On June 23, 1972, Congress passed the federal law that has become known as 'Title IX.' It succinctly states:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
Within a few years, the sexist practice of requiring girls to take ³home-maker² classes such as Cooking and Sewing -- and boys courses such as Metal and Wood Shop was discontinued. It is taking much longer to reach the point where girls and boys are both encouraged to excel in math and science classes.
The widespread practice of admitting only 5 to 10 percent women students to graduate schools, in such fields as Law and Medicine, was eliminated. Now women comprise at least fifty percent of the students in most of these professional schools.
Thus, Title IX has had a major impact on the academic opportunities and recognition of girls and women. But there is one area in which the battle for equal opportunity, while making significant progress, still has quite a way to go. That area is athletics.
Before Title IX was passed in 1972, only 1 out of 27 girls was given the opportunity to participate on a high school athletic team. That figure has since improved to 1 out of every 2.5 girls. Girls now comprise 41.1% of high school athletes nationwide.
In California, 278,284 girls and 386,248 boys had the opportunity to participate on a high school athletic team in 2005-06. That¹s 107,964 more opportunities for boys than for girls.
Worse -- indeed, significantly worse -- at the 107 community colleges in CA in the 2005-06 school year, women were only 33% of the athletes. That figure represents a 1% decrease since the 2000-01 school year. This level continues to lag behind other educational levels in providing equal athletic opportunity for women.
Setting an example for the whole country, the 22 campus California State University system made significant gains after the California National Organization for Women (CA NOW) filed suit against them in 1993. In the late 1980¹s, the percentage of women athletes had actually declined from 36% to 30%, in violation of both state and federal law. Women now account for over 50% of the athletes on almost all of the CSU campuses, receiving significantly more funding and an equitable share of scholarship dollars.
Fifteen years ago you didn¹t have the dilemma of deciding whether to watch a WNBA game on a major network, the NCAA Women¹s Softball World Series on ESPN or 6 and 7-year- old girls play softball in a nearby park on a Saturday morning in early June.
Polls show the public overwhelmingly supports equality in educational and athletic opportunities -- a dramatic change from several decades ago. But there are those who are working to weaken Title IX.
You can find out how the two- and four-year colleges and universities in your area are doing at: http://ope.ed.gov/athletics
How are things at your local high school? Are there three basketball teams for the boys, but only two for the girls? Do the girls¹ teams get new uniforms as often as the boys¹ teams? Would the baseball team be willing to trade facilities with the softball team? Do the girls feel that the school is supportive of their athletic efforts or are they made to feel somehow second-tier?
In 2004, California was the first state to pass a law promising equal access to facilities, participation opportunities and resources provided by city and county recreation departments. How is your local Parks and Recreation District doing when it comes to implementing this new law?
All students, male and female, deserve a high-quality educational and athletic experience. What are you going to do to make sure this promise of equal opportunity is a reality? Find out more about Title IX on the CA NOW website www.canow.org.
Mandy Benson is President of the California Chapter of National Organization for Women.