Today marks the 26th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. The theme of this year’s celebration is Title IX at 40: In it for the Long Run and it’s one that carries special weight with me.
I grew up in the shadow of Title IX. I turn 38 this year and am quite certain the life I’m so privileged to have would simply not be if it were not for the existence and influence of Title IX. It’s not just that I grew up a young athlete playing competitive soccer–an identity only made possible by Title IX and in leagues that did not exist prior to Title IX– it is that the impact of athletics on my life cannot be overstated.
Decades of participating in athletes taught me to love my body. To respect my body. To OWN my body. It was mine. All mine. It was strong, fast, and confident. That sense of self-respect translated to the halls of my junior high and high school and helped push back against an onslaught of hyper-sexualized messaging and pressure to “dumb down” my ambition or to starve my athletic build to one more “desirable”. Trust me. It would have been easy to just play along with it all. So many of my friends did.
Instead, decades playing soccer taught me leadership and accountability, all handy skills when trying to evade peer pressure. It taught me to be competitive, to play hard and fight fair, even when others wouldn’t.
Title IX taught me how to be a woman.
This was especially important growing up without a mother around. Athletics gave me community and family and frankly, kept me out of a lot of trouble.
Those survival skills were the natural result of a culture that insisted women and girls be treated as equals in access and opportunity–no more no less. Yet that culture is under attack and the significant gains made thanks to Title IX are at risk due to funding cuts and a belief that “we’ve come far enough.”
The thing is, we haven’t come nearly far enough.
Despite the stunning advances made in the 40 years since Title IX was enacted, high school girls still receive 1.3 million fewer participation opportunities than do boys, and evidence suggests that the money spent on girls’ sports programs lags significantly behind the money spent on boys’ programs. Those opportunities, my opportunities, should be commonplace. They should be routine. But they are not. Not yet. Which is why a day like today is so critically important.
Photo from KG Sand Soccer via flickr.