The Difference Sports Participation and Title IX Have Made Amanda Sprouse The United States of America was built, ideologically speaking, as an escape from a regimented way of life. It was based, in theory, on freedom of expression. However, it was built by white men, for white men. Every major institution was created through a new constitution; a set of laws that would allow men the freedoms they were not capable of attaining in their homeland. Not once were women taken into consideration; at that time it was absurd to even think of allowing women these very same freedoms. Since the beginning, the very socialization of women was against them living their lives as free individuals. Hundreds of years later, much has changed for women. Perhaps one of the most dramatic shifts has taken place in the world of female athletics where, to a certain degree, the establishment of professional athletics for women is now a reality.
This is due, in large part, to the introduction of the Educational Amendments of 1972. Title IX, which came from these amendments, states that: 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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Although athletics are not the specific target for Title IX, they have become a focal point due to the fact that it governs colleges, elementary schools, and high schools. As mentioned above, the patriarchal system in which we live has led to the political socialization of women as inferior to men. Two examples of this are that our constitution refers to a human being as a man and that women are expected to give up their name, an important part of one’s identity, when they marry.
This argument includes a socialization basis of sexism, which states that the inequality of sexes is based on the variation of the socialization each receives. This way of thinking was evident in every inch of women’s lives. It held them back in exercise, but more importantly, it held them back in education and employment opportunities. Vast improvements have been made over the years, particularly in the last twenty-five since Title IX was enacted. In 1972, women earned 9% of medical degrees.
Three years ago, that percentage was up to 38%. The percentages look better in terms of law degrees, where women went from earning 7% of law degrees to earning 43% of them. Since 1977, the percent of females earning doctoral degrees moved from 25 to 44%. All of these increases give reason to celebrate what Title IX has accomplished. However, for those who have been in constant battle in the long war against sexism, these statistics are seen as long past due and still not up to par.
Sex discrimination has been passed down from generation to generation and even with the womens movement and laws like Title IX, the fight continues to be lop-sided and in favor of men. There are many complaints about the slow moving progress of Title IX. However slow this progress may seem, statistics indicate improvement and that is worthwhile. This is particularly obvious in the athletic arena: Female participation in athletics has increased dramatically since 1971, when there was only an 8% participation rate among high school girls. By the 1994-95 school year, it rose to a staggering 40%. Meanwhile, boys participation has remained fairly stable.
These statistics are a stumbling block to the arguments of Title IX opponents. They claim that Title IX should not be enforced in college athletics because there is a lack of athletic interest on the part of college females. The fact that high school participation is only 10% away from a 50-50-participation rate indicates a lack of opportunity in college athletics, not a lack of interest. Quite obviously, women today have an unprecedented amount of freedom compared to those raised a mere twenty-five years ago. Today, more girls are encouraged to participate in sports and other activities.
They are able to dream about being bigger and better than girls of the past. College is now a viable option in a young woman’s decision for post high school plans. An occupation, beyond being a wife and mother, is well within reach. What is important about all of these changes in respect to female socialization is that they are no longer fantasy, they are reality. Just knowing this has important implications for the paths that girls and young women can and will now choose. As female participation became acceptable, many little girls and parents jumped on the opportunity to take part.
Like female dress codes that once kept women from wearing trousers, the negative attitudes slowly began to erode. Of course, stereotypes and myths surrounding the physical inferiority of females continued and jokes like, you throw like a girl are still made. However, the athletic ability of females was finally seen publicly and at that point, their rise in sports was inevitable. Soon, talent scouts began to see the potential to make money, which led them to see the potential futures for young women. The emergence of female participation in the Olympics as well as professional tennis played a major role in cracking the masculine sports line-up. Opportunity is perhaps the biggest factor that changed what had limited women for so long.
As women competed publicly, they gained more respect, but more importantly, they became role models for millions of little girls and young women who could now truly dream about a life in professional sports. They no longer have to dream about being the only female on a professional team because there are now both male and female leagues. The fact that women are competing on national television has continued to break down stereotypes that women are incapable of being competitive, intense, physically strong, and skilled. Public exposure is one of the most important ways in which women can continue to gain access to opportunity. The last dimension of power is process.
People work hard to strengthen their power and hold others back. This is an on-going process of struggle that, for a very long time, white men controlled completely. Since this ability is based on the accessibility of resources, white men had an automatic advantage. Family wealth and property could be handed down to sons, not daughters. Women were excluded from inheriting money, the most important material resource our world knows. This provided white men with the ability to use their supremacy in order to place constraints on female opportunity.
White men were able to unite so that they could protect their interests, which were basically to maintain their positions of power. Title IX is important in breaking down this process because it has enabled women to unite and fight back. Two years after the introduction of this law, the Women’s Sports Foundation was founded by Billie Jean King and Donna de Varona, two of the first women to successfully compete in professional sports. Today, other female role models like Jackie Joyner Kersee, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Picabo Street support this establishment, whose slogan reads: GIVING GIRLS A CHANCE TO PLAY.10 This program works to ensure that girls are given the same opportunities as boys and to teach women about their rights. By understanding how female participation in sports has helped to change the socialization of women, much can be done to make progress in other areas of women’s lives. The strengths that have been hidden and denied for so long can finally begin to be recognized in full, which will allow women to be stronger and more confident contributors to society.
Since sports are some of the most public events, they are of the best ways for women to express their strength and ability to be as effective as men are. This can be a major factor in breaking down sexist barriers that still exist. When people have more open-minded attitudes about female abilities, it opens the door for women to be convinced of their qualifications, gain hope, and perceive increased opportunity. Changes in attitudes can do more than anything else to make a difference in what a person is able to achieve. Title IX has been one of the most influential laws with respect to women, and specifically female athletes, because it required, among other things, gender equity in athletics.
Subsequently, today’s female student-athletes have been fortunate enough to experience the whole of their athletic careers under a system that includes improvements in the overall quality of their sport as well as increased participation rates. Both of these were unheard of by women a generation ahead of them. Most importantly, Title IX has helped to change the socialization of girls and women. This has provided them with more opportunities in educational and occupational arenas as well as in life. Now, amidst controversy and comparisons to affirmative action, it is critical to be aware of the opportunities that Title IX gives to women in what is still a male dominated world. For this reason, its existence is necessary and requires a greater effort to enforce gender equity for continued progress.
Increased female participation in sports and Title IX have changed the political socialization of girls and young women. Both have challenged and continue to destroy myths that women are inferior to men. They fight stereotypes that women do not have interest in traditionally male-dominated activities. By breaking down these barriers, female opportunity can only continue to soar.