Growing up an avid four-sport high school male athlete in the 1960s, and living in a family with five sisters; three older and two younger than myself, I truly could not see the forest for the trees. In my defense however, I was completely unaware of the prejudices my own female siblings were experiencing. No one ever questioned why the girls could only participate in cheerleading for the boys’ activities. No one ever asked why the girls could use their athletic abilities only in physical education class. It was just understood! Where today, most could only equate this type of thinking to that of the pathetic segregation practices; in the ‘60s, it was just not questioned. That is until a persistent senator from Indiana authored a 37-word clause that would enable women to take that long-awaited proverbial giant leap toward gender equality. “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Forty years ago, girls studied home economics, instead of training for “male-oriented” activities and athletics. Early feminist crusades measured equality in sport as one of the fronts by which women could validate their equality to men. While the collective population proclaimed that women were incapable of coping with the rigors and physicality of competitive sport, 19th-century women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton quashed this myth by challenging, “We cannot say what the woman might be physically, if the girl were allowed all the freedom of the boy in romping, swimming, climbing, playing ball.” Just as time has mercifully blown away the archaic dust from past procreators’ casual-clouded conservatism, so too has Title IX, a landmark legislation of the 1972 Educational Amendments, augmented its grasp on sex discrimination in schools, throughout its 40-year tenure. Guaranteeing gender equity and equal access, Title IX was authored and introduced to Congress in February 1972 by Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, and subsequently signed into law by President Richard Nixon in June of that year. The new law focused on 10 different areas in which women were not given the same opportunities as men: Athletics, Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing, and Technology.
Women’s athletics at the high school and college level were limited or non-existent and scholarships for college women were few and far between. Before Title IX, females were not equally admitted to medical and law schools. A 1995 National Organization for Women article stated that in 1972, women earned just 7 percent of all law degrees and just
9 percent of all medical degrees. By 2001, those numbers increased to 47 percent and 43 percent respectively. Public school districts had to perform self-evaluations, with obligations to modify practices that did not comply with Title IX. Universities and colleges receiving federal funding had to do the same. Simply, each was charged with taking steps to increase the participation of students in programs or activities where bias had occurred. Many schools and universities discovered that there were large female populations who were eager to play sports, and that there was no problem getting girls to participate; the issue often was how many to cut.
One of the positive factors of Title IX was how young girls identified with and found female role models, especially on the high school teams. A National Federation of State High School Association survey in 2010-2011 stated that girls’ participation in high school sports has climbed by more than tenfold to nearly 3.2 million, or 41 percent of all high school athletes. Sexual harassment issues were also being addressed, and boys will be boys, was no longer an acceptable excuse. Girls, including my younger sisters, who were involved in high school athletics, improved their self-esteem and became more confident. As I can attest, being part of a team and learning to work with teammates was a very valuable experience.
As tremendous as the positive impact of Title IX has been, there are still inequities that remain, especially for girls in K-12 schools, in athletics, and scholarships for women athletes. Better enforcement of the law is imperative. There is definitely an increased awareness of sexual discrimination, and measures are being taken to end that. This awareness has abolished most policies of outright sexual discrimination and has also resulted in more equity in wages for women. Perhaps a bitter side of Title IX’s effect is that there are proportionally now fewer women coaching girls’ teams. Maybe, in part, it was caused by the increase in salary for coaching. Men became more interested in coaching girls, and because competitive sports for girls were new, many men had much more knowledge and experience in some of the sports and they were hired over women.
It goes without saying that women’s involvement in sport and education was absurdly slow to develop. Opportunities for participation and recognition were almost non-existent for centuries. Finally and far too awaited, it was not until the advent of the equal rights movements and Title IX, that women truly found a place as equal participants in the world of sport and in the public arena. Thank you senator, happy anniversary Title IX, and keep up the good work!