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Title IX and our daughters’ futures
As the father of three daughters, a 1972 amendment to federal law called “Title IX” is of special importance to me.
The meat of the law is very short, just 37 words: “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.”
Given the wide selection of girls’ sports offered even at our small high schools in Livingston County — including basketball, soccer, swimming, volleyball, cross-country, track and field, lacrosse, softball, tennis and cheerleading — it’s hard to believe that prior to 1972 there were few opportunities for would-be female athletes to strive for perfection, teamwork and physical fitness.
Because of Title IX, I never need to worry that Miryam, Clara and Eliza will be able to have a shot at high school glory on the playing field — and a chance to earn the valuable college scholarships that often follow. Whichever university they choose to attend, by law, will offer female athletes the same equal opportunity to participate in sports.
Title IX is most associated with sports, but its scope is far broader — including academic and technical programs. When I was a student, high schools offered top students a fairly equal selection of “college-bound” courses, but for those students who did not plan to attend college, the approach was more segregated. In those cases, my school steered girls into typing and stenography classes while boys were encouraged to take auto mechanics, welding, electrical engineering and carpentry. After graduation, this meant that the boys could demand higher wages and were sometimes positioned to start their own businesses.
Because of Title IX, I have confidence that my little princesses, if they choose, will be able to learn to frame and wire a house in the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership’s extraordinary homebuilding class, or learn to rebuild an automobile transmission or take a robotics class. Likewise, if Milo thinks he might want to become a nurse, a hairstylist or an office manager, I expect our local school system to support his ambitions.
Title IX has created in America a society where it’s much easier to imagine a man or a woman in any profession you can name. Ask a Kindergartener to draw a picture of a doctor, police officer or firefighter today and they are now more likely to make their figure a woman.
Forty years hasn’t been enough time for all the promises raised by Title IX to be a reality. Starting in middle school, there is still a measurable performance gap between boys and girls in the fields of math and science. Traditional “shop” classes are still dominated by boys. The opportunity might be there, as per the letter of the law, but schools can offer yet more leadership to stimulate girls’ interest in non-traditional careers.
However, it is a reason to celebrate that the world my girls will graduate into over the next 15 years is a far different place than the one my female classmates encountered 25 years ago.