by Whitney Pitcher
I wrote the following post at The New Agenda in celebration of Title IX’s 40th birthday:
Today marks a very important milestone in women’ s history–the fortieth birthday of the legislation known as Title IX. Title IX was introduced as an amendment to the re-authorization of a the Higher Education Act and actually did not even specifically mention women’s participation in sports, which is what it has became known for over the decades. The amendment is only one sentence:
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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
It aimed to offer equal opportunity to women in all aspects of higher education–access to college, sports, other extra curricular activity, specific classes, tutoring, and facilities among other things. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana proposed the amendment, which passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Nixon on June 23, 2012. Although the legislation was passed as applied to institutions of higher education, the 1979 “three prong test” for compliance has often been applied to any educational institution which receives federal funding, which would include high schools.
Many prominent women have offered their appreciation for the piece of legislation. In an event announcing a new initiative to empower female athletes throughout the world, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted,” [t]he title IX decision was revolutionary, and I think all of us who care about opportunities for girls and women view it as one of the most consequential pieces of legislation for women in our country’s history”. In her memoir Going Rogue, Governor Sarah Palin noted, ” I’m a product of Title IX and am proud that it was Alaska’s own Ted Stevens who helped usher through the federal legislation in 1972 to ensure girls would have the right to the same education and athletic opportunity as boys. I was a direct beneficiary of the equal rights efforts that had begun only the decade before. Later, my own daughters would benefit, participating in sports like hockey, wrestling, and football, which had been closed to girls for decades”. Tennis legend, Billie Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation notes that female sports participation is 900% since the law’s passage in 1972. Soccer star, Abby Wambach tweeted in honor of the celebration, ” We have to keep believing in the impossible. If they hadn’t 40 years ago, none of this would have happened”.
We all may not have become a professional athlete and we may not have gone on to play at the collegiate level, but we all have our stories–stories of how such legislation blessed our lives–be it directly or indirectly. When I was in high school, I played point guard for my school’s girls’ basketball team, and I was a member of the Math Club. One day during the basketball season, my math teacher brought in her yearbook to tell me about her high school basketball days. She was in high school when Title IX was implemented, and although it didn’t directly apply to high schools, it coincided with the first time her school offered girls’ basketball. She jumped at the opportunity to play. We also smiled over the fact that, as athletes and math nerds, we both shared the number “13″. It wasn’t unlucky for us. Title IX not only provided women with educational and athletic opportunities; it also gave women opportunities for mentorship and provided role models that girls and women previously didn’t have.
A very happy 40th birthday to Title IX! Let’s play ball!
Please check out these links in celebration of Title IX:
Billie Jean King talks to CBS Sports about the Anniversary of Title IX
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces the State Department’s partnership with ESPN on global sports mentoring program, coinciding with the celebration of 40 years of Title IX
Additional commentary on Title IX: I’m very thankful for the opportunities that Title IX has provide women in education and in sports, but I am of the belief that it needs some serious reforms as well. I certainly believe that female athletes should have equal access to gym facilities and the same scholarship funding opportunities that male athletes do. I certainly believe that colleges should increase women’s sports programs to the extent that they are able to provide greater equality. The effects of the intended consequences have been great for women in education and sports, and these effects have carried with them later in life with the types of skills and lessons that sports can provide all people–how to work as a team, competition, strong work ethic etc.
As with anytime the federal government gets involved in something, however well intended, there has been some unintended negative consequences as well. In the name of gender equality, sometimes things have become less equal for men, which is not right. The effects of expanding women’s collegiate sports has come at the cost of some of the smaller men’s programs. My alma mater, the University of Illinois, cut its men’s swim program in the late 1990s so that they could add women’s soccer and softball programs. This was not fair the collegiate male swimmers. The Women’s Sports Foundation argues that this means of rectifying the inequalities is a result of poor distribution of athletic funding or that funding should increase to a greater extent. This gets into an issue of how much do you increase use of taxpayer dollars or how much do you pester alumni, right now in an economic downturn, to increase donations to an athletic foundation.
Title IX requires that athletes per gender at the school is proportional to total students per gender. This seems like a noble goal, but it also does not take into account that football, the sport that generates the most revenue, is a sport that has more athletes per team than any other sport–22 starters alone, if you assume that players only play one way (offense or defense) and that some starters also play special teams. The Women’s Sport Foundation uses an uncited statistic that indicates that 80% of college and high school football programs lose revenue. However, if you lump in high schools, which are far more numerous than colleges, that has the potential to skew results making it unclear the revenue generation of colleges alone, which is what the legislation was written for–higer education. This brings about another issues as well. There has been dispute over whether or not this legislation applies to public high school since they receive federal funding, which is addressed in subsequent pieces of legislation like the three prongs of test I mentioned in my The New Agenda post. However, the original amendment was part of a bill that applied to higher education. Should reforms be implemented to address this dispute? Should football be exempt since in many situations the revenue that sport generates helps to pay for women’s sports? Perhaps both. I’m not sure of the ultimate solution. Though I don’t agree with every aspect, the Independent Women’s Foundation offers an interesting solution to reform Title IX that’s worth reading.
The unintended consequence of Title IX is that it caused inequalities in men’s collegiate sports in what has become somewhat of a quota based piece of legislation. Additionally, how much should the federal government be involved? A lot of good has come from Title IX, as has some bad. Reforms should be implemented to address the unintended consequences and minimize the bad.