This week the Boy Scouts of America decided that they are no more. Well, the organization will still exist, but now it will be called “Scouts BSA.” The stated reason for the change is that girls will soon be joining the ranks of the organization, so “Boy Scouts” isn’t an inclusive name.
Such a move isn’t really surprising. For decades our cultural elites have worked to downplay, or even eliminate, any difference between boys and girls (and men and women). Even the simple suggestion that boys be allowed to do something that girls are not is met with howls of protest (although such protests are mostly non-existent when girls are allowed to do something without boys). It’s a foundational doctrine of our secular culture: there is no difference, nor even any distinction, between boys and girls.
(Note to those who argue that the Scouts will keep separate their boy and girl troops. Anyone who has paid attention to our culture knows this is a temporary stop on the way to completely co-ed scouting. A friend of mine noted the likely progression: soon smaller troops will become coed because it’s more convenient and Scouts BSA will turn a blind eye. Then Scouts BSA will allow troops to be coed at their own discretion. Then it will mandate coed troops if anyone asks for it. Finally, all troops will be coed.)
However, there’s a real need to allow boys to have separate all-boy groups in their lives. The push to include girls in every all-boy activity leads to boys who don’t understand what it means to be a man.
Why do boys need programs just for boys? For many reasons, but I’ll discuss four here: (1) boys are different from girls; (2) the difference between boys and girls impacts their participation in organizations; (3) boys need social cues from other boys and men to develop properly; and (4) boys act differently when girls are around.
Boys Are Different from Girls (Gasp!)
Although it’s considered controversial today, it’s a biological and sociological fact that boys are different than girls. For example, they have greater physical strength and are more aggressive. These are differences to be celebrated, not ignored or even denigrated. How often do we see Hollywood movies in which an almost-anorexic woman (*cough* Scarlett Johansson *cough*) can beat up scores of highly-trained, bulked-up soldiers? This is simply fantasy-land. It doesn’t happen. Sure, some women are stronger than some men. But if you take the strongest men in the world and the strongest women in the world, there is no competition when it comes to physical strength.
The differences go beyond the merely physical. Men, in general, have different ways of relating than women. We have different interests. Just look at the average town in America: more boys are interested in youth sports than girls. Even after the huge push to have girls participate in organized youth sports, only 52% do, compared to 66% of boys (source). None of this is to say, of course, that boys are better than girls. They are simply different. Trying to make them the same is fighting against nature. The very fact that they are different makes it clear that they have separate needs, which often requires separate groups and organizations.
Outshining the Boys
The differences between boys and girls play out clearly in organized groups for youth. Girls naturally excel in ways that organizations value. For example, they are quicker to develop organizational skills and they are typically more responsible at a younger age. Because of these traits they quickly outshine boys in group activities. They become the leaders of the group, and the ones most quickly praised by the adult leaders. This has the effect of pushing out the lower-end boys; they become forgotten and become at risk because they have no organized groups to give them structure.
Of course girls should have opportunities to shine. But so should boys. And young boys shine in different ways than young girls. This is clear in most school settings. Traits that are common—and natural—in boys such as aggressiveness, intensity, and physical acumen are seen as roadblocks to school success. Instead of learning to control those traits and put them to good use, boys are taught that they are bad…because look at Sally who sits so quietly in class.
The Need for Social Cues
Child development is a complex science, one that no one has mastered. But simple common sense tells us that boys need other boys in their lives to learn how to act like a boy, and girls need other girls to learn how to act like a girl. All-boy groups allow boys to pick up on the social cues of what it means to act like a man. They learn what healthy masculinity is.
It’s a known phenomenon that many men who have homosexual tendencies did not have solid male role models in their lives. During the time that they needed to develop their masculinity, something—or someone—cut it short. Their interest in learning about other boys when they are young boys—a completely natural interest—was denied. If this interest is continually denied, then it can develop into an unhealthy, sexualized interest. Obviously, there are many factors involved, but studies have shown that for those who do develop homosexual tendencies, the lack of male companionship at a young age is a major factor. (For a more detailed look at this phenomenon, please see “Same-Sex Attractions as a Symptom of a Broken Heart: Psychological Science Deepens Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” by Timothy G. Lock, Ph.D. in Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction.)
In the Presence of Girls
Boys also act differently when in the presence of girls. In many ways, the presence of women is a good thing, for it tends to civilize men. But young boys need to have times separate from girls to explore their masculine traits. They need to feel free to wrestle and compete and argue with other boys. And yes, even hit another boy in certain circumstances. And they need to understand that they should never, ever hit or wrestle with a girl. How they treat girls should be different from how they treat boys. But if they are always in a co-ed situation, they will never learn what it means to be a man.
A number of years ago I would regularly play pickup basketball with some co-workers. Usually it was just men who played, but sometimes a woman from our office would join us. The dynamic of the game immediately and dramatically changed. The game became less rough, the trash talk diminished, and the competitiveness lessened. No one did this “on purpose” nor was anyone doing this in some effort to demean the woman. In fact, just the opposite. We knew, perhaps subconsciously, that you act differently around women than around men. But in this situation, it made the activity less, well, masculine.
By forcing the suppression of a boy’s masculine traits, we are suppressing a boy’s natural inclination to aggressively protect and fight for what’s right. We suppress their ability to develop those traits for when they truly need them—not in a basketball game, but when defending their family’s honor or standing up for the truth. By getting rid of all-boys clubs we turn boys into the emasculated men that dominate our culture today.
So even if a group is teaching lessons that are applicable to both boys and girls, there is a need for some single-sex groups so that each sex learns the unspoken lessons they need to know. (If you want to read about the beauty of true feminine strength, read this article by my wife.)
Beautiful, but Not the Same
The Boy Scout decision to change its name is just a symptom of a larger problem. Unfortunately, the battle to make men and women perceived as the same has been largely successful. Most people today think it sexist to even suggest that there are real differences. God made both men and women beautiful and in the image of God, but he did not make them the same. We should celebrate those differences, not alter our institutions to ignore and destroy those distinctions.
Next week, I’ll examine a specific case study of making an all-boys institution co-ed: altar servers at Catholic Mass.