Title IX: After Forty Years We Still Aren’t Equal

By: Dani Nispel,  Program and Policy Intern
National Council of Women’s Organizations

The critics of Title IX are loud and proud: it’s a quota system that’s no longer necessary to level the playing field. Implicit in that statement is the mantra of our “post-feminist” society: “Men and women are equal. We don’t need feminism. Things are fine the way they are.” I disagree. As someone who benefitted enormously from Title IX, I can tell you exactly why it’s necessary. I’ve also experienced the extreme sexism that exists within and despite Title IX.

I started playing sports officially when I was in first grade–a late start compared to most of my other friends who had been playing pee-wee soccer since they could walk.  Playing lacrosse was a great opportunity to learn a lot more about my confidence and self-esteem. I also gained valuable skills that I use today: working on a team with people you dislike, self-discipline, and goal-setting.

Even given the opportunities of Title IX, the sexism that pervades our society doesn’t disappear. If Title IX no longer existed, I can only imagine how much worse that would be.

A lot more than the competitive nature of the sport changed when I started high school: our ugly kilts shrunk down to miniskirt, and the baggy jerseys that we used to wear that were two sizes too big? Now we wore skin-tight racerback jerseys. They showed so much skin that a special exception was made for us to wear them during the school day. Uniforms that violated the dress code? I can certainly tell you that these uniforms were not designed for purely aerodynamic benefits.

There’s a level of bias and discrimination surrounding athletics and Title IX that is so often brushed under the table. All you have to do is look to the myths and lies that are spread about Title IX: women aren’t as interested in sports, women’s sports don’t make money, men’s sports have to be cut. The fact that these concerns are raised tells a lot about the opposition: they spread myths that prey on the idea that women are somehow less valuable, less deserving, and less important than men.

Title IX may require that females and males have equal opportunities to play sports, but it doesn’t change the consumption of sports or the treatment of athletes. Even when equal opportunity is required, females are told “their” sports aren’t as interesting and don’t make as much money…but if they wear slightly smaller and tighter uniforms, that might help. Women’s E-News says, “it’s hard for men not to find high-performing women a threat to their male sports bastion. Therefore, over the years, women have been made to appear trivial, romantic or hyper-sexualized.”

My point here is that Title IX does a lot of great things. Women who play sports benefit enormously: they are less likely to do things like smoke and drink, they do better in school, are healthier, and are less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy. However, before we decide that Title IX is no longer necessary, it’s essential to talk about the sexist nature of athletics as it exists right now. I don’t see a way that Title IX can be removed while simultaneously making sports more equal for men and women. While we’re still fighting for things like fair media representation of female athletes and comfortable uniforms, Title IX is an essential guideline that makes our goals

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