the name Boy Scouts going to need to change?
Holmes: I wonder about that.
Howard: What would you like to see it called?
Holmes: Scouts of America.
Howard: Thank you so much for coming in, Dr. Holmes.
Holmes: Thank you.
Holmes: That's Dr. Michelle Holmes. Nearly 15 years ago, she was a leader in her son's Boy Scout troop in Cambridge when girls were invited to join.