Recently I read a 2003 snippet by a running coach who was working with women over 50 and he mentioned, “remember, these women grew up in a pre-Title IX world.”
At the time of the article, I’d just turned 50. So, he was basically talking about me. For some reason, I was taken aback by the category: pre-Title IX.
Basically, for any woman under 40, Title IX is probably known more as a great clothing store for female athletes of every stripe, I love the store, though I can hardly afford it most of the time. The Real Title IX was a 1972 amendment to the Education Act and states simply:
“No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
What that means in practical terms is this: prior to Title IX, women’s sports in public schools was neither a mandatory part of a girl’s education, nor was it funded. That meant you could, if you were lucky enough to go to a school that valued sports (I did), have and participate in swimming, tennis, softball, track, whatever…only if the school felt like offering it to girls.
A funny thing: my realization around Title IX and my generation comes at the same time that I’m beginning the series Mad Men–which takes place in my early youth, early 60’s. The sexism and lack of focus on health–physical and otherwise–is terribly familiar to me, and I’m happy to say I’ve forgotten most of it and think we live in a pretty good age right now. But growing up female in that world, well, funny looking fashion aside, it sort of sucked.
I’ve talked about the situation of girls growing up now with a few of my generationally-related business guy-friends–about how important it is for a girl to learn how to compete, to push her limits out, to stretch herself. To feel competent and able, confident and strong. A lot of these guys have daughters who are in college and their perspective is interesting: they love how strong their daughters are, they hike and run with them, they support them in a million ways and take great pride and pleasure in their accomplishments.
But they also, like I, grew up in a world that was anything but supportive of girls and physical accomplishment, and they likely never gave it another thought. Some thing are definitely getting better.
So here’s to Congresswoman Patsy Mink, (yet another brilliant and forceful legislator from the great state of Hawaii) who wrote the legislative under-pinnings of Title IX and fought so hard to bring it to life. It wasn’t easy, and when it was passed, it was still heavily criticized and disregarded. Were it not for a lot of women and young girls demanding their rights, it might have lingered for a long long time.