Scouters weigh in on the battle of the sexes

In our October issue, M.B., a female Scouter, reported that the Scoutmaster of her troop did not work well with women leaders and passed along his “male chauvinist” attitudes to the Scouts. M.B. asked, “What should I do?”

Illustration by Bill Basso

Scouting is full of “good old boys” who feel that since Boy Scouting is for boys, only men should work in the program. I have found that the only way to oppose them is to doggedly do my job well, while looking like a woman, until they notice.

It may take years for them to acknowledge M.B. It took a lifetime for such men to learn the male chauvinist way, and it takes longer to change behavior than the mind.

The boys and young adult leaders will accept M.B. long before the good old boys do, so she should not be discouraged.

Scoutmaster C.H.
Helper, Utah

Inappropriate behaviors should not be tolerated, especially from someone with the important position and influence of Scoutmaster.

The answer may be simply to make him aware of your concerns by addressing the problem at the next troop committee meeting. If the problem continues, the committee may have to consider replacing him.

Assistant Scoutmaster M.A.
Sunrise, Fla.

Unless the Scoutmaster is engaging in behavior that is overtly sexist, which has no place in Scouting, M.B. and other women who support the troop will probably be best served by continuing to be good examples. Attempting to confront or resocialize the Scoutmaster would be difficult and would be potentially fatal for the troop.

I have seen more than one leader overcome his bias simply through persistent contact with competent people who are different in some way from him.

Former Scoutmaster J.E.
Baltimore, Md.

I am fortunate being in a troop with a Scoutmaster who believes it is important for boys to recognize women’s contributions to society both as nurturers and leaders.

If I were M.B., here are things I would do:

  • Always be a lady and treat the men in your troop as gentlemen. This does not mean being dependent and weak – but you should always use your best manners in actions and speech.
  • Tactfully explain to the Scoutmaster that his remarks and attitudes are insulting and that he is setting a bad example.
  • Ask help from the other troop leaders, preferably males. When the Scoutmaster sees them treat you with dignity, he may see that his behavior is off the mark.
  • Ask help from the troop committee. When you volunteer for a task, insist on authority as well as responsibility. This will give you leverage if the Scoutmaster treats you disrespectfully.
  • Ask help from the local council. The district executive can point out to the Scoutmaster that Scouting does not allow treating anyone – man or woman – with disrespect.

If you exhaust all options, move your Scout to another troop and file a complaint against the Scoutmaster, citing the examples you have carefully documented.

Villa Grove, Ill.

I had the same problem, except that the sexist was not the Scoutmaster. As a single parent, I was determined to be involved in the troop (there are too many single-mother families today to exclude women from leadership). Here is my advice to M.B.:

  • Get adult leader training so you know how leadership is supposed to operate.
  • Hang in there. Over time excellent work will silence sexist remarks.
  • Remember, you are there to support your son and his peers. Ask him how he feels about sexist remarks. He is watching the adults closely.
  • Sexism is a learned behavior. If you always look for your Scoutmaster’s best qualities, he will realize you aren’t his enemy but a much-needed, quality helper.
  • Resist the urge to polarize the adult leaders into “us” and “them,” which only fosters a battle mentality.

It has been my experience that for every sexist male Scouter, there are many others who welcome any adult who is qualified and works well with boys.

Assistant Scoutmaster J.M.H.
Springfield, Ore.

As a Scouter in my son’s troop, I was lucky to work with a Scoutmaster who encouraged women to participate.

Over the years more and more women have become involved in Boy Scouting. The Scoutmastership Fundamentals course emphasizes adult associations, not just male associations, as explained in the pamphlet “The Aims and Methods of Boy Scouting” (BSA Bin No. 18-917).

If M.B.’s Scoutmaster has been in Scouting more than 10 years, the troop committee should suggest that he attend the next Scoutmastership Fundamentals course to update him on current Scouting procedures. The unit commissioner or district commissioner might also discuss it with him.

If the Scoutmaster refuses to attend the training session, or if he does but his attitude is not changed, M.B. should ask whether this is a role model she wants for her son. If not, she might begin looking for another troop.

District Scoutmastership Fundamentals Course Director J.B.
Fort Collins, Colo.

As a pack committee chair, I can testify to the value of committed adults – both men and women – in a Scouting program. The best examples of what we want our young men to become are the adult leaders who set the right example.

M.B. should talk to her troop committee chair or bring the issue to the committee as a whole.

Pack Committee Chair D.S.S.
Tigard, Ore.


  1. I am the Troop Committee Chair of a troop where a female is pushing to be Scoutmaster. I have been against it, but I might be open if it weren’t for the attitudes of females in our troop. This may not apply to your situation, but if it does, then I think you should adjust your attitude before you expect the men to adjust theirs.

    1. Don’t have the attitude that whatever a man can do, a women can do twice as well. No one likes a know-it-all, no matter the gender. Females can be sexist too, and this strikes me as sexist.
    2. Do not nag, nitpick or henpeck the men or boys! This is particularly distasteful to me. I am open to assistance and new ideas from anyone, but I despise being told I tied my shoes wrong.
    3. Understand that camping is not your pristine kitchen. Our females insist on food service gloves at camp-outs! Camping is not a sterile environment, don’t try to make it one. If you fear dirt, don’t go camping.
    4. Don’t discourage hard physical activities like biking 50 miles or hiking 20 miles. I want the boys to meet challenges like these. Just because you can’t do it, don’t inhibit the boys from trying. I’d say that to men as well, but in my troop I only get this attitude from women.
    5. Don’t fight back-country camping. Wilderness camping offers many lessons not available to front-country camping. If you aren’t into primitive camping, don’t insist the boys always front-country camp just so you can attend.

    I know men could exhibit some of these attitudes, but in my experience they come exclusively from women. If these attitudes don’t apply to you, then I do feel for you. If these do apply, first change your attitude, and then I think the openness of the men will follow.

    • As a woman, I am thrilled with the idea of women assisting in the troop. I happen to hold the position of Chartered Organization Representative. However, the positions of Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmaster should be held by men. Their position is as role model behavior for which boys should strive. A woman just can’t fully do that.

      • I am a female Scoutmaster. I am NOT a “feminist”. I accepted the position when the then Scoutmaster had to step down. I have taken the troop from being a “one-man-show” to being boy-led in three years. I am very proud of that accomplishment. I maintain high expectations as far as living the Scout Oath and Law and I lead by example. I expect the same from every adult in our troop.

        Personally, I would prefer that their Scoutmaster be a male just because people in that role are naturally more visible and that alone could help them make the connection to their own behavior as males, but that’s just not possible at this time. But understand that my behavior and level of involvement in the troop would not change a bit if I were a leader in any other role.

        The BSA makes no recommendations as to the gender of any adult leader. My scouts and I do “girly” things like cooking, cleaning, and shopping. My scouts and I do “guy” things like camping, hiking, paddling, getting dirty, finding adventure, tying knots, making and fixing things. etc. We do Scouting the BSA way and it works.

        Regarding the original question in this post, M.B. needs to have a private conversation with the Scoutmaster and express her concerns reasonably and rationally. If the problem remains, the chain of command would take her to the committee and/or the chartered org rep. If the chartered organization condones the behavior of the Scoutmaster, then it’s time to find another unit.

      • I too have the same position and fully agree. I believe boys should be taught by men.

  2. My sons belonged to a Troop whose Scoutmaster said women were not allowed to work directly with the boys. Which was interesting since the previous Scoutmaster had a female Committee Chair and I specifically refused their request to replace him because I understand how important strong male role models are. I like to help in the background and let the boys relate to a good man as often as possible. Unfortunately, the one who did replace him, kicked out the women completely. I wrote to the committee and nothing was done. As you might expect with an attitude like that, there were enough other problems that, without knowing about my complaint, my boys elected to change troops to avoid the Scoutmaster. If the committee doesn’t support you, there isn’t much you can do.

  3. As a female scouter who worked at a boy scout camp for four years, just finished up her venturing career as a youth and is now an assistant scout master it can be very challenging at times to work with scoutmasters who don’t like women in scouting. I’ve had them tell me to my face that I was there for very inappropriate reasons (which was not the case) or that I wasn’t able to lead a group of boys, despite the fact that the boys were following my directions perfectly fine.

    In the first situation I directed the scoutmaster to talk to my camp director about any issues he had with me and explained to him why I was on the ecology staff and my deep passion for educating kids about the outdoors. After a week of interacting with him, he changed his tune.

    The second situation was just painful but since I was their site guide (a troop to camp liaison if you will) I made it work. I discovered that if I just talked to the SPL he would talk to his scout master and then things worked more smoothly, but even now when I see that scout master he is rude to me.

    I also completely agree with M.Z.’s comments. I’m in scouts because I love the program and I love being outside, if you don’t like those things there are many other ways to be involved in your son’s/brother’s/nephews/etcs lives.

  4. My advice? Find a new Troop.

    I’m a female Scouter, and I’ve been fighting this attitude for two years. It’s leeched every bit of fun out of Scouting for me.

  5. Wow, some good ideas and some ideas that are very sexist.

    Sexist attitudes should not be accepted at any level, overtly or otherwise. Scouting is in desperate need of volunteers and we need to encourage people to volunteer and take on leadership roles.

    Let’s face it we don’t know who our bosses are going to be. Man/woman, what race, what religion, whatever else you want to fill in the blank. We need to foster respect, tolerance and equality to all adults as well as the Scouts themselves.

    We live in a world where the roles of adults are supposed to be equal and that needs to be taught and modeled to our Scouts as well. Scouting is supposed to be one of those places where we can teach and model these behaviors to prepare these boys for the “real world” and how to me model citizens.

    But, if there is a legitimate concern, then follow the steps to voice your concerns. Troop/Pack Committee, Council, or even your Chartering Organization are all there to help and assist. But, the ultimate step is to take your boy to another Troop/Pack.

    Now, having said that. Each troop/pack has its own personality just like people. Some people are happy with a troop or pack that is ran in that kind of model, and if they are happy that way…fine! Sometimes our perception of a situation is vastly different than those of others. What we are comfortable with is different than what others are comfortable with. Keep in mind that you can find a troop to fit within your idea of a personality type. Some are run rigidly and others are run very open ended, and there are plenty in-between. Ask around to friends colleagues etc. As my oldest son is going into Webelos I am beginning to think about the type of troop we would need to fit our needs. I am asking, talking, and getting to know different kinds of people in our Council to see where we might be able to fit in to enjoy our continued Scouting experience. Also, the more active you are in your Troop/Pack will also go a long way to show the leadership that you are serious about your desire to help, participate, and lead.

    A final thought:
    I think a lot of reluctance comes from leaders who have had people want to volunteer, but they don’t follow through. The leader might be a little defensive in relinquishing control if they have had problems with this in the past. They either drop the ball, bail out on the boys, or don’t want to follow the rules. BSA has rules that adults and boys must follow. Some adults come in wanting to skirt the rules, ignore the rules or rewrite the rules and that just can’t be done. Being involved in the last few years I have seen leaders come in wanting to light the world on fire only to drop the ball and let the boys down. I have seen it at the council level as well. Even as volunteers we put in a lot of time and effort to make sure these boys have the best experience possible and it is hard to let new ones come in out of fear that these things will happen.

    Thank you for letting me share my thoughts.

  6. As an Assistant Scoutmaster, Cubmaster, Unit Commissioner, and Den Leader, I value the contributions that women make to the units I lead and serve. My advice to any new leader or a leader trying to “fit in” is to find a nitche and fill it. Do what you are best at. Whether it is teaching merit badges, canoeing, climbing, hiking, cooking (everyone loves a woman that can cook in a dutch oven), organizing, keeping track of advancement, or whatever you do.. do it well and respect will come your way. Work on filling needs that the Scoutmaster doesnt want to do and see how quickly he comes around. Show the boys your worth and they will fall in line. It saddens me that interactions between men and woman are awkward at best most of the time. Too often, good and meaningful Male/Female interactions don’t exist. We have not been taught how to relate to each other in ways that allow for the our beneficial co-existence. Too often our interactions revolve around attraction and not interaction.

  7. I have served as den leader in four different packs. Scouting has been so much more fun in my latest pack, and when I compare the experiences I realize that it was the chauvinism around me that was sucking all the fun out of it.

  8. I understand how some may feel that the position of SM should be filled by a man thus providing a male role model for the Scouts in the troop. I felt that way once, too. However, I found that it’s not necessary for the position to be filled by a man. Let me state that I’m a woman.

    I was a Webelos leader with a den of 8 boys & no local troop in our small community. Folks had tried for years to find someone to start a troop, with no luck. As my den prepared to graduate from Cub Scouting I hesitatingly offered to start a troop with myself as SM (no one else would take on the position). My intent was to find a male replacement for myself by the end of the troop’s 1st year so that the Scouts would have a male role model.

    Several months later, while at a camporee, a SM & CC (from 2 other troops – both men) sat me down to ask how things were going with the troop. I expressed my disappointment & frustration about not finding a male replacement for myself. They gave me a proper talking to & set me straight…I WAS providing male role models for the Scouts. Men were on our troop committee, served as merit badge counselors & came on our outings. These were things that wouldn’t have been happening if I hadn’t started the troop. And I, as a woman, was serving as a role model as well. The Scouts saw me working side-by-side with the men, learning, getting dirty, working hard & doing the best that I could do. Living the Scout Law to the best of my abilities. I came to learn that gender does not determine whether or not someone will make a good Scoutmaster. Many thanks to the outstanding male volunteers in my district for teaching me that lesson!

    Referring back to the initial question; I found in my own experience that holding your head up high, working hard, knowing & fulfilling your responsibilities, treating others with respect & dignity (even if they don’t treat you in that manner), and being a person of excellence goes a long way to winning other people over. I suggest having a quiet discussion with the SM of this troop, with the committee chair or COR present. I believe the discussion should focus on what can WE, as a team, do to work together better to enable us to provide the best program possible for the Scouts. And don’t expect immediate results. Change takes time. I don’t believe that being confrontational is the answer – typically one or both parties dig in their heals & no progress is made in that instance. If nothing positive comes from the talk then it may be time to shop for another troop.

    I hope that the issues are resolved. Good luck!

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