Speaking of Women's Rights: Title IX Pop Quiz

Friday, June 22, 2012

Title IX Pop Quiz

by Amy Shebeck

What do the following have in common?

  1. Application forms for professional schools with colors corresponding to the assumed gender of the applicant: blue for medical school and pink for nursing school.
  2. A women’s basketball team with three players who could dribble down one half of the court, and three who could dribble down the other, because each player was deemed too delicate to handle the full court. 
  3. A girl’s Physical Education grade determined by the number of showers she took, and a monitor standing by the shower stalls to count.
No - the answer is not "these are all part of the plot of Margaret Atwood’s latest novel". Instead, they were the reality for women and girls in school sports and graduate admissions until 40 years ago this Sunday. That's when Title IX was enacted, banning sex discrimination and sexual harassment in educational institutions receiving federal funds.

At a press conference celebrating Title IX’s anniversary at the University of Washington Women’s Center this morning, these were the stories Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden and other community leaders shared from their own experiences to show how much changed as a result of Title IX, not only for women’s sports, but for course enrollments, career counseling and opportunities, financial aid, and non-athletic extracurricular activities. Title IX opened the doors to institutions previously reserved for men, and then demanded that these new environments be free from harassment, allowing women and girls to study and play safely and with dignity.

When I applied to law school three years ago, no one discouraged me, and certainly not because of my gender. I have Title IX to thank for that—indeed, to thank for helping create a society where the idea of being automatically unqualified because of my gender would have never crossed my mind. But would the same be true if I had been applying to engineering school? Or for a college coaching job, where the number of women coaching both men and women’s teams has been steeply declining for decades? What if I were Skye Wyatt, a 16-year old Texas softball player whose coaches staged a fake team meeting, locked her in a room alone with them, yelled at her and threatened her about her sexuality, then outed her to her mother and kicked her off the team?

The anniversary of Title IX means both celebrating how incredibly far we’ve come, and realistically assessing the steep road ahead to ensuring that every person can enjoy the educational experiences that lead to self-fulfillment. We may no longer live in a world where girls aren’t allowed to play the full basketball court, but we mustn’t take for granted how those gains were made—or ever stop imagining and fighting for the successes we’ll be celebrating forty years from now.

Amy Shebeck is a summer intern with Legal Voice and a rising 3L at the University of Washington School of Law. Title IX is directly responsible for her stint as catcher and clean-up hitter on various softball teams growing up, as well as several much-loved scars on her knees.