Olson: Girls accepting Scouts BSA challenge isn't 'dumb'

Shawn Lawrence, scoutmaster for Troop 40, talks Friday at his home in Sycamore about what it means to have girls joining Scouts BSA.
Shawn Lawrence, scoutmaster for Troop 40, talks Friday at his home in Sycamore about what it means to have girls joining Scouts BSA.

When a Daily Chronicle reporter said she was working on a story about girls who wanted to join Scouts BSA – a group most of us know as “Boy Scouts” – it turned out I knew some.

They’re my neighbors, actually. Not in the figurative sense that most of the paper’s readers are my neighbors, but my literal neighbors. My family has known Shawn and Elaine Lawrence and their children since we moved to the area more than six years ago.

They’re nice people who opened up their home to share their story with us.

The family has been involved in scouting for many years – both the “boy” and “girl” groups – and a group of girls wanted to get involved with the BSA side of things and try to earn an Eagle Scout rank. They already are members of a Girl Scout troop – membership in the two groups is not exclusive.

I’m aware of the Girl Scout-Boy Scout rivalry that’s a subtext to this story.

It’s an area I’m not really qualified to wade into, but what I hear from people who have been involved with the two organizations is that there are differences between them.

Still, when we posted a link to the story on the Daily Chronicle’s Facebook page last weekend, I was surprised at the negative reaction.

Several people chimed in to call this group of girls, and the whole idea, “dumb” or “stupid.” People lamented that girls would want to get involved with BSA, which recently changed its policy to allow girls to achieve ranks, including the considerable achievement of Eagle Scout.

The naysayers said the genders should be kept separate (which they are for many activities.) Or they wondered why, oh why, can’t anything be just for boys or men anymore? (There’s always the steam room at the Kishwaukee Family YMCA, guys.)

When people call a group of local teens doing something positive “dumb” on social media, they’re really saying more about their own intelligence.

These girls are not trying to be boys, and they’re not trying to make a political statement. It’s something they’re doing for fun because they want a challenge.

I hope that some of them follow through – become Eagle Scouts – and have fun doing it.

Here’s something I thought people had figured out by now: Girls and boys can enjoy and participate in the same activities, and groups that admit both male and female members are stronger.

My Rotary Club – and Rotary Clubs around the U.S. – used to be strictly for men. In 1977, a California club that surreptitiously admitted three female members had its charter revoked. It took a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in 1987 to rule that action unconstitutional and force the Rotary to allow women.

The ruling undid more than 80 years of male-only tradition. It was one of the best things that could have happened to the club.

More than 31 years later, if you took women out of the Rotary, clubs across the country would fall apart.

That includes the Rotary Club of DeKalb, to which I belong. Also, they’re great people, whom I like.

There were people who resented women’s presence in the Rotary at first, however. They thought it was against tradition, and they warned that people would start sleeping together and other nonsense – all the kind of things that people are saying about girls joining Scouts BSA today. All wrong, too.

• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle, another Shaw Media publication. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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