Speaking of Women's Rights: Forty Years -- and the Race Goes On

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Forty Years -- and the Race Goes On

It’s gratifying for us here at Legal Voice to know we’ve helped bring about true change, and this week’s 40th anniversary of Title IX means we have plenty of smiles on our faces.  The Seattle Times recounted our historic first case, Blair v WSU , and interviewed Karen Blair Troianello, one of our first clients, as well as our then-director of litigation.  They (and others) reminisced about what it was like in the early years of Title IX, and how much has changed.

Has it?  Well, yes, mostly.  As the numerous  Title IX anniversary stories from all around the country attest, women athletes, women’s athletics, and sports in general have come a long way since June 23, 1972.   As someone who was just a tiny bit too old to have caught the full tide of the Title IX wave, I’m inspired and a little wistful as I read about the amazing accomplishments of girl and women athletes.  The recent French Open, in which the relatively small (5’4 ½”) Sara Errani gave the eventual winner, 6’2” Maria Sharapova, a real run for it, in some ways sums up the progress.  These two vastly physically dissimilar women are the 1st and 2nd ranked women tennis players in the world: anyone – yes, anyone – can excel at sports.

Title IX does not, of course, mean only that women and girls can play sports. It also means they can play their way into college and the advantages that higher education gives people in the U.S.  Indeed, women scholar-athletes graduate at higher rates than men in virtually all sports (overall, 88% to 73%).  

But athletics is about more than school, more than winning money.  It’s about life lessons, lifelong health, and character.   It’s not that you need sports to develop good character, nor that sports automatically leads to good values (are you there, Kobe Bryant, Adam “Pacman” Smith, et al.?)  Nonetheless, it’s heartening to read about athletes who transcend competition in favor of camaraderie, like the young woman in Ohio who helped her rival finish a race, even though both of them were disqualified.  Or the two softball players from Central Washington University who carried the batter from Western Oregon around the bases when she injured herself, resulting in CWU losing the game. 

And yet.   What was the reaction to the runner from Ohio? Rush Limbaugh berated her and decried the loss of “hard  manliness” (no, I would not make that phrase up).  Plenty of people pushed back at him, but the idea that this person would actually use an act of grace and kindness to pick on women and girls shows we are not “there” yet.   

This was brought home to me (again) when I read an otherwise laudable article in Pacific Northwest Magazine about people staying active as they get older.  One was a 65-year-old man who returned to track and field after several decades of inactivity.  His primary goals?  "One, be able to walk away in one piece; two, not get beat by a girl; and three, get a decent distance."  Really, sir? Your “hard manliness” would be at risk if a person with two X chromosomes could compete with you?

Keep at it, girls and women. It’s a long track, and the race is not yet over.