A couple years ago, I was assisting a student in one of my restorative yoga classes, when she and I got in a conversation about the wrist brace she was wearing. She summarized her doctor’s diagnosis as “the three Fs: fat, female and 40-plus.” Although she conceded she had arthritis, she expressed her doctor’s belief that these “three Fs” were inevitable problems.
I was reminded of this incident as I read the Women’s Sports Foundation‘s press release about Title IX turning 40. As the women’s rights legislation matures, proponents also realize how much work remains to be done.
For those unfamiliar with Title IX, it’s an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In its original form, Title IX made it easier for minorities to get a fair trial by allowing civil rights cases to be moved from state to federal courts. In 1972, it was amended to include: “No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid.”
Over the years, “Title IX” has come to be synonymous with equal access to and participation in school sports for both boys and girls. It is this aspect that the Women’s Sports Foundation is highlighting during its yearlong celebration of the law’s 40th birthday, from June 2011 through June 2012.
Much has changed since 1972, as the foundation points out: Then, one in 27 girls participated in varsity sports; now, two in five do. Nevertheless, girls today still have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to participate in high school sports than boys, and 60,000 fewer opportunities in college.
Billie Jean King, who founded the Women’s Sports Foundation, said, “Title IX has been and continues to be the driving force behind providing women and girls more opportunities in sports, but as we enter Title IX’s 40th year the gaps between boys and girls are still substantial. As a community, it’s our duty to provide these opportunities for both girls and boys and everyone should have a chance to play.”
The benefits of school sports participation – from weight control and better all-around health, to improved problem-solving skills and teamwork – are well-documented. In addition to myriad anecdotal observations, there is a sizable body of research on the topic (here‘s an example).
School sports programs are as much at risk of elimination caused by cuts to Nevada’s education budget as other extracurricular programs, such as visual arts and music. Sports like soccer and softball are the last to be funded by individual schools, which favor more popular programs like football and baseball. These also tend to be dominated by males. Girls’ opportunities for school sports in our state, therefore, are unlikely to increase in the foreseeable future.
It will be up to parents, community leaders and non-governmental organizations to fill the gap. An example of how this can be done is GoGirlGo!, a community program of the Women’s Sports Foundation. It currently has chapters in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York and Seattle; none in Las Vegas. But the website offers grants, handbooks and other materials for people who need help getting girls’ sports programs off the ground.
In any case, Title IX’s anniversary serves as a reminder for people who care about the health and well-being of girls to do what they can to support equal access to sports. Otherwise, Title IX too may fall victim to the “fat, female and 40-plus” mentality.