Title IX: Has It Solved Our Problems?

pejordan's picture

While reading “My Gender Workbook,” I came across the following passage that Kate Bornstein had quoted from Mariah Burton Nelson:

"All female athletes are gender outlaws… In the act of lunging for a soccer ball or diving into a swimming pool or engaging in most of the other sports that millions of women now enjoy, the athlete goes beyond gender…She has transcended gender and, even more importantly, sexism. Which explains, in part, why women are so passionate about sports."

Reading this quote inspired all kinds of questions for me. I have known for a while now that athletics is an important part of my life and my identity, but I had never thought about how sports played into questions of gender until now. It does seem to me that in swimming, I can transcend gender; I've trained alongside boys ever since I started, and I've always felt that I was treated as an equal. I grew up in a time when women had equal access to sports, and (at my level, anyway) female athletes seemed to be as visible as their male counterparts. However, this wasn’t always the case. I want to look into women's history in sports to see where we stand today, and see if there are any changes that could still be made to further women's opportunities in sports.

Before Title IX, the legislation that bans sex discrimination in schools in both athletics and academics, only 1 out of 27 girls played high school sports, there were no college scholarships for female athletes, and only two percent of overall collegiate athletic budgets went to women’s sports. Women’s sports were seen as recreational and not competitive, and so women missed out on many of the benefits that competition can bring, like setting goals, persevering through failure, and learning cooperation. Things started to change in the 1940s with the creation of the first woman's professional athletic team (The All-American Girls Baseball League) when the Major League Baseball Team was cancelled because of the war. Intercollegiate competition spread, more teams were created for women, but it soon became clear that women’s opportunities in sports were just not on the same level as men’s.   

I found this timeline on the history of Title IX on the website for the National Association of Women. Interestingly enough, while it has been extensively applied in athletics, Title IX of the Educational Amendments was enacted in 1972 because of sex discrimination in higher education. Working to get it to apply to athletics as well was an ordeal, particularly complicated in 1984 by the Supreme Court ruling that Title IX “applies only to the specific programs within an institution that receive specifically targeted federal funding.” This ruling essentially removed athletics from coverage under the amendment, but the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 remedied this problem by stating that Title IX applied to all of an educational institution’s programs if the institution received federal funding in any way, shape, or form. Title IX progressed further, with new measures to ensure compliance in educational institutions. The three primary areas that determine compliance are financial assistance for athletes, accommodation of athletic interests and abilities, and other programs areas.

Title IX has certainly worked in many respects. By 2001, one in every 2.5 girls played high school sports, 150,000 women played on collegiate sports teams, and there were millions of dollars available in scholarship money for Division 1 athletes. But there are other problems that have been created. Fewer women hold head coaching jobs on women’s teams than ever (42% of women’s college teams today compared with over 90% in 1972), and many collegiate teams (both women’s and men’s) are being cut because of compliance issues. For example, 10 of James Madison University’s teams had to be cut in 2007 so that the ratio of male-to-female student athletes would match the whole student population.

The James Madison cuts were particularly interesting because the legislation involved cuts to both men’s and women’s teams, although only 3 women’s teams were cut while 7 men’s teams suffered. The decision still stands; an appeal to the Supreme Court to reverse the decision was recently denied. The reason for the cuts came from the second approach to compliance, entitled “Interests and Abilities,” which stated that participation opportunities for male and female students must be substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments. Because James Madison has many more female students than male, their sports teams needed to reflect that but didn't. The university had been notified multiple times of their compliance violations but no action was taken, which was why the drastic cuts had to be enacted.

While I understand the compliance issue, I don’t think that I agree with this portion of the amendment. Athletes at a competitive Division-I school like James Madison already represent a very small portion of the population, and they are intentionally not open to the entire student body. Implementing more physical activities in general for women, like club sports or fitness classes, could address the real problem that the legislation references. I think that giving the athletes themselves the same opportunities regardless of their sex is the most important part, which is discussed in the third section of the legislation entitled “Other Areas.” James Madison was not in violation of this section of Title IX. By cutting these sports teams, the university denied opportunities to both women and men.

Perhaps even bigger than the problems at the collegiate level are issues of gender inequity in professional sports. Title IX does not cover professional sports, because they don’t involve educational institutions. Women don’t have nearly as many opportunities to become professional athletes as men do, and even when they do succeed at a professional level, their salaries are nowhere close to men’s. Women’s sports and competitions are rarely televised, and it’s much more difficult to see women’s competitions live, like a WNBA game or a women’s soccer match. These differences are causing women to be almost entirely excluding from a hugely lucrative sector of our economy, and it's causing a lack of female athletes as role models for young girls. If we want to continue to fix gender inequity in sports, then major changes are needed at the professional level.

After completing this project, I realize that even with the huge gains that women have made in athletics, they still have a long way to go before they can be considered equal to men. In turn, even though Title IX is considered to have been the solution to creating prospects for women in athletics, the compliance regulations have caused discrimination of their own. There are other issues at hand too, issues that deal with gender, that haven’t even begun to be considered. How does the gender binary play into elite athletics? How can we address questions of “fairness” in competition? That’s something I will begin to explore in my final web event.


Works Consulted

"10 Key Areas of Title IX." TitleIX.info. The Margaret Fund of NWLC. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.titleix.info/10-Key-Areas-of-Title-IX/Athletics.aspx>.

Bell, Richard C. "A History of Women in Sport Prior to Title IX." The Sport Journal. United States Sports Academy. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/history-women-sport-prior-title-ix>.

Bornstein, Kate. My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely. New York: Routledge, 1998. Print.

Brady, Erik. "James Madison's Hard Cuts Spur Title IX Debate." USA Today. Gannett, 19 Apr. 2007. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/other/2007-04-19-title-ix-jmu-cover_N.htm>.

Curtis, Mary, and Christine H.B. Grant. "About Title IX." Gender Equity in Sports. University of Iowa, 23 Feb. 2006. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/ge/aboutRE.html>.

"Education & Title IX: The Foundation for Equality." National Organization for Women (NOW). NOW. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.now.org/issues/title_ix/index.html>.

"Legislative History of Title IX." National Organization for Women (NOW). NOW. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.now.org/issues/title_ix/history.html>.

Welch, Susan. "Professional Sports: A Ball-Sized Gap Women Haven't Closed." Diversity Best Practices. Bonnier Corporation. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://www.diversitybestpractices.com/news-articles/professional-sports-ball-sized-gap-women-havent-closed>.


Anne Dalke's picture

Gender Outlawry?

you've traced an interesting history here, one that I think held several surprises for you (and a few for me!), particularly regarding the ways in which some compliance regulations, intended to reduce discrimination, have ended up causing further, unanticipated, forms of discrimination.Some years ago, for a couple of years, I co-taught a course on Women, Sport and Film, which began with the issues of social justice raised by Title IX, and went on to look beyond the legal (and economic) ramifications that you consider here, to think about the cultural ideals and questions of power that participating in sports raises for women -- along with the questions w/ which you end, concerning both the gender binary on which Title IX regulation is based and the presumptions of fairness which it intends to uphold.

I look forward to seeing where you will go w/ these lines of inquiry. There's quite a gap, for instance, between the line w/ which you open--"All female athletes are gender outlaws"--and those with which you close, such as your observation that women are "almost entirely excluded from a hugely lucrative sector of our economy." What's the relation between outlawry and economic access? (I'm thinking for some reason of Robin Hood…). Was it economics that Bornstein and Nelson were attending to, when they describe the female athlete who "goes beyond gender" to "transcend sexism"? What's the relationship between that transcendence and your interest in "furthering women's opportunities in sports"? In bell hooks' terms, is their project reformist or revolutionary? Which is yours?

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