The Girl Scouts Are in a Recruitment War with the Boy Scouts

Illustration for article titled The Girl Scouts Are in a Recruitment War with the Boy Scouts
Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)

There’s a new chapter in the ongoing beef between the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. What’s the beef, you ask? Well!


After years of legal disputes over whether the Boy Scouts should be required to admit girls, the organization announced it would begin accepting girls to Cub Scouts in 2018, and start letting girls into the rebranded Scouts BSA in 2019. Though some celebrated this as a win for gender equality, the leaders of the Girl Scouts of America suspected an ulterior motive, and swiftly accused the Boy Scouts of trying to steal their recruits during a time of declining membership for both groups.

This squabble escalated into a full-on legal battle a couple of years ago, when the Girl Scouts sued the Boy Scouts for trademark infringement. Lawyers for Girl Scouts of America alleged that the Boy Scouts’ advertising had included photos of girls in their Girl Scouts or Brownies uniforms, or made use of common Girl Scouts slogans. Last month, the Boy Scouts asked a judge to toss out the suit, calling it “utterly meritless.” On Thursday, both groups were back in court as the Girl Scouts attempted to fend off their attempts to squash the case.

The Girl Scouts’ most recent legal briefs claim that the Boy Scouts’ attempt to recruit girls to their organization was “extraordinary and highly damaging to Girl Scouts” and has resulted in an “explosion of confusion,” according to the Associated Press. The filings also argue that there have been “rampant instances” involving parents mistakenly enrolling their child in the Boy Scouts when they intended to enroll them in Girl Scouts instead. The basis of their legal argument is that the Boy Scouts’ marketing is intentionally confusing, a ploy to put the groups in direct competition with each other.

In response, the Boy Scouts have accused the Girl Scouts of declaring an all-out “ground war,” and say that the girls who have joined the organization have done so willingly:

“To imply that confusion is a prevailing reason for their choice is not only inaccurate – with no legally admissible instance of this offered to date in the case – but it is also dismissive of the decisions of more than 120,000 girls and young women who have joined Cub Scouts or Scouts BSA since the programs became available to them.”

As Aimée Lutkin wrote for this blog in 2017, combining the two groups seems like an obvious solution to the casual observer (who may only think about these organizations when it comes time to order cookies). The Girl Scouts wouldn’t feel like they’re losing members and resources to their still very male-dominated counterpart; and the Boy Scouts could benefit from the branding they’re warring over and incorporate more Girl Scouts traditions so that boys might enjoy them too. (Though no child of any gender should be made into a girl boss.) But realistically, I don’t see this beef ending anytime soon.

Night blogger at Jezebel with writing at The Baffler, The Nation, The New Republic, Vice, and more.



Combining Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts is not at all an obvious move. They are two separate organizations with different governing ethos. The Boy Scouts are much more conservative and only recently lifted their ban on gay members. It was a mistake for the Girl Scouts to mimic the Boy Scouts’ name in that first place, but that was 100 years ago. I personally would not have enjoyed Boy Scouts because, although I was a “tomboy” as a kid, I needed a fucking break from boys. Beyond horseback riding and camping, Girl Scouts also taught me a lot more about being a girl/having my period/self defense strategies/confidence-building techniques than I learned from co-ed school or from my family. On the other hand, gender inclusivity is great—if you have a kid who is nonbinary or is a girl who prefers a mixed gender group, then Boy Scouts is worth a shot. In either organization, so much depends on the troop leader and the local council anyhow.