Girl Scouts gives girls the opportunity to develop leadership skills. (Courtesy of Girl Scouts)
Columnist

The Boy Scouts of America think they have the answer to their membership problems – girls.

Word got out this week that there’s a “covert campaign” to lure girls into the Boy Scouts.

(Congress, are you seeing this? The Boy Scouts are light years ahead of y’all on basic sustainability models here.)

This enlightenment came about because the Boy Scouts – like many organizations led by men these days -- have had a tough time of things lately.

From the sexual assault scandals reaching all the way back to 1947 to their struggle with including gay men and boys to this year’s keynote speech by Bluto masquerading as the country’s president, it’s understandable that the boys are looking for a little outside help. Their numbers are falling.

Girl Scouts from the Texas Council sell cookies in Dallas in February 2007. (Matt Slocum/AP)

Take one look over at the Girl Scouts – I mean, c’mon, they’re a marketing powerhouse – and you’ll see the lure of girlpower. The entire nation bows to Thin Mints (or Samoas). The Girl Scouts invented s’mores. Did you even know that the Boy Scouts sell popcorn? Who ever says “Mmm, I want some of that Boy Scout popcorn?” No one. Ever. So it’s easy to see they might want some of the girls’ mojo.

But don’t fall for it, Girl Scouts. They only want you to save their own hides.

The caper was busted wide open this week, when Buzzfeed got hold of a letter from Girl Scouts of America President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, slamming the boys’ club for their “covert campaign to recruit girls into programs run by the Boy Scouts.”

“I formally request that your organization stay focused on serving the 90 percent of American boys not currently participating in Boy Scouts . . . and not consider expanding to recruit girls,” Hannan wrote in her letter to the president of the Boy Scouts of America, Randall Stephenson.

It’s not like it he came up with this himself.

The National Organization for Women pushed the boys in this direction earlier this year thanks to Sydney Ireland’s campaign to get the Boy Scouts to let her join and become an Eagle Scout, like her brother.

And it’s easy to cheer her on.

Four years ago, after a co-ed jamboree, Army Veteran, Eagle Scout and father of two girls Amir Arnold Gharbi wrote a piece in The Washington Post urging his organization to go co-ed.

“Girl Scouting teaches youths to be strong individuals, but Boy Scouting teaches youths to be strong leaders. The organizations have different goals, different activities, different resources and different expectations for member development,” Gharbi wrote.

The Girl Scouts have been criticized for, ahem, overemphasis on the cookie part. And for bending toward academic and artistic badges rather than hearty, outdoor activity usually associated with scouting. They’ve answered that with a sharp bend toward science, technology, engineering and math — and totally awesome badges like “Robot Programming.”

(Makes the “Printmaking” badge I earned with my series of potato stamp art seem so lame.)

But that tailoring also subtracts from the boys’ experience, according to sociologist Kathleen Denny, who studied the gender differences in the Boy and Girl sSout manuals.

“I find that girls are offered more activities intended to be performed in group contexts than are boys. Boys are offered proportionately more activities with scientific content and proportionately fewer artistic activities than are girls,” she wrote. “The girls’ handbook conveys messages about approaching activities with autonomous and critical thinking, whereas the boys’ handbook facilitates intellectual passivity through a reliance on organizational scripts.”

The central question here is whether gender-separated learning opportunities help boys and girls thrive.

“The value of the all-girl, girl-led environment offered by Girl Scouts cannot be overstated, and is so important to the social-emotional and personal development of girls,” said Andrea Bastiani-Archibald, chief girl expert at Girl Scouts of the USA, on their website. “Girl Scouts is a place where girls are free to be girls; to try new things, experiment, and have fun learning from and leading one another. There is no other leadership development program in the world that offers girls this inclusive, safe space, without the distractions and pressures of school and other social settings.”

And it makes sure that others see girls as leaders.

This last presidential campaign gave us a pretty good whiff of how challenged by female authority too many Americans still are.

On the other hand, in the same way that popcorn hardly occupies equal prominence as Girl Scout cookies in the American lexicon, the Girl Scout’s highest honor, the Gold Badge, never gets the marquee status of the Eagle Scout title.

So is the answer co-ed scouting, the way the United Kingdom does it? Maybe.

Both the Boy and Girl Scouts have wrestled with their gender boundaries, especially when it comes to transgender kids.

And wouldn’t we have a better shot at true representation in America — from the corporate world to government — if boys grow up with female troop leaders and girls fiercely climb trees alongside boys?

Hard to know. Here’s what I do know:

Girls shouldn’t be barred from the Boy Scouts if that’s where they want to be. But the effort to undercut the Girl Scouts by stealing the lifeblood of their organization is sneaky, pathetic and shameful. #Resist #Persist

Twitter: @petulad