The other day in the locker room at the Aquatic Center, another woman and I started talking about the Master's swim team we both belong to. It's a coached program of specific drills and timed sets.
We were moaning and groaning about something when she started remembering the team she swam for in high school.
"What about you?" she said. "What were your practices like? Who was your coach?"
"Me?" I said. "I'm a post-Title IX gal. We didn't have girls teams when I went to high school, and certainly not in college. I never had a coach. We played in the streets where we begged the boys to let us play. We sneaked into the gym. We had water ballet."
Then this fellow swimmer, a twenty-something woman, a teacher, stared right at me and asked: "What's Title IX?"
That sort of floored me. Was her question the usual amnesia or rolling of the eyes that some people of the younger persuasion emit when folks like me dare to start talking about the "women's movement" and the enormous effect it's had on our -- make that their -- lives?
Had she really not heard of this major attempt at the federal level to equal things out between men and women? Or did she think we always had such extensive women's programs in our schools and city programs?
I wonder if she knew that in the '60s, at Cornell University's College of Agriculture, for instance, it was commonly known that women could only be admitted with SAT scores 30 to 40 points higher than men.
Or if she knew that women could only get into the University of North Carolina if they lived in a dorm. Except there were very few dorms. And men could live anywhere they wanted.
So what's Title IX? In 1972, Congress passed legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in higher education by adding Title IX to the Education Amendments Act.
Its key stipulation states: "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."
Which meant that all public elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools -- as well as city recreation departments and nonprofit organizations receiving federal funds -- had to offer the same opportunities in sports to girls that they offered to boys.
In my circle -- contemporaries who graduated high school and/or college in the '60s -- Title IX (pronounced Title Nine) was huge. Or at least it was supposed to be.
While girls no longer have to take home economics instead of shop, and elementary schools no longer post girlsí and boysí entrances, women still earn 67 cents to every manís dollar, young girls are still not encouraged to take math and science classes.
And people still point to Title IX -- and the obvious improvements it brought for women in sports -- as the reason for not pushing towards an equal rights amendment.
But level the playing field in sports, it did.
Check it out: Thirty years ago, one in every 27 high school girls played a sport. After Title IX, one out of every 2.5 high school girls is now an athlete. There are now 2.8 million girls in high school who play sports, an 800 percent increase from pre-Title IX days.
So much for the argument that girls didnít play sports because they didnít want to. I knew that 25 years ago when I started giving a class in Chicago entitled, "Sports for Women Who Are Afraid of Sports" (or as one woman told me, "Sports for Women Who Were Afraid to Like Sports").
Tell that to all the girls on all the teams in this city. Tell that to the 12-year-old softball player I know who burns my hand with every throw.
But wouldn't you know it. Despite Title IX, women still receive 42 percent of all athletic opportunities, 42 percent of all scholarship dollars, 36 percent of all sports budgets.
This, while women college students outnumber men on campus 60-to-40. (At Armstrong Atlantic State University, women represent 70 percent of the student body).
Then, to beat the band, there are people who love to blame Title IX for the demise of some menís sports programs and the cutback in some football scholarships.
Not the bloated salaries paid to coaches.
Not the country club locker rooms or the elaborate training facilities.
Not the fact that in very few Division I schools do football program pay for themselves. Many run deficits.
Just last week I heard the head of the NCAA on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" say that out of the 350 largest Division I football programs, only 12 make money.
Still, Iíll admit it. Like most people, my biggest beef is personal.
Darn, I wanted to tell that woman in the locker room: With a little coaching, a lot of hard work, some competition to push me, I COULD HAVE BEEN A CONTENDER!
Jane Fishman can be
reached at email@example.com.
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