Aaron Belkin, a Political Science scholar at San Francisco University and author of “Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Facade of American Empire” recently published a thought-provoking piece in the New York Times’ “Room For Debate” discussion, “Why Do the Boy Scouts Exclude Gays?” He calls the organization’s reaffirmation of its anti-gay policy “shocking” and “backward” in light of last year’s historic repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the U.S. Armed Forces. He wonders how Robert Mazzuca, the chief of Boy Scouts of America, would “try to explain to gay Marines, Rangers and SEALs, some of whom were Boy Scouts, why they cannot be scout leaders and why they should not have been allowed to remain scouts after they acknowledged that they were gay. Gay troops can fight for the country and be maimed or killed, but they can’t be scouts?”
Boys Scout Ban on Gays
His piece goes on to reflect on the troubling origins of Boys Scouts itself, and its foundation on the idea of “militarized masculinity.” The American version of scouting emerged early in the 20th century, when many racist, misogynistic and xenophobic white males feared that masculinity was in danger, and that (white) men had growth too feminine in a hyper-civilized urban society, which in turn compromised their superiority over racial minorities. Scouting and outdoorsmanship, along with military service when boys came of age, was regarded as an “antidote” to feminization, cultivating rugged males ready to do battle in the armed forces, politics or business.
American chapters of the Boy Scouts promote military values such as hierarchy, conformity and courage stating that their organization requires boys to “prove themselves in an environment that challenges their courage and tests their nerve” (see Boy Scouts website). As Belkin points out, “Understood from this perspective, the intimate, longstanding partnership between the military and scouting is not just about recruiting, but reflects a more profound effort to inculcate boys with martial priorities”:
“It goes without saying that most Americans understand that one can be gay and masculine, and that the Boy Scouts of America’s barely hidden belief that gay inclusion would contaminate the process of masculine preparation is downright silly if not worse. But the tragedy of the gay exclusion policy is not just the conflation of homosexuality with the unmasculine. What’s equally disturbing is its endorsement of militarized masculinity as an important or even necessary goal for boys. Let’s worry less about preparing boys to conform to some ideal gender norm than about developing their capacity for thoughtfulness, awareness and creativity.”
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