War Between the Scouts? Say It Isn’t So!

Many responded to recent headlines with resounding “Bravo, Boy Scouts.” But news of expanded Boy Scout opportunities for girls also elicited  negative, downright nasty, and even surprising declarations of war from declared supporters of Girl Scouts with a position that veers alarmingly close  to “separate but equal.”

First, a few facts from the official announcements of the story. By adding scouting opportunities for girls to its increased inclusiveness regarding all dimensions of gender, sexual orientation and identity, the BSA is making structural changes to a long ultra-closed organizational culture that effectively kept abuses under the radar. (Here’s a Washington Post story about the announcement.)

From the perspective of effective child development in today’s American culture, the expansion opens to girls the prospect of developing the skills and achieving the Eagle Scout milestone so valued in adult careers across the spectrum. At the same time, younger scouts and individual troops retain flexibility and choices via single-gender scouting and age-appropriate safeguards. Meanwhile, many girls also thrive in the tremendously successful programs and skill development available through the ever-evolving Girl Scouts USA.

As with all organizations, to remain relevant both must respond with strategy and business models such ongoing challenges as growing their markets, responding to societal change and diversity, financial viability as well as acknowledgement and correction of organizational

On this news from the Boy Scouts, I hope the reactivity of the Girl Scouts of USA – and its supporters vocally opposing the move – will calm and shift the focus toward what’s good for the most kids and families. It’s difficult to see the benefit to girls or the Girl Scouts  from the inflammatory and harshly competitive stance thus far on this evolution of BSA. Here’s a sample of the rhetoric, cited by David Crary of The Associate Press.

The Girl Scouts of the USA have criticized the initiative, saying it strains the century-old bond between the two organizations. Girl Scout officials have suggested the BSA’s move was driven partly by a need to boost revenue, and they contended there is fiscal stress in part because of past settlements paid by the BSA in sex-abuse cases.

In August, the president of the Girl Scouts, Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, accused the Boy Scouts of seeking to covertly recruit girls into their programs while disparaging the Girl Scouts’ operations. On Monday, Latino civic leader Charles Garcia, just days after being named to the Girl Scouts’ national board, wrote an opinion piece for the Huffington Post calling the BSA’s overture to girls “a terrible idea.” The Boy Scouts’ house is on fire,” Garcia wrote.

From the perspective of counseling psychology in today’s complex American society, it would be hard to argue on behalf of more limitations/fewer options for parents and children. It is definitely true that for some children, at some times in their developmental years a traditionally defined, single-gender environment can be nurturing and productive. But for other children and adolescents these are stifling, demotivating boxes from the start. In the therapy room and everyday family life, even multiple siblings within the same family system have vastly different needs, interests, and goals around scouting prospects.

The continued strong traditions of the Girl Scouts, added to the various new options for both genders in Boy Scouts, provide parents and their potential scouts with an enriched range of choices. (A helpful history and model to consider and compare here might be the longstanding YMCA and YWCA models. Both began as single-gender movements more than a century ago to serve the needs and values of rapid urbanization during their post-Victorian era.)

And depth psychology can further inform a positive view of the expanded options in scouting. It’s no secret that we depth psychologists tend to hang out a lot in the margins of 21st Century industrialized culture. In our recognition of the unconscious we put a particular value on paying attention to what, (and who) isn’t seen, acknowledged, heard, or empowered by the always-in-charge, conscious ego of the individual. This is true on the cultural level as well, consistent with Jung’s (1951/1969) view that the unconscious psyche is not only individual but collective across all human experience and with Singer’s (2004) elaboration of this idea as the cultural complex. Also consistent with Hillman’s acorn theory (1996) in the depth psychology point of view, the vast range of archetypal patterns that express and enrich the full range of adult personality are equally apparent in earliest childhood and adolescence.

So a depth psychological perspective on scouting points to consistent (and ongoing) raising of awareness around exclusion and marginalization and then tangible correction, new options and opportunities.

There’s plenty of room and ample market need for the venerable brands of both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The Boy Scout expansion isn’t a panacea. But it’s also not a declaration of war. It’s a worthwhile step.


Jung, C. G. (1969). The concept of the collective unconscious. The archetypes and the collective unconscious. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, and W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed.,Vol. 9i, pp. 42-53, Para. 87-110). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1951)

Hillman, J. (1996). The soul’s code: In search of character and calling. New York, NY: Warner Books.

Singer, T. (2004). The cultural complex: Contemporary Jungian perspectives on psyche and society. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.

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