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Another Birthday, Another Attack on Title IX

Title IX is 42 years old this week.  The law, which forced open the doors to education for women and girls, is well known for its impact in sports.  Even though many girls across the country still don’t receive equal opportunities to play sports [PDF], opponents of Title IX say the law has gone far enough. 

Case in point: To celebrate Title IX’s anniversary, Christina Hoff Sommers wrote a piece attacking Title IX, which Time Magazine published.  (She claims to be attacking the way the law has been implemented, not the law itself, but that’s a distinction without a difference because laws are always fleshed out in regulations and policies.)  Ms. Sommers’ thesis is that Title IX makes schools cut men’s teams to accommodate the addition of opportunities for women, which women don’t want because they’re not as interested in sports.  Ms. Sommers also urges exempting football from the law, something Congress explicitly rejected back in 1974.  Ironically, her arguments are exactly why Title IX was and is still necessary.

The stereotypical notion that girls are not as interested in sports as boys has been used for decades to deny girls opportunities to play.  Even in the modern era, these backwards ideas of what women can and should do perpetuate discrimination.  For example, Heather Sue Mercer won a Title IX case against Duke University for not letting her play after she earned a spot as a kicker on the football team.  The coach suggested that she should participate in beauty pageants rather than play football and sit in the stands with her boyfriend instead of on the sidelines with her teammates. 

Ms. Sommers scapegoats the law for some colleges’ decisions to cut lower-profile men’s teams.  But the facts reveal that many schools have added opportunities for women without cutting any teams, the courts have uniformly said that Title IX does not require or encourage schools to cut men’s sports, and men’s overall participation in college sports has continued to increase since Title IX.  It’s easier to distort the facts and the law and blame women’s groups, but here’s the truth:  Title IX has always allowed schools to comply in ways that don’t involve providing sports opportunities in proportion to women’s enrollment, and the majority of schools choose other ways.  No matter which way you slice it, though, most schools are so far from complying with the law that they have to add opportunities for women. 

After 42 years, it’s time to leave Ms. Sommers’s Mad Men ideas in the past where they belong.