By Jaimie Woo, a Summer 2012 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern
In commemoration of Title IX’s 40th anniversary, Sen. Tom Harkin, D. Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, recognized four distinguished women who have made significant impacts in fields such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), athletics, health, and education.
During a June 19 committee hearing entitled “Forty Years and Counting: The Triumphs of Title IX,” Sens. Mike Enzi, R. Wyo., and Barbara Mikulski, D. Md., agreed with Harkin’s sentiments when he introduced the speakers as “not only role models for other women and girls, but role models for all of us.”
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs, and through its 40-year history, it not only has greatly expanded athletic opportunities for women, but also addressed gendered inequalities in education. In athletics, for instance, the Women’s Sports Foundation reports that female participation in high school sports has increased by 979% since Title IX was first enacted in 1972. Similarly, the number of women participating in intercollegiate athletics has more than quadrupled.
“If you ever question whether your public service in passing a law makes a difference in the individual lives of citizens, look no further than the impact Title IX has had on my life,” said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic swimming gold medalist and a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law. She identified three roles in her life – as a lawyer/professor, a female athlete, and a parent of a boy and twin girls – all of which have benefitted from the existence of Title IX. Hogshead-Makar cited several areas Title IX has helped address, such as sexual harassment, which affects more than 50 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys in grades 7-12, pregnancy discrimination and school resource allocation.
In addition to Hogshead-Makar, Dr. Mae Carol Jemison, the first woman of color to enter space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Rear Admiral Sanra L. Stosz, and Billy Jean King, former professional athlete and winner of 20 Wimbledon titles, shared how Title IX played a central role in their lives. Jemison stressed the link between athletics and commitment, discipline, physicality, confidence, and “how we see ourselves as humans.” “Reality leads fantasy,” she said, explaining that the “reality we create for our children today will determine the fantasies they have for tomorrow.”
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who participate in sports perform better in academics and develop healthier leadership skills. In 1975, men outpaced women in degrees. Today, women make up more than one-half of doctoral candidates.
“People think [Title IX is] just about sports, but that’s because athletes are so visible,” said King, who explained that Title IX addresses core issues facing our nation, including health, education, and equal rights. Jemison also discussed the difference Title IX made in space programs and STEM fields. “It changed expectations women had of themselves,” she said.
Since its passage 40 years ago, Title IX has promoted and provided equal opportunity for women in fields such as engineering, athletics, politics, and more. Women now make up more than 50 percent of college graduates.
Here’s to another 40 years of improvement.