Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 celebrated its 40th anniversary on Saturday. The more I read, the more I believe that most people don’t know what the law meant.
So far as they’re concerned, it opened up opportunities for women in collegiate athletics — or if you listen to some athletics directors, destroyed opportunities for young men because women’s sports had to be funded.
Period. Even my own alma mater, a women’s college, identifies Title IX as “the legislation that positively influenced the growth and culture of women’s sports in America.”
I’m old enough to remember when Title IX was passed. And let me tell you, it wasn’t all about expanding school sports opportunities for women.
What it was about, among other things, was equal pay and promotion opportunities for women teachers, especially at colleges and universities. In fact, the hearings on what became Title IX focused heavily on pay inequity studies and testimony from women in academe.
As well they might have. A friend of mine asked her department chairman why she was getting paid less than her male colleagues. Because, he told her, she didn’t need the money. Her husband, after all, was on the medical faculty.
Not uncommon, though the chairman was unusually frank. My own chairman, when pressed, explained that the department wasn’t giving me the same opportunities as my male colleagues because everyone assumed I’d leave when my then-husband finished his degree.
Also not at all uncommon were discriminatory admissions policies — especially, though not exclusively, at medical and law schools.
Some schools had fixed quotas for women or ratios that ensured a higher percentage of men. Others achieved the same end with higher test score and GPA standards for women.
Title IX was also about sex discrimination at lower educational levels.
I suppose hardly anyone reading this recalls that vocational education classes were sex segregated.
When I was in junior high, students were required to take three semesters of voc ed. We girls learned to sew our own clothes and to cook. A whole semester devoted to virtually nothing except muffins, biscuits and cakes from scratch.
Meanwhile, the boys learned to use tools to build and repair things. They learned the basics of electrical wiring and auto mechanics. We girls were barred from these courses — as we were from similar, more advanced courses in high school. Boys couldn’t get instruction in cooking either.
We were, of course, being molded for traditional sex roles. Boys learned skills that could lead to jobs. Girls couldn’t learn even such basic life skills as how to change a car battery.
And when it came to assessing our vocational proclivities, there were pink tests and blue tests. Boys were asked whether they’d like to be President, girls whether they’d like to be a President’s wife.
This bent toward traditional female roles didn’t keep schools from forcing pregnant teachers out when they “began to show” — or from kicking pregnant students out either.
And Title IX was about sex harassment — a quiet epidemic in our education system.
Young women were routinely humiliated — and worse. I heard credible stories about graduate students who’d dropped out because they’d been publicly demeaned, propositioned, manhandled and the like.
They had no legal recourse before Title IX was passed — not even the threat that so often gets administrators to act on what’s now widely recognized as a hostile environment.
This, friends, is a lot of what Title IX is about. It’s why advocates, including yours truly, fought hard to protect the law when the Reagan administration sought to gut it and, when that failed, to get Congress to restore the law to its original intent.
I’m the last one to say that sex discrimination has vanished from our nation’s education programs. Nor do I mean to minimize what it means for athletically-inclined women to have teams they can join, qualified coaches, opportunities to practice and travel — even athletics scholarships.
Just feel we ought to celebrate what the law achieved — and use that as a guide for the road ahead.