Thirty-seven words shaped gender equality in the American school sports and education landscape that our kids take for granted today.
Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, signed into law by President Richard Nixon that summer, reads:
“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.”
These 37 words seem almost ridiculous to celebrate now. Of course, girls have the same opportunities as boys, right? Even mentioning this legislative initiative to my 13-year-old daughter resulted in her giving me a WTF look. “What? Duh, Dad. Girls can do anything boys can do,” it seemed to say. “Wait, that was actually a thing back then?”
Yes, gender inequality was “a thing.” And, as we look at the impact of Title IX over the past 50 years, parents should tell our kids all about it.
State of gender equality in 1972
While civil rights laws of the 1960s banned gender discrimination in hiring practices, similar protections for female students did not exist. In fact, Title IX originates from concerns about educational — not athletic — opportunities for women.
At the time of its passage, women made up fewer than half of all undergraduates at federally funded universities. At the graduate school level, they constituted less than 10% of those enrolled at law or medical school. On the athletic fields, only 4% of females played sports at college levels. Addressing these gender inequalities in school sports became Title IX’s most pervasive legacy.
Title IX and sports
If our daughters were magically transported to the early 1970s, they would see field of play far different than what they experience now.
For instance, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation:
- Boys had 10 times the athletic opportunities in high school as girls
- Fewer than 30,000 females played a sport at a college level
These are, in my daughter’s terms, “WTF” stats. These are what we should tell our kids about to show how far we’ve come because of Title IX.
According to most recent data, nearly 3 million more opportunities exist for girls to play school sports post-Title IX. As a result, now 44% of collegiate athletes are women and 60% of high school girls play a sport.
As I raise my daughters, I never consider the availability of athletic opportunities an issue for them because they have the chance to join any sport they choose. This would have been impossible without Title IX.
Title IX and the myth of lost opportunities for boys
A myth exists that Title IX has hurt our sons. In fact, parents may have heard Title IX talked about in relation to a situation where teams were impacted because of a lack of availability to female students. This may be when a school has a boys’ wrestling team, but none for girls. Or, it may be when it offers girls’ volleyball but no corresponding opportunity for boys. Let’s be very clear: the opportunities and resources available to our sons still exceeds those provided to our daughters – particularly in sports at all levels.
A recent report by the NCAA shows that while participation ratios have narrowed significantly, the dollars spent on male sports is twice that of female sports at the Division I level. At the Division II level, the sum is still 25% higher. During the past 20 years, males gained 73,000 participation opportunities while females gained 67,000.
The criticism that Title IX has hurt boys’ sports is, simply, false.
More work remains for true gender equality
Given the quantum leaps Title IX has made for equality in the past half century, far more remains to be done. This is where our kids can affect the future.
As Title IX turns 50, the protections of transgender athletes from discrimination must be addressed. While a complicated issue with political, social and religious veins, the treatment of biology as it relates to the activities available for participation must be addressed.
The scope of Title IX is likely to expand to how sexual discrimination cases are handled. On the table for potential changes are presumption of innocence and burden of proof mandates – both amended during the Trump administration.
So, while Title IX has been a resounding success, there are more issues it can help solve. As parents, we should not allow the tangled, highly politicized future of Title IX to shadow its monumentally successful past.
My daughter’s dismissive “duh” reaction to me reminding her of the effort it took to create a girls’ soccer program should not go unnoticed.
The 2021 announcement of the University of Iowa’s female wrestling team – the first for the men’s college wrestling powerhouse – should be celebrated by parents everywhere.
As my son takes the SAT this fall, I will remind him that he is rightfully competing against everyone – not just the white males that monopolized collegiate undergraduate programs before the 1970s.
So, parents, let’s wish a loud “Happy Birthday” to Title IX.
And, just as loudly, let us wish the inequalities it has addressed over its 50-year existence are not a “thing” my sons and daughters will have to explain to their children.
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