For 50 years, Title IX has transformed the education of girls and women. The work is not done yet

Opinions on Title IX differ widely by gender and party, especially when it comes to the impact of Title IX on sports.

Lisa Napper, a Howard University student leader who co-produced a documentary about the experiences of Black women survivors of sexual assault on campus, speaks at the White House on Jan. 19, 2016, with other campus leaders and then-Vice President Joe Biden. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and activities, including sexual harassment or sexual violence. (Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“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 educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972

This year marks the 50th anniversary of those few words that dramatically changed the landscape of educational opportunities for girls and women over the last half century.

Title IX categorically prohibits institutions that receive federal funds from practicing gender discrimination in educational programs or activities. Because almost all schools receive federal funds, the law applies in almost all educational settings.

Although it covers all educational programs, most people associate Title IX with athletics, where it has certainly had a profound effect on girls and women. Before Title IX, women and girls were virtually excluded from most sports opportunities in schools. Only 7 percent of all high school athletes were girls, and women received a measly two percent of school sports budgets. Athletic scholarships for women were simply non-existent.

There is no doubt that the law changed school sports programs and practices, but has it changed the way people think about gender and equal opportunities in sports? To find out, the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC did a national survey to measure knowledge and attitudes about Title IX 50 years after its passage.

While much of the survey is encouraging, it also shows that there is still a long way to go when it comes to full public support for equal opportunities in sport for women and girls. To begin with, many are simply not paying attention. Of the original sample of 9,388 people chosen for the survey, only 50 percent had “heard or read” about Title IX (37 percent said “a little” and only 13 percent said “a lot”).

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Women over the age of 50 were more likely to have heard of the law than younger women. (It’s a safe bet that a large number of those women over 50 were banned from participating in school sports before the law was passed.)

Simply put, among those who know about Title IX, there are political and gender gaps in the way they think about it. Racial or ethnic information was not included in the survey.

  • Half of men said athletic funding should be the same for all genders, but twice as many men said funding should be based on the amount of money generated as women (30 percent vs. 14 percent respectively).
  • Women were much more likely (71 percent) than men (50 percent) to say that college sports should be funded equally regardless of gender.
  • Women (39 percent) are also more likely than men (31 percent) to say that not enough emphasis is placed on girls participating in youth sports. Not too surprisingly, women are also much more likely (42 percent) than men (29 percent) to say too much emphasis is placed on children’s participation.
  • There are significant partisan gaps when it comes to turnout, with Democrats much more likely than Republicans to say too much emphasis is placed on children (45 percent vs. 25 percent). The same is true when it comes to very little emphasis on girls (44 percent Dem., 26 percent Rep.).
  • Democratic women are especially likely to say Title IX hasn’t gone far enough: 60 percent, compared to 42 percent of Democratic men. Just 27 percent of Republican women agree, while a measly 13 percent of their male counterparts say the law should go further.
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Given that men are undoubtedly still the majority when it comes to keeping up with sports in general, it’s disheartening that almost a third of them say that equal treatment should depend on “how much money a guy brings in.” team”. School sports are supposed to be about opportunity, not money. Regardless of the impropriety of using the almighty dollar as the yardstick of value to begin with, men’s sports had a 100+ year head start in fan development and revenue generation. It is very unfair to expect women to catch up instantly.

As in most struggles for gender equality, the work is not done yet. But there is still reason to celebrate the successes and positive attitudes about Title IX 50 years later. Without it, boys and men would still own sports, and girls and women would still be relegated to cheering them on with pom-poms and cute smiles from the sidelines.

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