One of the most significant impacts of Title IX is the impact the legislation has had on training new generations of female leadership. When Title IX passed in 1972, there were 15 women in Congress. Today there are 92 women in the House and Senate. So long as the support for Title IX goals and programs continues there’s no reason to think that number won’t rise.
While link between increasing access to sports and becoming elected to office might merely reflect changing social structures, there is new research to suggest that athletic participation has become a social eligibility factor in the success of candidates for elected office. A study conducted by Dr. Leanne Doherty from Simmons College found that athletic experience is cited by 25% of candidates who run for Congress to increase their viability in the eyes of voters. This included talking about sports experiences they had in high school or college, or that of family members.
The benefits start early and they stick. Young women who participated in sports are more likely to be engaged in volunteering, be registered to vote, feel comfortable making a public statement, follow the news, and boycott than young women who had not participated in sports.
It’s not just civil leadership that Title IX encourages. 80% of women identified as leaders in Fortune 500 companies participated in sports while growing up.
Not surprisingly, EMILY’s List has among its ranks several members who competed in sports in high school or college. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand captained the Dartmouth squash team from 1987 to 1988. EMILY’s List candidate Cheri Bustos played volleyball in college and was inducted into the Illinois College Sports Hall of Fame. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (an EMILY’s List alumnae) was the Captain of her basketball team at Trinity Washington University. Tammy Duckworth “participated in basketball, volleyball and track” at McKinley High School in Hawai’i and was pictured in her yearbook throwing a discus.
There’s more. EMILY’s List candidate Val Demings was a sprinter on the DuPont Junior High School track team. “I have never been very tall in stature or very heavy, so you gotta use what you have to win the game,” said Demings, who is 5 feet 4 inches tall and 130 pounds. “I think mental competition is just as important as the physical. And it starts long before the race begins.” EMILY’s List candidate Julia Brownley “I went to a private girls’ school in high school. I played on the field hockey team, basketball team and the tennis team.” Finally, EMILY’s List candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham played High School tennis (All City Co-Ed Tennis Champion), gymnastics, downhill skiing and track and field.
Continuing to give women and girls equal access to participation in high school and college athletics will only help increase their chances for success in life—contributing to high graduation rates, building confidence and leadership skills, and perhaps helping women to be seen as viable political candidates down the road. Athletic participation offers women a way to build credibility and eligibility amongst the voters, thus allowing women a better opportunity to prove their viability as candidates for public office. Leadership skills develop in the course of athletic competition and for women and girls, Title IX makes that possible.
Photo from Parker Michael Knight via flickr.