AT THE 11,500-foot pass, five and a half hours after arising at 4 a.m. to climb 2,500 feet out of a canyon, our Scout crew of five girls and three boys faced a decision. Weary with full backpacks, we could head 3,000 feet down to our next camp, or up to the summit of the 12,441-foot Baldy Mountain, the highest peak of Philmont Scout Ranch located near Cimarron, New Mexico. Baldy would add two hours of hiking and create a 14-mile day.
No one hesitated. Shouts rang out. "Let’s do it!’’ "To the top!’’ "Baldy!’’
That is the beginning of a column I strongly urge you to read. Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe assists his wife in her leadership Scouts. He is urging Boy Scouts of America to reconsider at allow girls at all ages of Scouting, as is does in some other nations, not merely at High School Venturing. If you read his column Girls not allowed in today's Boston Globe you will understand his argument.
I want to offer some additional thoughts, so first read Jackson, then continue below the fold.
Perhaps I am influenced by my mother. She graduated from Hunter College High School at 14, Cornell at 18, Columbia Law 2nd in her class by a small margin at 21 in 1937. Then she could not at first get a job as a lawyer, even though the person who beat her out got a Supreme Court clerkship. Knowing my mother's history made me sensitive to gender discrimination from a young age.
I was not a big fan of scouting, dropping out of Cub Scouts before reaching Webelo. I noticed that instead of Boy Scouts, girls could be Girl Scouts or Camp Fire Girls, but neither offered quite the same opportunities, which is perhaps why my sister was never attracted. I remember in elementary school, before I skipped, that one of the best baseball players in our class was named Lynn and was definitely female, while in high school the only sport offered for girls was sailing.
I wondered about gender separate roles. At National Music Camp we competed on equal terms for seat position in the orchestra. Girls did overnight canoe trips and campaign, only not with us. In junior high school I took a cooking club/class, and found it fascinating. When I wanted to take it my mother encouraged me, telling me most of the great chefs were men, and reminding me that it was my father who had taught her how to cook. Most were men - later in life I learned about Edith Hern Fossett, one of the chefs for Thomas Jefferson. I saw the influence of Julia Child. And I wondered more about gender separate roles.
I am 64. In my lifetime women were banned from distances longer than 400 meters in the Olympics - that distances was dropped after 1928 and not reinstated until 1960, because it was believed to be too strenuous for women. I was delighted to see how wrong this was when Joan Benoit Samuelson won the marathon in Los Angeles.
When I was in high school those women playing basketball often played by Iowa rules, 6 on on side, 3 each on offense and defense, not crossing midcourt. Now I have seen women of remarkable stamina and basketball skill being paid for what they do.
I have coached soccer. I began coaching girls JV. I am still fond of that first team, because one time we scrimmaged the boys JV - we tied them, but should have beaten them, but a couple of my girls held back because they didn't want to hurt the boys - physically or psychologically. Fortuately one of my captains, Jackie K, did not feel that way and put a couple of boys on their rears because (a) they did not realize how strong she was, and (b) she didn't back down from anybody.
For many of my students today they are used to women as firefighters, engineers, police, FBI, and Supreme Court justices. Sandra Day O'Connor did not break the gender barrier for SCOTUS until 1981. Are we to say there were no qualified women before then? When women now make up a majority of those attending law school, why is it only today that we have finally reached a third of the Court are female.
Some still question whether women can do some jobs. Yet major cities have had women head their police forces, as is the case currently in our National Capitol. Three of our last four Secretaries of State have been female. We now finally have a female four-star general.
Too often our society has been slow to overcome prejudices. It was not until the 1980's that women could attend our service academies. The first African-Americans to do so were harrassed horribly. We still do not allow gays to openly serve, even as we know that there are many who have served and do serve with distinction. The actions of Lt. Dan Choi should not be necessary in this day and age.
Boy Scouts are 100 years old. They are a private organization. They therefore can discriminate, although I think it is wrong that some in Congress choose for force public institutions that prohibit discrimination to accept the Boy Scouts - who still do not want gays or atheists, to say nothing of women. We have seen these attitudes during the Kagan confirmation because as Dean she enforced Harvard U's policy of not allowing career offices to be used by organizations that discriminated, including the military (even though Kagan facilitated allowing the JAG corps to be able to meet with students).
I was a small child when Jackie Robinson integrated the Major Leagues. I was in junior high school when he stole home and became a hero for many of my schoolmates, those of us who did not worship the Yankees or the Giants. My own first great hero in baseball was the young Hank Aaron. I was able to grow up with less prejudice than the adults in my family - on race, and because of my mother, on gender. But not on sexual orientation.
I read Jackson's piece (yes, I am providing the link to again encourage you to read the whole thing) and I think not merely of current events, such as Judge Walker's opinion in the Prop 8 case, but also of my own students. Judge Walker pointed out the research that says children raised by gay parents are no less well adjusted than those raised by heterosexual parents - some of that research points out that a child raised by two loving parents regardless of the gender of same tend to be better adjusted than children raised by single parents. Last year I had two students who had two moms. Both were open about it. Most of their classmates knew. It made no difference to their classmates, who are themselves used to seeing open same-sex couple, open mixed-race couples. An increasing number of my students are the results of mixed-race marriages. The kind of discrimination and fear common when I was their age is disappearing, which is why the opinion by Judge Walker would bother relatively few of my students.
Boy Scouts are a private organization. So is the boys' tree house with its sign "No girls allowed." Had I a child I would not encourage him or her to participate in organizations that discriminate. But I could not impose my values on a child who wants to explore. Perhaps s/he would be lucky and find someone like Derrick Jackson and his wife who push the limits to open more things up - read the piece and you will see why. I have classmates who were strongly opposed to the military during Vietnam with sons who are officers in elite military units. We do not control the lives our children will choose to lead.
We can encourage them to be more open, more generous towards those not like them - on race, religious, gender, sexual orientation to be sure. But also on music, on the value of technology versus poetry, on how they choose to dress, whom else they choose as friends.
We should not exclude and preclude based on external characteristics. There are women of my age who are physically stronger than am I, and I am not a couch potato. There are certainly people of color, or females, or transgendered, or same-sex in their sexual orientation who can outstrip me in many areas, including being better teachers, better writers, better human beings.
When one experiences someone different on some external characteristic who demonstrates characteristics one admires, that is the beginning of the end of unthinking prejudice. If I may offer one pertinent quote from Jackson's piece, it is this:
Beau Rideout, 13, remains impressed with how 12-year-old Madeline Desnoyers led the final climb in zero windchill at 3,300 feet on an overnight White Mountain snowshoe trip. "If the girls are willing to do the work,’’ he said, "why shouldn’t they be Eagle Scouts?’’
If they are willing - if we will give them the opportunity. Too much of our history has been the denial of opportunity. Too much of our society still has people willing to discriminate, and to hide that discrimination in noble-sounding terms.
Our children will lead us to a better society, if we will let them. If we will give them the opportunity to experience what they and what others seemingly different can do. They will learn from one another, and we will learn from them.
Why is it ever still Girls not allowed? Or Gays not allowed? Or Blacks? Or Muslims, thinking of the current brouhaha over the community center with mosque two blocks from Ground Zero?
I see fear, and I want to confront that fear. I don't want to live my life governed by fear, and I hope we can help our children build a society where no one is limited by fear.
I read Derrick Jackson. I had a reaction. I wrote this diary.
What about you?