Education

The Debate Over Single-Sex Spaces

Will girls benefit from a new policy change by the Boy Scouts of America?

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Gender, what defines it, and gender equity have increasingly entered our national conversation. This topic, however, is not a new one, nor is it limited to lawmakers and pundits. It is a discussion that is being held at our dinner tables, in our classrooms and out in our communities.

One current case to enter the discussion is the Boy Scouts of America – a private organization, which means they can admit whomever they want. That being said, they have also received support from both local and federal governments, which means they should be subject to Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Title IX is widely acknowledged for its impact on athletics at the high school and collegiate levels after it widened the scope of sports available to girls, but recently it has been applied to the participation of transgender students as well. The Boy Scouts of America, for example, lifted their ban on transgender boys in early 2017. This past October, the organization announced that it would accept girls into the Boy Scout ranks beginning in 2018 with their Cub Scouts programs. At first look, the decision seems like a partial solution to the claims of discrimination that have dogged the organization for years. But there are voices with valid concerns regarding the motivation behind this decision. Not the least of which is the Girl Scouts.

Since its founding as a private, secular organization in 1912 (two years after the Boy Scouts formed), the Girl Scouts of the USA have maintained a progressive admission policy regarding race and religion, while informally requiring members only to identify as female. One week after the BSA announcement, the Girl Scouts of Southern New England released an op-ed by Suzanne Fogarty, a 2017 recipient of their Woman of Distinction award, as well as the head of Providence’s all-girls Lincoln School. 

In the piece, Fogarty states, “While I believe the Boy Scouts’ decision to admit girls is a step toward gender equity, that move in no way devalues the remarkable female-first environment that the Girl Scouts is committed to providing.” Fogarty asserts that single-sex environments like the Girl Scouts and the Lincoln School challenge young women differently than a coed environment. In all-girls communities, she writes, “they practice the hard stuff of trial and error, which leads to resilience, and resilience in turn leads to confidence. This becomes part of their DNA, which girls take with them into the world of college and beyond.”

Because the BSA and the GSUSA provide completely different experiences, it is unlikely that enrollment in the latter will drop much to bolster the former. However, the positions of both organizations highlight one major aspect of the current conversation on gender: distinguishing between opportunity and equity.