Today, Title IX turns 40 years old and as one of the first generation of women who reaped its benefits, I have been ridiculously ignorant about what it really means and the impact it has had. And Title IX is still making a huge difference.
By the time I started playing school sports, it was 1980 and I had volleyball, basketball, track and field, and softball available to me. My career as an athlete was undistinguished and short-lived but the experiences were invaluable. I still vividly remember the highs of winning our district tournament in high school volleyball to the lows of tearing my ACL in my first high school varsity basketball game. We learned teamwork, strategy, and how to persevere when facing impossible odds. And how to win (or, more often it seemed, lose) gracefully.
I had no clue that just 8 years prior, my only options would have been intermural sports or cheerleading for the boys sports. I didn’t I realized that my opportunities were new and hard won. And I certainly didn’t appreciate that it would go on to impact future generations of women, and not just in athletics.
In fact, the original wording of Title IX, as a part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, doesn't mention athletics at all. Here is what it says:
“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.”
Pretty simple and reasonable, right? But like anything else that gets wrapped up in politics, big money, and any changes to prevailing cultural attitudes, Title IX was met with controversy that continues today. There has been criticism that the athletic opportunities for women have come at the expense of men’s sports. I have seen some valid arguments made around this. Like anything else, Title IX hasn’t been perfect or easy to implement. But when looking back over its history, it has a pretty impressive record and has done far more good than harm.
Title IX has done so much more than open up sports to girls. The quieter effects are, in my opinion, the deeper ones. Under Title IX, everyone must be given the same opportunities in academic programs. Since 1972, girls have made enormous strides in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) and they are going on the earn advanced degrees and forge careers in these male-dominated fields. These pioneering women, the products of the first Title IX generation, are an inspiration to the girls who are now deciding their path in life.
Girls like my daughter, who is entering Middle School next year. Talking with her and her peers, I don’t sense the inner restrictions that the generations that preceded them felt so deeply. “Girls teach English, not math” or “girls don’t become doctors, lawyers, or engineers, they marry them.” Attitudes are changing.
Title IX should be credited as one of the main sources of these attitude changes. I want to thank the women and men who passed and maintained this important legislation, in spite of the opposition. While progress has been slow and painful at times, much has been achieved in Title IX’s 40 years and I am celebrating those accomplishments today.