This Saturday marked the fortieth anniversary of Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex. To say I’m not sporty may be an understatement. True story: I fulfilled my high school team sport requirement with a short-lived stint on the bowling team, during which I devoted more attention to my calculus homework than to perfecting my strikes and spares. I am about as likely to hit a baseball as to hit the lotto jackpot. I am far from a poster child for the common perception of a Title IX beneficiary: one of the girls who entered school sports in droves. The number of girls participating in sports in elementary and secondary schools rose from 295,000 the year Title IX was enacted to 3.2 million in the last school year.
But there’s a lot more to love about the law than the paths it cleared for women of the sporty persuasion. If you’re like me and not a fan of what Mitt Romney and I call “sport,” here are some other great reasons to be on board—and push for enforcement of the law to go even further:
1. Education: Remember the days of home ec and shop class, when Jane was taught how to cook, clean and be a perfect mother and Dick was given access to power tools? We can thank Title IX for putting those days in the past. Schools can no longer shut girls out of certain courses because they are deemed “inappropriate” for the feminine sensibility, nor can boys be barred from learning how to bake. It goes further than those extracurriculars, however. It mandates equality of opportunity all the way through career counseling, admissions, recruitment, outreachand retention.
Even so, our workforce still remains highly gender-segregated, which is at least partly because girls and boys take different directions in school. Boys still earn more credits in physics, computer science, engineering and science classes. In the 2003–04 school year, three-quarters of the students in higher education programs in computer sciences, engineering and technology were men. Girls are still facing barriers when it comes to taking classes in STEM fields.
2. Earnings and Employment: Women are working hard to close the gender wage gap and move into male-dominated career paths. And Title IX has given them a huge boost. Research by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers found that “the post-Title IX generation of women enjoyed more education, employment and higher wages than their pre-Title IX forebears. They were also more likely to enter previously male-dominated professions such as law, accounting and even sports.” This is actually partly a result of the athletic opportunities opened up by Title IX: Stevenson and Wolfers found that those opportunities play “an important role in the educational and labor force gains made by the women going to school after the legislation.” When those who played sports are compared to those who didn’t with similar educational opportunities, family backgrounds, intelligence and self-esteem, the athletes see an average 7 percent higher annual wages and get an average half-year more education. That’s true for girls and boys alike.
Title IX also opened career paths to women within academia that were formerly shut off. Before Title IX, most female teachers worked in elementary and secondary schools, and those who taught in colleges were usually relegated to women’s colleges, often weren’t awarded tenure, earned smaller salaries than men and rarely made it to high-level administrative positions. While women in education still experience a wage gap and are under-represented in top positions, the gap has narrowed and there is now a higher number of female faculty members and top administrators.
3. Harassment: Title IX is not actually explicitly about sports. What it is explicitly about is prohibiting schools that discriminate on the basis of sex from receiving federal funds. That means any bullying or harassment based on sex, including sexual harassment, harassment based on a student’s failure to conform to gender stereotypes, and sexual assault is not tolerated. Any school district or college where harassment that interferes or limits any student’s ability to participate in his or her education—and it does apply to both boys and girls—is encouraged, tolerated or allowed to go unaddressed violate Title IX.
Unfortunately, even with this law on the books, harassment remains prevalent. Nearly half of all elementary school teachers report hearing students make sexist remarks at school. That harassment can follow students throughout their educational progress. About half of students in grades seven through twelve reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in the last school year. Nearly two-thirds of college students say they have been sexually harassed.
We still have progress to make until women experience full equality in educational opportunities. But if Title IX were enforced to the full extent of the law, we’d be pretty darn close. I may not have played field hockey in high school or basketball in college, but I am still a Title IX beneficiary because I took shop in middle school, science courses in college and was better protected from harassment than women who came before me. Non-sporty girls and boys of the world: Title IX is for us too.