This past weekend, I traveled with my teenage daughter and her team to an out of town soccer tournament. Watching 22 girls battle for possession of a black and white ball on a gigantic field fills me with awe. I admire their strength, agility, physicality, and fierce determination as they run, kick, head, juggle, and sometimes wipe out.
Such scenes were not so common when I was a young girl growing up in the 1960s and 70s. Not many girls I knew played team sports such as basketball or soccer or competed in cross country, tennis or track and field. Title IX changed all that.
In 1972, an important Education Amendment was made to the Higher Education Act of 1965. That amendment is known as Title IX. Title IX mandated that:
“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.”
Although not limited only to women’s participation in sports, Title IX was intended to ensure the “fair and equal treatment of the sexes in all areas, including athletics.” (“This Day in History: Jun 23,” history.com) The result was a huge increase in the number of high school and college women participating in sports. Since 1972, the number of high school girls engaged in athletics has increased from 295,000 to 2.6 million. For college women, that number increased from 30,000 to 150,000. (“Title IX,” wikipedia) Title IX has become so associated with women’s sports that there is now a retailer selling women’s athletic wear under that name.
My daughter’s participation in sports has been invaluable to her physical development and her psychological well-being. She has learned the importance of strength and assertiveness, the values of being part of a team, and the benefits of healthy competition – all of which will stand her in good stead as she goes on to college and career.
In our culture, the premium placed on attractiveness and femininity for women has exacted a heavy price on the self-esteem of many young girls. For my own part, even though I have always valued academic achievement and being smart, I have never been wholly comfortable in my own skin. Not having been encouraged to practice the fitness activities and healthy eating required by athletics, I have struggled with a love/hate relationship with my body.
Title IX has meant far more for women than merely having access to athletic opportunities, of course. Experts believe the law led directly to increased numbers of women attending college and completing degrees, for instance. While Title IX has not eliminated gender discrimination in society, its insistence upon equity in public education has had far-reaching consequences for the way women see possibilities for their personal development and participation in the wider society beyond school.
For my part, I see in Title IX the opportunity for my daughter to fulfill her potential both on and off the soccer field or basketball court. And each time she takes the field in soccer or mans the court in basketball, I am thrilled to say, “You go, girl!”