Good for Title IX!

(I meant to post about this Tuesday, when it was officially announced, but it’s still news worth celebrating.)

Vice President Joe Biden announced the reversal of a Bush-era policy that provided a loophole in Title IX gender equity compliance:

Universities had historically been required to comply with the law by showing that women’s participation in sports was proportionate to their enrollment in the university, that the institution was expanding athletic opportunities, or that it was meeting the athletic interests and abilities of women on campus.

In 2005, the Office for Civil Rights amended the policy, declaring that universities could comply with the third requirement if they asked students to complete a survey of their interests. The change also allowed them to equate lack of response with a lack of interest in athletics.

The NCAA, sensibly, opposed this option and discouraged schools from using it. It’s easy to imagine how such surveys could be manipulated to achieve any desired result.

But such surveys are also meaningless in a culture that’s not already supportive of women’s athletics. Title IX gets a lot of ridicule, but when I think back to my high school years, it’s incredible to realize how much has changed.

In 1971, when I graduated from a suburban high school with about 1200 students, there were 22 boys’ teams in 9 sports (cross country, football, wrestling, basketball, golf, tennis, swimming, baseball, and track). For girls, there were 3 teams, one each in basketball, gymnastics, and tennis, plus the cheerleading squad, which in those days was still a relatively sedentary support-the-boys’-teams activity rather than the athletic sport in its own right more common today. Among the approximately 600 girls in that school, only 63 (of whom 20—32% were cheerleaders) participated in school sports. Most of us simply weren’t interested.

But there were also still a lot of amazingly silly ideas about women in sports, too. People still debated  whether women were physically capable of running marathons. Heck, while I was in high school, girls’ basketball rules still mandated 6-member teams; some players couldn’t cross the mid-court line and you weren’t allowed to dribble the ball more than three bounces before you had to pass it—too much running might have caused us poor girls to swoon, I guess.

Reminds me I want to reread Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano’s Playing with the Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports. When I bought it, I expected an entertaining but far-fetched argument in favor of gender-integrated sports, but found myself absolutely riveted. I need to see if the book remains as persuasive the second time through.


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