Title IX: More than Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice

When Coach C. Vivian Stringer and Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan accepted their places in the Nasmith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, both of them talked extensively about a time before girls were allowed play basketball in a competitive setting. Both legendary coaches described playing on the schoolyard, in mixed teams, until the girls hit puberty and then they got to be cheerleaders and the boys got to play basketball. Coach Stringer discussed her journey through the basketball world long before Title IX came into being. Coach Sloan acknowledged that the girls were always better than the boys. By the time Title IX was enacted in 1972, both coaches were past their playing days but were able to witness and usher in a new world of sports, a world opened up for women as the Federal government demanded equal funding opportunities for all educational programs, including sports, for institutions receiving Federal Education Funding.

While women’s participation in sport has increased 847% since the passage of the legendary act, what is more important is the leveling of the playing field as women are seeing educational opportunities open up in ways that their mothers and their grandmothers never saw. Within two generations, the retiring coaches will not remember a time before the passage of Title IX.

Title IX was the most important piece of legislation passed for women since they earned the right to vote in 1920; “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. ” While the legacy of this legislation has come to be synonymous with women’s athletic programs, the educational assistance on the whole has increased women’s participation in higher education and increased access to and information on: career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and technology. As a result, women’s participation in all aspects of the workplace has increased and changed the face of American business and even, to a point, American politics. But as American sports culture goes, so goes American culture and Title IX’s influence on the athleticism of young women has changed the face of America forever.

As the Women’s Movement rose to a fevered pitch in the late sixties and spilled over into the seventies, women found themselves faced with more rights than they had ever held in the past. Birth control allowed for sexual freedom and the landmark Supreme Court Decision, Roe v. Wade (1973) held that “prior to approximately the end of the first trimester the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician …” This decision built on provisions such as the one in Title IX’s documentation, which granted that “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require or prohibit any person, or public or private entity, to provide or pay for any benefit or service, including the use of facilities, related to an abortion. Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit a penalty to be imposed on any person or individual because such person or individual is seeking or has received any benefit or service related to a legal abortion.” Cases and situations like this catapulted the women’s movement to the next level and the population began taking notice of the performance of girls and young women as they moved through the school system and into the workforce. Better education and more access to it have changed the face of the court system, the hospital, and even the educational system.

Without Title IX, not only sports but educational opportunities in general for women would still be lacking and women would still be faced with few options – on or off the court. While there is evidence to support that in some instances, Title IX has actually harmed smaller aspects of men’s sports, the evidence is circumstantial and ignores the draw in money and power that high school and college teams have for men’s athletics. In April of this year, Christina Hoff Summers argued in the Washington Post that President Barack Obama’s expansion and enforcement of Title IX would serve to harm science programs at colleges and universities when they did not meet percentages and quotas for female involvement. Arguing that, “Indeed, Title IX has contributed to significant progress in women’s athletics — but at what cost to male student athletics? Consider the situation at Washington’s Howard University. In 2007, the Women’s Sports Foundation, a powerful Title IX advocacy group, gave Howard an “F” grade because of its 24-percentage-point “proportionality gap”: Howard’s student body was 67 percent female, but women constituted only 43 percent of its athletic program. In 2002, Howard cut men’s wrestling and baseball and added women’s bowling, but that did little to narrow the gap. Unless it sends almost half of its remaining male athletes to the locker room, Howard will remain blacklisted and legally vulnerable. Former Howard wrestling coach Wade Hughes sums up the problem this way: “The impact of Title IX’s proportionality standard has been disastrous because . . . far more males than females are seeking to take part in athletics.” Given the success of male sporting programs overall, the millions upon millions of dollars that are poured into male-dominated sports programs at universities nationwide, and the widening gap between male and female wages in the workforce, it can be argued that Title IX is serving men just fine.

Sloan and Stringer spoke not only to how far we have come in the world of sports, but also to a tragic misstep in the social evolution of American society. The idea that young girls were allowed to be rough and tumble with the boys until puberty when, with the emergence of breasts they are no longer able to handle the hard stuff (like childbirth), has given rise to generation after generation of girls not believing they were worth the same as their male counterparts. As American Sports go, so does American society and the media salivates at the chance to turn athletes into kings. Even as more and more young men show off gymnastic prowess in the cheerleading arena and more girls are allowed access to sports beyond gymnastics and swimming, there is still a lagging in the social consciousness of American life. While honored NBA players are lauded with love in the NBA “Where Amazing Happens” PR campaign, the WNBA equivalent is given a title that is simple, to the point, and degrading. “Expect Great” quips former Tennessee women’s basketball star and number one WNBA draft pick Candace Parker as she looks at the camera, and even the set of her shoulders and the tone of her voice relays her frustration at many of the truths in the fight between men’s and women’s sports. A number one draft pick in the NBA can earn as much as four million dollars in a rookie contract and the league minimum in the NBA is just over $470,000 a year. Candace, who went number one in the draft in 2008 will make less than a Nashville Police Officer II with a college degree – just over $44,000. Yet, in a sad twist of irony, Candace would not be able to sit in front of that camera without what Title IX has given her generation of female athletes.

Candace Parker is one of thousands of female athletes who, after experiencing the rush and the success of what Title IX offered them in school, found harsh reality in the real world. Soccer idol Mia Hamm, who rose to success and popularity as the star of the UNC Women’s Soccer Team and later a star of the US Women’s team, was thought to be the catalyst to bring women’s soccer to the United States on a level not yet seen in professional sports. With the WNBA’s success, it was thought women’s sports would be a no brainer. Gatorade advertisements showed her going up against former UNC basketball star Michael Jordan as “anything you can do I can do better” played in the background. The soccer league folded after just a few years.

Perhaps though, the worrisome fallout of the Title IX success is not the misleading argument regarding a falloff men’s participation in sports at the college and high school level but the pay scale for women as they enter the workforce following college. Despite the majority of baccalaureate earners being female, the wages for women have not kept up with the change in the graduation rate. As a result, instead of wages rising for women as they enter the workforce, wages on the whole have gone down and when a previously male-dominated occupation makes the switch to being female dominated, the wages do not reflect progress but a definite regression as recent information by the National Center for Education Statistics confirmed regarding pay scales for men and women across the board:

Among bachelor’s degree recipients who were employed full time one year after graduation in 1994 and 2001, women earned less than men in both cohorts. Furthermore, the gender gap in salaries may have been widening. For example, in both cohorts, men who majored in engineering, mathematics, and science fields earned higher average annual salaries than women who majored in these fields ($33,300 vs. $27,900 in 1994 and $45,200 vs. $34,200 in 2001, respectively). In other words, women with degrees in these fields earned, on average, $5,400 less than men or roughly 84 percent of what men earned in 1994, and about $11,000 less than men or 76 percent of what men earned in 2001. Also, in 2001, about one-half of men in these fields (51 percent) earned $45,000 or more, compared with about one-fourth of women.

Other studies show that when an organization has a majority of women employed, the work becomes “feminized” and as a result is considered less valuable by the workforce. Veronica I. Arreola, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Bio-Engineering Program stated that, “Bioengineering has been growing to the point where we could see a 50/50 split of women and men majoring, and there have been some reports of salary staying flat or going down. Engineering fields where women are less than 20 percent pay more.” Is this education and employment racing ahead of social sensibility or is it a lack of understanding of women for their own payroll? In addition, health benefits and other perks of full time employment that comes about as a result of a good education are often not extended in the same way to women. With pregnancy, certain kinds of cancers, and even domestic abuse considered to be pre-existing conditions, the equality that has been enforced by our federally funded educational institutions has not extended to a billions of dollars per year industry that also receives federal breaks and funding.

But in the end, it is often the pop culture discussion that proves whether something has been a success or failure. The same real world consequence of Title IX that we feel in our daily lives also extends to the hazy world of cyberspace and the legions of women who are inspired by characters who would not, did not, and could not have existed prior to Title IX’s passage. As Title IX demanded equality for women in education, the very characters in television drama who would have benefited from that equality are now inspiring the next generation of women. Shows that range from medical to police procedural show strong women in positions of leadership. The result is generations of women who are now inspired into police, political, and medical work in places other than the secretary or the assistant and take female characters beyond the first inspiration of Mary Richards and Murphy Brown. Female characters like Law and Order: SVU:’s Detective Olivia Benson, the fierce sexual crimes detective who owns her job with honor and who owns her sexuality with pride; The West Wing’s CJ Cregg, the no nonsense press secretary who moved through the ranks to become the first, and only (in any universe), female White House Chief of Staff; and House’s Cuddy, the take no prisoners hospital administrator, more and more women on television are more than emotional, clinging stereotypes or approned mothers. They are complete human beings with loves, losses, educations, and time spent in high school and college sports programs to match the attitudes they bring. More often than not, the relationships on the shows are not full of trite clichés but wrapped into honest human emotion and are written by women, women who benefited from education given to them at schools that comply with Title IX.

These are not merely strong women, they are educated, athletic women, in charge of the choices they make with their bodies and their careers and they are a reflection of not only what we want to see in society, but where we are as a society. And it is a change that is good. As Anna Quindlen stated in 2002, “Every time a girl plays little league, every time a father assumes his daughter is as likely to go to college as his son, every time no one looks twice at a female cop or balks at a female surgeon, it is a moment in history, radical and ordinary both at the same time.”

Blumenthal, Karen. “Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX. The Law that Changed the Future of Girls in America.” Simon and Schuester. New York, NY. 2005. Print.

Griffin, Pat. “Women in Sport: A Journey Toward Equality.” Women: Images and Realities A Multi-Cultural Anthology. 4th Ed. Kesselman, A.; McNair, L.; Schniedwind, N. McGraw Hill Press. 2006. Print.

Harding, Kate. “For Girls: A Major Bummer.” Salon.com Salon, 10 Aug. 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2009

Organ, Mike and Patton, Maurice. “Candace Parker’s Unique Appeal Could Boost Pro Game.” WBIR.com. 10 April, 2008. Web. 5 Nov. 2009.

Pemberton, Cynthia. “More than a Game: One Woman’s Fight for Gender Equality in Sport.” Northeastern University Press. Boston, MA. 2002. Print.

“Roe v Wade.” Westlaw Summary: “Handbook of Selected Court Cases for Wadsworth American Government Texts.” Wadsworth Publishing. 1998. Print.

Sommers, Christina Hoff. “A Threat in Title IX.” The Washington Post. Washington Post, 14 April 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2009.

Works/Sources Cited:

Department of Labor (dol.gov): “Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972; Sections 1681-1688.”
Justice.gov: “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”

National Center for Education Statistics (nces.ed.gov): “Gender Differences in Post Secondary Education.” 2008.

NBA.com: Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Newyorktimes.com: “Why is Her Paycheck Smaller.” March 2009.

Time.com: “The State of the American Woman.” October 2009.

Titleixinfo.com: “Myths and Facts about Title IX.”

Whitehouse.gov: Women’s Issues


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