Title IX was a spectacular and sadly dissatisfied success

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Title IX turned 50 on Wednesday. Enacted in 1972, the policy requires educational institutions that receive public funding to treat all genders and gender identities equally.

This mandate was both a phenomenal success and a worrying disregard. By prohibiting sex discrimination, Title IX fundamentally changed American education by creating legal expectation of equality. Millions of people have embraced the vast gender opportunities that Title IX forced open, and now their children and grandchildren are waiting and even taking those options for granted.

Yet the policy has consistently fallen short of its mandate due to a lack of enforcement, particularly on issues of sexual abuse and bigotry. As a result, its radical potential for normalizing equal treatment of sex and gender in education has not been realized.

Title IX was passed in 1972 among other policies affirming women’s rights. Feminists celebrated the law, although they initially thought it would only affect academics. Controversy exploded as girls and women rushed to claim a place in university programs and on sports fields.

The impact of Title IX on the sport drew the most attention as it was the area where the gender gap was most glaring. Girls and women in sport have also visually challenged long-standing gender tropes about their abilities and ambitions. Since the end of the 19th century, doctors and sports leaders feared that sports activity would cause hysteria, infertility and cancer in women. Almost equally disturbing, athletic competition could compromise the heteronormativity and femininity essential to women’s social roles, turning them into deviants. “muscle molds”.

Sexist gatekeepers fought to exclude women from athletics. In 1967, for example, Boston Marathon director Jock Semple tried – and failed – drag runner Katherine Switzer off course. As a result of decades of gender discrimination, girls only 7% of high school athletes in 1971, while female students received only 2% of overall athletic budgets and almost no scholarships before President Richard M. Nixon signed into law Title IX in 1972.

Title IX radically changed this reality. The sheer number of women who flooded sports fields in one year belied the long-held belief that girls lacked interest or competitive spirit. The law also encouraged athletes to take drastic measures to compel their schools to comply.

In 1976, the Yale women’s team protested against their inadequate facilities to Physical Education Director Joni Barnett in her office, naked except for the phrase “Title IX” scrawled across their chests. After scathing media coverage, Yale granted women locker rooms and showers. The impact of Title IX also reverberated beyond campus on the free market, as female athletes bought and popularized clothing, such as sports bras, that women entrepreneurs have designed.

But after less than a decade, the Reagan administration weakened Title IX. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan crippled the National Advisory Council on Women’s Education Programs, a federal women’s advisory council on gender equality, by replace its managing director with a head of state from Phyllis Schlafly’s anti-feminist group Eagle Forum.

A year later, he completely dissolved the board of directors. Reagan’s 1981 Supreme Court nominee, Sandra Day O’Connor, also agreed with the majority in Grove City College v. Bell (1984), who argued that schools should apply Title IX only to discrete areas of their operations that received federal funds, rather than to entire institutions; the decision threatened to gut Title IX’s broad impact on campuses. In 1988, when Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act—which restored Title IX to all aspects of campus business— Reagan vetoed the bill and, like other conservatives, blasted his passage as an intrusive government bloat when Congress overruled his veto.

Amid this backlash, women conquering new Olympic sports and breaking athletic records have been accused of sexual deviance when their talents exceeded prevailing social expectations of femininity. Record-breaking Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner (“Flo-Jo”) faced doping charges, often tinged with racism, because of her muscular build and speed in the late 1980s.

And yet, millions of Americans have largely accepted the idea of ​​gender equality promoted by Title IX. Take, for example, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s flip-flop on women’s sports. During the 1970s, the organization had lobbied against Title IX and attempted to exempt men’s revenue-generating sports. Yet women’s varsity sports have grown exponentially as sports powerhouses like UCLA and the University of Michigan have created sports programs for women.

In 1982, the NCAA backtracked and took control of women’s sports governanceproviding top-tier universities with lucrative opportunities to compete in NCAA tournaments and secure TV contracts – strangling the smallest single-sex organization that originally backed Title IX, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women .

Most major universities bowed to Title IX pressure to create women’s sports programs, although they have often separated them into “women’s centers” rather than integrating the sexes on an equal footing. In these expanded new roles — as in other areas of increased women’s access due to Title IX, including business, medicine, and entertainment — stereotyping and harassment often accompanied women’s efforts on the playground. In the 1990s, women faced both harassment and opportunity, even as the political environment has become more favorable to legislation with the administration of Bill Clinton working extend Title IX Reports and redouble our efforts to combat gender discrimination.

It may seem incongruous that President Clinton raised the banner of gender equality politics in 1997, at the height of his own sexual harassment and perjury scandals. But, closer examination shows that this behavior reflected Title IX’s enforcement of campus security issues beginning in the 1990s.

During the Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, when female students accused male athletes sexual assault, coaches, college boosters and community leaders frequently surrounded the wagons to protect suspected perpetrators. This was all the more true since the accused was often a graduate and sometimes went up to lucrative sports careers – even as the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office released tips require schools to prevent, eliminate and remedy sexual harassment, and lower the standard of proof necessary to demonstrate sexual misconduct.

Students who reported their coaches’ sexual assaults were also traumatized by being silenced and subjected to further violence. At Penn State, for example, assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky abused the boys for years — and was further activated by legendary head coach Joe Paterno and other college brokers. who violated Title IX by do not report abuse for over a decade. At Michigan State University, orthopedic surgeon and athletic trainer Larry Nassar began sexually abusing children and undergraduate students on campus in the 1990s, but university officials ignored reports of abuse from several students, allowing him to smash the lives of more than 500 athletes over 20 years.

These individual examples demonstrate a catastrophic failure to enforce Title IX by academic institutions and the federal government. It seems that the onus is now on the victims not to be harmed, rather than on the schools to fulfill their mandate and the perpetrators not to rape, assault or assault. Until her recent death, Title IX pioneer Bernice Sandler referred to these issues as a “cold climate” for the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, queer and trans students continue to face an institutional backlash on access to campus spaces and organizations in alignment with their gender identity and sexuality, although Title IX offers them these protections.

Despite these major shortcomings, many of the sweeping changes mandated by Title IX have now become mainstream – often unnoticeable. And each generation has been less aware of the existence of the law than the one before it. In a Pew Research Center poll conducted in February 2022, for example, women under 50 were less likely than women over 50 to have heard of the law, and 50% of Americans have never heard of it.

But even though a marker of Title IX’s success is the decades-long assumption of gender equality on campus and beyond, the law has not created a cultural shift from a patriarchal society to a more feminist and egalitarian society. Reflection on the impact of women in sport, 1999 United States Soccer World Champion Brandi Chastain recently asked, “How to disrupt a culture that has consistently not been for us?” Until institutions fully utilize the potential of Title IX, this question will remain unanswered.


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