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Celebrating Title IX: On Track for Equality, Beyond the Sports Field

By Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon

This week marks forty years since the passage of Title IX, an amendment that forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in public education or in any educational program or activity receiving federal funding. Also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, Title IX has a long history of being associated with women’s access to sports programs but the law has much wider, perhaps less visible, applications for gender equity in education.

At a congressional briefing on Wednesday, June 20, the National Coalition for Women & Girls in Education (NCWGE), of which IWPR is a proud member,  presented their newly released report Title IX: Working to Ensure Gender Equity in Education with findings on how Title IX is impacting areas such as access to education for pregnant and parenting students, sexual harassment in schools and colleges, single-sex education, and education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and career and technical education. Congresswoman Gwen Moore addressed the significant milestone of the fortieth anniversary, but also cautioned that there is still much work to be done to achieve equality in educational programs. Even with successful women as role models some young girls still hold very limited ideas about what careers are right for them. “This ought to be a point at which we can break through,” said Moore of the fortieth anniversary.

According to the panelists at the briefing, the biggest hurdle to advancing equality in education is low awareness of what Title IX entails, such as lesser-known requirements aimed at improving access to education for pregnant or parenting students. Even though Title IX clearly makes this illegal, some schools still use pregnancy or motherhood as a reason for excluding girls from school.

A lack of awareness about Title IX requirements affects how sexual harassment and same-sex education programs are addressed in schools. Catherine Hill, Director of Research at AAUW, framed the sexual harassment problem as a need to make administrators understand that the law requires simply providing the same protections from harassment to students as to faculty and staff. “We want schools to not just react but to prevent sexual harassment,” said Hill.

Galen Sherwin of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spoke about the growing trend of sex-segregated educational initiatives. Limited research has been done in this area yet—because anecdotal evidence suggests they work—educators are implementing these programs in direct violation of Title IX requirements. These types of programs sometimes teach girls by using examples involving makeup and wedding dresses, while teaching boys with themes from sports and hunting. According to Sherwin, most often these programs are small-scale and go unnoticed by school district authorities. When an individual program is discovered, actions are taken but such a reactive response is unlikely stop such practices nationally.

Panelist Betty Shanahan, Executive Director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, emphasized the need to open up STEM fields to women and people of color and “leverage our nation’s strength—our diversity.” Shanahan said, since women who leave engineering programs tend to have higher GPAs than the men who choose to stay in these programs, “we don’t need to fix the women, we need to fix the environments.” A recent IWPR briefing paper, cited in the report, uncovered an alarming trend of a decline of women studying STEM fields at community colleges within the last decade.

The panel participants agreed that Title IX was crucially important legislation and, in the past forty years, women have made great strides in education. The biggest take away from the briefing was that most people are not even aware of what Title IX covers. Panelists emphasized the need to both encourage and insist on compliance in a carrot and stick approach. Suggestions for improving compliance with Title IX included requiring the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education to conduct compliance reviews and encouraging school districts to conduct their own self-evaluations.

Ann DeMeulenaere Weedon is Communications Intern with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Apparently, Women Don’t Run

A Woman Running
See, women do run!

When I was five years old, I scarred my arm. Racing boys on the playground was always one of my favorite activities (I LOVED that they hated losing to a girl and they lost to me often) and when I had the lead over one of the boys, he tripped me so he could win, and I ripped my arm open.
Twenty years later, I am still running and I am currently training for a half marathon. It’s been 35 years since the passage of Title IX and its guaranteed 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 education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, “ essentially guaranteeing women an equal opportunity to participate in sports – along with equal access in all areas of education including admission to college, law, and medical school and the opportunity to participate in previously gender stereotyped classes such shop for girls or home economics for boys. As a daughter of Title IX, my sports career always flourished through field hockey, soccer, track, swimming, lacrosse, and ultimate Frisbee. It never struck me as odd that a girl would enjoy participating in sports.
So, imagine my surprise when I walked into the bookstore to grab the most recent issue of Runner’s World (I was excited about their Winter Fitness issue) and I could not find it. I searched fitness, I searched sports, and I couldn’t find anything. “Strange,” I thought, “Runner’s World is a pretty major magazine.” Then, just I gave up hope; there it was under “Men” right there with those girls in bikinis magazines like Maxim, FHM, Stuff, etc. Oddly enough the magazines for other sports such as cycling, hiking, skiing, and Sports Illustrated were in the fitness/sports section where they belonged. “Maybe it’s a mistake I thought,” but upon further examination, this was no mistake. The magazines were being restocked and ALL the running magazines were right there in the men’s section. Apparently, women don’t run or are not interested in running.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of outrage over running’s classification as a men’s interest. Who was this bookstore to tell me that running is a “men’s” interest? In actuality, women have been running since the beginning of human history. Ancient Greek and Egyptian women ran believing it improved their fertility. Greek myths celebrated Nike, the winged, female goddess of victory (and perhaps the namesake of the incredibly popular running shoes) and Atalantis, the woman who was raised by wolves to become a fast runner. She would only marry the man who could beat her in race.
Granted women’s running suffered many setbacks in history including many attempts to discredit women’s running; women were not officially allowed to compete in the Olympics until 1928. They could not run the 1,500 meters until 1972 (the same year Title IX passed) and the women’s marathon was kept out of the Olympics until 1984! Through all of those challenges, women kept running, either in their own events or as bandits in the men’s races. Currently, running is enormously popular among women who run for competition, companionship, charity, the challenge, or simply just to feel good and healthy. Like men, women run and have success at all levels; from the woman just trying to make it through her first mile on the treadmill as part of her New Year’s resolution to the women who win major, elite races. Runner’s World has even been edited by women such as Claire Kowalchik (also the author of The Complete Book of Running for Women) and many of its writers and editors are women. The magazine is clearly written for a co-ed audience. So, why is it I have to go to the men’s section to find a magazine about a hobby many women and men enjoy? Is someone trying to tell me that in 2007 someone still believes women cannot or do not want to run?
- Ashley English

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