On June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed into law Title IX, which which prohibits gender discrimination in any federally financed education program or activity.
These 37 words permanently changed the landscape of sports, and their effects have been enormous and far-reaching:
“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.”
Notice that this law was not just about sports, but about gender discrimination across the board in public education.
Since 1972, not only are more girls than ever are playing sports, but they are also taking advanced classes in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Pregnant and parenting students have more educational opportunities.
Biggest Victory For Title IX
Still, even though sports was not the focus of this act, maybe the biggest victory for Title IX has been opening up athletic opportunities for millions more girls each year. Title IX has made sports go from “a freakishly rare part of girlhood to an absolutely typical part of girlhood,” said Deborah Brake, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh.
From Education Week:
In 1971-72, the school year leading up to the passage of Title IX, 294,015 girls took part in high school sports, compared with nearly 3.7 million boys, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, or about 3.4 million more boys than girls.
Fast forward to 2010-11, which yields the most recent available data, and that gap shrinks by more than 2 million, with nearly 4.5 million boys and 3.2 million girls participating in high school sports.
These are enormous gains.
But at the same time, there remains a 1.3 million student gender gap in high school sports, and the number of female athletes in the 2010-11 school year does not even match the number of male athletes from 1971-72, even though girls make up around 49% of the overall high school student population.
That’s why many experts say, and the data confirm, that gender equality has yet to be achieved.
High School Football Inherently Gender-Biased
One big reason is high school football. In the 2010-11 school year, roughly 1.1 million high school boys took part in football, while only 1,395 girls did, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
At the same time, football is of pre-eminent importance at every public high school where I’ve taught over the past 25 years. Football players are heroes; football games get the booster clubs, all the money, and the best facilities; football games are scheduled for prime time and Friday nights, while girls’ sports must make do with weeknights.
The tough guys at the football game are of course supported by the cheerleaders, the pretty dancing girls, hardly an advertisement for Title IX – although any one who’s been around cheerleading training knows that those coaches are ruthless, and becoming a cheerleader is extremely physically demanding.
The culture of high school football, which came as a shock to me when I moved from the UK, where it doesn’t exist, is a major reason for the persistence of a gender gap, at least in high school sports.
So while it is undeniably true that Title IX has had a huge impact, there is still much more to be done. I look forward to the future!
Photo Credit: elmsdweb