I’m a little torn this week by evolutionary changes to an institution that has been a cornerstone/foundation of my adult life. The Scout movement has now seen six continuous years of growth in membership to 507,867 members in the UK alone. Worldwide membership exceeds 28 million young people in 216 countries. I say people because, as we will all know, the Scout Movement has not been an exclusive preserve of boys since as far back as 1976. From that year, girls were welcomed into the Venture Scouts (age 15-20), whilst 1990 saw membership of all age groups fully open to both sexes. Last year, for the first time, there were more new female recruits than male, and I don’t know what to think about that. Of the half a million UK members, over 60,000 are girls.
I joined as a Cub Scout aged 6 in 1971, and set off for my first meeting with 2 pence for the bus, and 2 pence for my subs. I have 3 sisters, so as a boy’s only club, I was immediately hooked. I loved everything about it, and it came to define me. My sisters used to moan that they wanted to be in the Scouts, because the Girl Guides never went camping, skiing, rock climbing, canoeing etc etc etc. In the 1970’s, boys and girls didn’t really play together; not they do today anyway. It was certainly unthinkable that a boy could be proper friends with a girl unless they were related. I remained a member until I was 18, and was proud to put my Chief Scout’s Award on my first CV. My three sons have also (with my initial prompting) been very active members, from Beavers to Explorer Scouts, and benefited in much the same way as I did. I have even acted as Vice-Chair of their Scout Group.
So here’s my dilemma. I am instinctively against girls as members of the Boy Scouts. Yet I know, from first-hand knowledge that my local Scout group is flourishing as a fantastically popular organisation for both sexes. Am I wrong in sensing that the flavour of the movement I was part of, must inevitably be different now? Can boys still be resolutely boyish? What does that even mean? I’m not too fussed about the practical concerns, as these are easily managed, but joint sex camps, games, and other activities throw up both a plethora of terrific advances and tricky decision-making on the part of leaders.
All in all, I know these are advances for the better, but I can’t help but mourn a little for the way it was. Ging gang gooly.
PS. If I had girls, I would definitely enrol them in The Scouts.