Everyone talks about Title IX’s influence in the world of sports, which certainly isn’t surprising – the law was a landmark in the field of athletics. It ensured that young women and girls had the opportunity to get out there on a field, train, play on high school or college teams, and even become professional athletes.
Title IX is about more than the playing field. Title IX molded my education and opened dozens of doors for me (even though I officially swore off sports after I walked straight into a basketball pole, gave myself a concussion during a Little League game and then opted for the theater club instead).
I was able to go to school every day knowing that bullying and harassment based on my gender was illegal. I could consider which college I wanted to attend without fear that my gender would impede my goals or studies. While I never got into mathematics or the sciences, I had loads of female friends who joined advanced math or science research classes and were never made to feel strange for loving those subjects. If I had become pregnant, I would have known that the law was on my side to help me earn my high school degree. I went to a great university (go AU Eagles!), joined clubs, shared dorm space with interesting people from all over the country and the world – male and female – and took classes that interested me. I never thought twice about whether or not being a girl would have an effect on my education or my career – all thanks to Title IX.
The chances and opportunities given to young women all over the country by Title IX are just a few of the many reasons to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this important law. But during our blog carnival, let’s have a conversation over by the Cracker Jacks about the progress yet to be made.
We still have a long way to go before women achieve full equality in education.
Women and girls continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and classes. Eighth-grade boys and girls perform equally well on math assessment tests, but in a recent nationwide study of girls ages 14-17, 57% believed if they went into a STEM career, they would have to work harder than a man just to be taken seriously. And they aren’t coming up with this idea out of thin air – girls may be discouraged from pursuing those careers because they internalize pervasive stereotypes that women are not fit to succeed in those fields. The fact that women in many STEM departments are few and far between only perpetuates the problem. The story of Alexa Canady, the first African-American female neurosurgeon, exemplifies how ingrained these attitudes were only a few decades ago – Alexa had to deal with professors slipping pictures of naked women into lecture slideshows. I wish we had more examples of successful students like 18-year-old Shree , who is working as an intern in a lab at the National Institutes of Health this summer and will start her freshman year at Harvard University in the fall (Go Shree!). But Shree is an exception to the rule when it comes to girls entering careers in STEM fields – it’s time to change that.
Harrassment and bullying is still a problem – 48% of all elementary school teachers nationwide reported that they hear students make sexist remarks at their school, and one-third of students have heard kids at school say that girls or boys should not do or wear certain things because of their gender. Fifty-six percent of students who don’t conform to traditional gender norms say that they are bullied at school and 85% of LGBT students report being verbally harassed, with 64% being verbally harassed because of their gender expression. Parents should be made aware of the rights provided by Title IX to protect their children and use them – like Bobby Brugger, who discovered Title IX in a Google search for a way to help her daughter, Leia, who was being bullied at school, and used it to make the school a better learning environment.
Pregnant and parenting students still don’t graduate at the same rates and face discrimination in school – only about one-half of teen mothers get a high school diploma by age 22, compared with 89% of women who do not have a child during their teen years. One-third of teenage mothers never get a G.E.D. or diploma, and less than 2% of young teenage mothers attain a college degree by age 30. Lisette Orellana was a good student and courageously kept going to classes despite her school’s lack of support, which included teachers who had previously been her biggest cheerleaders telling her to drop classes and even muttering “I don’t know why she even bothers to come to class. She’s going nowhere” within earshot.
Despite these stumbling blocks, Title IX broke down barriers across the board, and was an important first step in ensuring equality regardless of gender. The law shaped the education of millions of girls – including myself, my sister, and my friends. Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come in the past 40 years and get excited about how much more we can do with Title IX.