Friday, November 9, 2018
Friday, Nov. 9, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, November 9, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Is there still a distinction between boys and girls? Lawsuit between Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts forces important cultural conversation
While Americans were going to the polls on Tuesday, another story did not get the attention it deserves. Reuters reported, and I quote, "The Girl Scouts of the United States of America filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America on Tuesday after the Boy Scouts decided to drop boy, that is the word boy, from it's namesake program and start welcoming older girls." The report by Jonathan Stempel states, "The lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court is an attempt by the Girl Scouts, founded in 1912 to avert an erosion of its brand and membership as the Boy Scouts, founded two years earlier, tries to reverse its own decades long membership decline."
Well, if this is only about trademark infringement and membership decline, it's not all that interesting a story. But as soon as you hear the words Boy scouts and Girl Scouts, you know there's more to the story. It comes down to whether or not it is still meaningful that there is a distinction between girls and boys. In order to understand this, we have to go back to 1910 and the establishment of the Boy Scouts of America. The Boy Scouts were established on a British precedent. The Boy Scouts had begun in England and they had begun out of concern that many boys were becoming soft, they were not developing physically, they were not developing in character because they were no longer outdoors and had been feminized by the larger, increasingly urban culture. And confinement in such context such as the public schools.
The thoughts of the Boy Scout movement was to get boys outdoors, to put them in the context in which they were under male supervision and they were in the context of other boys and they could do the things that boys wanted to do and boys throughout the centuries had learned to do in the natural process of life. A process that was now not so natural because of urbanization and because of the Industrial Revolution. The idea was also a part of the movement in the larger culture, especially in Europe and in North America to get people outdoors because of the air pollution and other health concerns of the increasingly populated cities.
The Boy Scout movement leapt all the way across the Atlantic to the United States. The BSA, the Boy Scouts of America, established in the year 1910. And Boy Scouts as a movement took off in the United States of America in even greater numbers than had been the case in England. One of the issues that played into this was that in the early decades of the 20th century, and even the last decades of the 19th century, people on both sides of the Atlantic became concerned about what was called the Boy Problem. What would be the Boy Problem? Well, as you look at crime, as you look at school progress, as you look at so many other issues, as you look at problems, sociological problems, it turns out that throughout history, just about every civilization is understood that it requires more cultural capital to raise a boy into a man than it does to raise a girl into a woman. Why would that be the case?
Well, there could be many different factors but one of them has to do with the reality that boys lefts to themselves are often in trouble. This was also the era of what was called Muscular Christianity. The idea that there was a character crisis, that was not just an idea, it was frankly a realization, a character crisis and that character would require some kind of moral conviction. And the moral conviction that on both sides of the Atlantic, in the English speaking world to which folks turned was historic Christianity. Especially the Christian understanding of morality and of character. And thus you had this Muscular Christianity in which you had an understanding that there must be a distinction between men and women, a distinction between boys and girls, and the challenge of raising young men and boys into being responsible citizens, as husbands and as fathers, that was going to require a lot of attention. And, you should also note there was the understanding that it would require adult male attention.
All of that ethos generally continued until fairly recent decades in the United States. What changed? Well, two things changed. Both of them play into the story that emerged on Tuesday. The first thing that changed was the Feminist Movement. The Feminist Movement in defining what it claimed would be equality between men and women claimed that same sex restricted organizations, by definition, discriminated against women and robbed women of the opportunity of socialization and of advancement and of career development that were available to boys and to men.
Now, the first target of this kind of feminist concern was not the Boy Scouts, the first target would be such things as business men's associations and where you would find fraternities on college campuses. That had been a concern suggesting that relationships established then lead to professional and economic opportunities later and thus women must be included. Forming a male only environment is simply not to be tolerated. But even if the Boy Scouts weren't the first target of the feminist concern, the Boy Scouts quickly became a target. And that's reflected even in the first sentences of this news story, which after all has come from Reuters, a Dutch based news organization.
That is the fact that one of the concerns of the Girl Scouts is that the Boy Scouts are not only dropping the word boy, they're going to be allowing girls to participate in the older age programs all the way up to Eagle Scout. Now what's going on there? Well, it turns out that the Boy Scouts have the venerable Eagle Scout recognition and rank that the Girl Scouts does not have as any kind of equivalent. The reality is, that just about everyone in this culture knows what it means to be an Eagle Scout and as of now Eagle Scouts are boys or young men. Or they are the men of whatever age who as boys or young men had earned that coveted and very deservedly respected Eagle Scout status.
The claim was that that is robbing girls and women of the same opportunity for the process, the recognition and of course the experience of becoming an Eagle Scout. The Boy Scouts announced just earlier this year that they were going to be dropping the word boy and including girls. But the Girl Scouts have decided that's a really bad idea. Why? Because the Girl Scouts know that girls will now migrate to the Boy Scouts. Wait, they're not the Boy Scouts anymore according to their announcement. They're Scouts BSA and the Girl Scouts see that as a threat to their own membership.
There's something else going on behind this as we're thinking of worldview implications. The Girl Scouts began to liberalize morally and culturally long before the Boy Scouts. It's really interesting that the Boy Scouts of America had held out for a very long time against the moral revolution and over against many of these liberalizing trends. The Girl Scouts had moved in a more explicitly feminist direction going back to the 1970s and 80s. But now you have the announcement that the Girl Scouts are suing the Boy Scouts because they're dropping the word boy and including girls and they see that as a trademark infringement, especially if the group is allowed to change its name and its trademark from the Boy Scouts of America and BSA simply to Scouts BSA.
As we think in worldview analysis of how a moral revolution takes place, we need to understand that there are huge issues right here, not just below the surface, they're above the surface. For one thing, both of these organizations, at least until recently, had two immediately understandable words in their title. The words boy and girl. And thus, it had been the case that from the very beginnings of the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, just about everyone understood which child was to be a member of which organization and how it was to be characterized and defined. But a moral revolution can't stand that kind of gender clarity and it has become very evident that the moral revolutionaries were targeting not so much the Girl Scouts because they'd already joined the revolution but the Boy Scouts for concerted economic and political pressure in order to bring about the surrender of the Boy Scouts on these issues.
Now just keep in mind that a generation ago the Boy Scouts of America was so determined to limit its membership to boys and to make very clear that it was not going to include openly gay scouts, that it went all the way to the Supreme Court where it won the case to define its own membership. But over the course of the last five years, the Boy Scouts of America has basically surrendered. They first announced that they would change their policy and allow the participation of openly gay scouts. They said at that time that they would not approve the participation of openly gay adult leaders. That changed shortly thereafter and that wasn't the last change. The last change so far is the Boy Scouts announcing earlier this year that they were going so far as to remove the name boy from the organization and just rebranding it now to include girls at older ages as Scouts BSA.
But, that also raises a host of questions that the scouting organization has not wanted to deal with publicly. The organization that is currently known as the Boy Scouts of America now also allows transgender scouts. That's an interesting development but of course that just blurs the distinction between boy and girl even in an organization that now says it's going to include both boys and girls but by its own policies, it's made it difficult to understand who is and is not a boy or a girl regardless of whether or not they're involved in scouting.
Finally on this issue, it's really interesting that it's so transparent that the Girl Scouts of America is mostly concerned here, not with any moral issue at all but simply with the future security of that organization, its trademark and its membership. What they fear is losing market share. That's transparent. It becomes very clear in the lawsuit that was filed. And it is a sign of the times. Perhaps, a fleeting sign of the times that the lawsuit that was filed just this week in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. Case that is suit number 18-10287 is at least for now known technically and formally as the case "Girl Scouts of the United States of America versus Boy Scouts of America".
If you had told me when I was a Boy Scout back in the 1960s and the 1970s that the time would come that a federal district court lawsuit would be entitled The Girl Scouts of the United States versus The Boy Scouts of America I couldn't have even understood what that lawsuit might be about. But if you had told me that we would be living in a time in 2018 when we have even lost the cultural sanity of knowing the difference between boys and girls and the fact that that difference might be important to organizations such as Scouting, I wouldn't have believed that possible. But I would have been wrong.
How a change in one retailer's corporate policy reveals moral confusion of modern age
Also this week, also on Election Day, an interesting headline with vast worldview significance from the Business and Finance front page of the Wall Street Journal. The headline is this, Under Armour Ends Strip Club Perk. The subhead in the article by reporter Khadeeja Safdar, "Employees at the apparel maker can no longer pay for visits with corporate cards." Now let me tell you at the very beginning, the big worldview significance of this article is not what's here but what's not here.
What's here? Well, as the reporter tells us Under Armour Incorporated employees received an email earlier this year that upended a long standing company practice. They could no longer charge visits to strip clubs on their corporate cards. That's a shocking opening to any newspaper article, even in 2018. But the article's not close from being over. The second paragraph states this, "Over the years executives and employees of the sports apparel company, including Chairman and Chief Executive Keven Plank went with athletes or coworkers to strip clubs after some corporate and sporting events and the company often paid for the visits of many attendees," people familiar with the matter said.
The next sentence, "Strip club visits were systematic of practices women at Under Armour found demeaning, according to more than a dozen current and former employees and executives." Now, let's step back for a moment. This is one of those stories again that defies the imagination. You have a major company. Under Armour is a huge brand in the United States and it turns out that until this policy was changed, it was the normal and customary policy of the executive team and management at Under Armour to not only go to strip clubs, pornographic places of adult entertainment as it is ludicrously styled, but not only to go to them but for the company to pay for these pornographic experiences, sexually explicit entertainment. That's stunning.
Perhaps we should say that in a fallen world it's not so surprising that there would be some men who would want to go to such places but is it not absolutely amazing that there would be a major influential, well known American corporation that would be routinely, as a matter of company policy not only encouraging but paying for this activity? Now, that's what's here. What's here is now that in the Me Too movement and it's aftermath it turns out this kind of policy is not politically plausible, even for a company like Under Armour. It's also interesting that in this report in The Wall Street Journal there is a major contradiction.
At one point a spokesperson for the company says, "The company doesn't condone use of adult entertainment for business and Mr. Plank didn't conduct business at strip clubs or use company funds at such venues." That stated even as, in the subhead of the article and within the text of the article it is made very clear that Under Armour did exactly that. Now you'll notice that I mentioned that the early feminists targeted the Boy Scouts because they said there would be economic or political or cultural advantage to the kind of conversations that took place amongst boys in the Boy Scouts who after all became men and presumably became business leaders, financial leaders, political leaders. The women who as girls had been cut out would be disadvantaged.
Notice that the same argument is used here oddly enough. The argument explicit in this article is not so much that it was wrong, morally wrong, objectively wrong for anyone to go to this kind of so called entertainment. The argument is that it was discriminatory because the women, who were not invited, were cut out of the business conversation that might have taken place and thus they might have been disadvantaged. That explains why the CEO of the company had released the statement saying that he had never actually discussed business at a strip club.
In the kind of political moral speak or pseudo moral speak that now marks the current moral condition of our country the CEO stated, "Our teammates deserve to work in a respectful and empowering environment. We believe that there is systemic inequality in the global workplace and we will embrace this moment to accelerate the ongoing meaningful cultural transformation that is already underway at Under Armour. We can and will do better." Now, that we should say is a virtue signaling morally pathetic, almost infantile kind of argument in which the CEO caught effectively with his hand in the cookie jar in this kind of policy says, "We want to be a part of overcoming all forms of sexual discrimination and any harm done to any person at any time, what in the world are you talking about, we're on the right side of the moral revolution." But of course they're only on the right side because they got caught on the wrong side.
But from a Christian worldview perspective again I think the most interesting part of this story is not what's here, it's what's not here. What's not here, any acknowledgement that it is just morally wrong that such adult entertainment, sexually explicit entertainment operations even exist. There's no insinuation here that it is sexually corrupting, that's it's morally wrong, that pornography is a problem except, this is what's in the article, that it might be demeaning to women or discriminatory against women. It is of course, we should say, both of those things. But it's far more than that.
It is a corruption of the good gift of human sexuality and of gender that God gave to us human beings as male and female. It is an insult to the Creator. It is an insult to creation. But here we will simply say that that kind of moral language has no place evidently in America's new moral context in 2018. But finally on this issue, there's also the reminder that there's nothing in our lives that does not have, if we understand it correctly, some kind of moral or worldview significance, including even the question of what we do and do not wear.
When a culture reevaluates how it is structured, even bake sales may seem out of step
Next, in the United States everything is political and I do mean everything. Consider an opinion piece that ran in last Sunday's edition of The New York Times entitled Down With Bake Sales. It's by Deb Perelman and she writes, "I love to bake. My favorite thing about Fall is that I have an excuse to make my mom's towering Apple Cake again so I always thought once my child was in elementary school I would delight in taking part in bake sale fundraisers. This is my jam." Instead she says, "I dread them." "Look," I'm not a monster she writes, "I'm not opposed to kids going on field trips. I do not imagine that funds for soccer uniforms materialize out of thin air so I dutifully show up to each bake sale with a tray of sugary homemade kid bait," she went on to say. "Still bake sales trouble me. They feel like," she says, "a holdover from a time when many moms didn't work." "Even in 2018," she says, "it's always the moms. And it was presumed that they had loads of time to bake cookies for kids. That's what we imagined full time child rearing entailed."
Now just notice here that what you have is an article appearing in The New York Times, that certainly is not by accident, in which the readership of The New York Times is invited to co-commiserate with a woman who is writing about the frustration of bake sales, even as by the way baking is basically her specialization and even her profession. But she says she doesn't want to do it for free. She doesn't want to have to do it by the cultural expectation that she should participate with her child in a bake sale fundraising effort because at the end of the day, it reinforces stereotypes. Perelman writes, "Bake sales can unintentionally perpetuate some deeply seated sexist stereotypes." "The same one," she says, "that compel us to ask potential First Ladies and female candidates for their favorite cookie recipe. Because all women have a signature baked good," she says with an exclamation point sarcastically, "Because you know, they're women."
"Women," again sarcastically she says, "love being domestic and baking for other people. That's a natural extension of their skills." Perelman goes back and forth in making her argument but she continues by saying, "It's frustrating to have to stay up until 1:00 a.m. baking brownies if you're a person who has the radical hope that our taxes should fully cover education, classroom supplies and other necessary enrichments but that is not happening and so the bake sale too must happen to our limited reserves." There's where the politics enters rather explicitly in an argument about the funding of school and school activities, but here we also have to note that the bake sale phenomenon or other fund raisers in the schools have to do with the fact that no school, however well funded, does not have such endeavors because no matter how much funding the school receives from taxpayers or otherwise, it is never enough to come up with all the ways that many of the very same parents want to involve their children in other activities.
She goes on to say, "I worry that we don't scrutinize the financial reality of bake sales because we like the optics too much. The performative domesticity, the retro charm." Well, indeed if you're looking at it in sociological analysis, the bake sale phenomenon might be both of those things. It might be performative domesticity. And it might represent retro charm. But here we have to ask the question as to why even the readers of The New York Times might understand that retro charm. It is I believe because it's not just a sense of nostalgia, it's a sense of loss. A sense of loss that effects so many in modern America in which so many things have genuinely been lost.
There is something lost in a civilization that is so determined to insist upon what it defines as gender equity that it becomes political for moms to be involved in a bake sale. The moms who are involved are now accused of being performative in their domesticity. Simply demonstrating something that entraps even more women in a set of expectations. But here's where Christians operating out of a Biblical worldview understand that the bake sale's not the issue. Even the cause of the bake sale, the financial goal is not the issue. The issue comes down to this, when you have habits such as bake sales, which have become so deeply ingrained in American culture, that habit is based upon a certain understanding of what the culture prizes and how the culture is organized.
When a culture begins to reevaluate what it honors and to reorganize how it is structured, then something like a bake sale does seem oddly out of step. And you might say, "Let's not get so worked up just about cupcakes and brownies. It's just a bake sale." But as this article in The New York Times on Sunday reminds us, sometimes it's just a bake sale. Sometimes it's not.