Cover image for On my honor : Boy Scouts and the making of American youth
On my honor : Boy Scouts and the making of American youth
Mechling, Jay, 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago ; London : University of Chicago Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxv, 323 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HS3313 .M43 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In a timely contribution to current debates over the psychology of boys and the construction of their social lives, On My Honor explores the folk customs of adolescent males in the Boy Scouts of America during a summer encampment in California's Sierra Nevada. Drawing on more than twenty years of research and extensive visits and interviews with members of the troop, Mechling uncovers the key rituals and play events through which the Boy Scouts shapes boys into men. He describes the campfire songs, initiation rites, games, and activities that are used to mold the Scouts into responsible adults.

The themes of honor and character alternate in this new study as we witness troop leaders offering examples in structure, discipline, and guidance, and teaching scouts the difficult balance between freedom and self-control. What results is a probing look into the inner lives of boys in our culture and their rocky transition into manhood. On My Honor provides a provocative, sometimes shocking glimpse into the sexual awakening and moral development of young men coming to grips with their nascent desires, their innate aggressions, their inclination toward peer pressure and violence, and their social acculturation.

On My Honor ultimately shows how the Boy Scouts of America continues to edify and mentor young men against the backdrop of controversies over freedom of religious expression, homosexuality, and the proposed inclusion of female members. While the organization's bureaucracy has taken an unyielding stance against gay men and atheists, real live Scouts are often more open to plurality than we might assume. In their embrace of tolerance, acceptance, and understanding, troop leaders at the local level have the power to shape boys into emotionally mature men.

Author Notes

Jay Mechling is professor of American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

This book is a timely offering, given the current debate about "the boy problem" and what we should do about increasingly violent and antisocial behavior among adolescent males. Mechling, a professor of cultural studies, examines the current literature on boys and the parallel concerns in the early 1900s that led to the development of the Boys Scouts of America as a way to promote an ideal of masculinity. Following the summer-camp experience of a composite troop, Mechling looks at the strengths and shortcomings of this American institution. He recalls the history of the BSA and current controversies surrounding the issues of God, girls, and gays, as the Boy Scouts confront changing images of masculinity and calls for increasing diversity. Through his own personal recollections as a Boy Scout and his 20-year study of Boy Scout troops, Mechling aptly conveys the sociology of scouting traditions and customs as they have adjusted to changing times and the personalities of troop leaders, often diverging from the more conservative philosophy of the organization's bureaucracy. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Based on more the 20 years of research and observation at a troop's summer encampment as well as extensive interviews with generations of scouts, this study investigates the effects of the complex, lived realities of scouting on boys as they struggle to define themselves. Mechling, professor of American studies at the University of California at Davis, argues that the founding of the U.S. Scouting movement in 1910 was a response to social concerns over masculinity that were remarkably similar to "the boy problem" of today. This historic frame gives the study broader dimensions, although for the most part Mechling concerns himself with analyzing the specifics and myriad meanings of camp songs, rituals, play and language. Not surprisingly, since one of the main purposes of Scouting is the production of "normal" (i.e., heterosexual) boys, homophobic language and slurs are "a central theme at [the] camp." Mechling does a great job at detailing how, ironically, forms of homoeroticism (including transvestism) are promoted to reinforce a heterosexual identity as well as alleviate sexual and identity-based tension. Using a wide range of critical and cultural works, plus a detailed examination of how Scouting manuals have changed over the years (especially regarding volatile issues like masturbation), Mechling weaves his observations into an evaluation of how Scouting's self-image and purpose has changed in response to social transformations, and finally into a critique of the national Scouting policy forbidding homosexuals, atheists and girls to join. Measured in its criticism, and ultimately supportive of Scouting (while acknowledging the pain experienced by gay scouts), this is a smart book that combines fascinating research with a critique of contemporary politics. (Nov.) Forecast: The Scouting ban on homosexuals continues to be a contentious issue, from funding to membership. This book will be brandished by the left and thundered against by the right in short, it should be well reviewed and is a possible pundits' sleeper. Prominent display in gay and lesbian sections or stores should result in steady browser sales, and campus sales are also assured. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Mechling (American studies, Univ. of California, Davis) condenses 20 years of research on Boy Scout Troop 49 into an account of one two-week encampment in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. He examines the Scouts' recent problems with the "three Gs"-God (should atheists be admitted to the Scouts?), girls (should young women be admitted?), and gays (should openly gay Scouts and Scoutmasters be admitted?)-and delves into how the Scouts attempt to mold boys into heterosexual men. Some readers will find his highly psychoanalytic interpretations hard trekking-seeing cans of Coca-Cola as symbols for feces seems to be pushing the envelope a bit. Others might react negatively to his observation that in order to create the heterosexual male the Scouts instill unhealthy doses of misogyny and homophobia. And still others will blanch upon hearing that the Scout camp emulates a huge, outdoor, boys' locker room, complete with raw language, bawdy jokes and songs, and fixations on flatulence and females. Mechling feels that there is much good to be said about the Boy Scouts, but after reading this study readers might have their doubts. Recommended for large public and academic libraries.-Jim Burns, Ottumwa P.L., IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Writing from an insider's viewpoint as an Eagle Scout as well as a knowledgeabe student of cultural theory, Mechling (American studies, Univ. of California, Davis) attempts the difficult task of describing both the real experience of a Boy Scout troop and the deeper meaning of the organization's social function. At times the resulting narrative can be jarring, shifting quickly from the often-mundane details of camp life to deep readings of everything from play activity to attitudes toward defecation. For the patient reader, however, the book offers a sensitively developed argument. Established in 1910 in an effort to respond to a perceived crisis in masculinity, the Boy Scouts of America encountered a similar challenge at the end of the 20th century, when the assumption that the normative male model had to be heterosexual came unglued. Arguing that masculinity is socially constructed, Mechling challenges the organization's highly publicized stand against gay membership, pointing to a healthy exploration of different elements of masculine performance observed in his fieldwork. More than just an affirmation that the Boy Scouts can still play a positive role in shepherding adolescents to manhood in the 21st century, Mechling's study offers many insights into the importance of gender in defining cultural practice. General collections, graduate students, and faculty. H. Gillette Jr. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden

Table of Contents

Introduction Day 1, Sunday I arrive at camp
The troop assembles for mail call
A religious service at Church Rock
A Tenderfoot class for the new boys
The Seniors meet to plan Insane Day
A Staff campfire Excursus: The ""Problem"" of God in the Boy Scouts Day 2, Monday An orienteering class
Pete explains the new ""rule of three""
Some Scouts receive a cooking lesson
A troop campfire with patrol skits
A Senior meeting to continue planning Insane Day
The adult Staff discusses the