I spent the weekend playing with my daughter, not realizing that Saturday was the 40th anniversary of a law that impacts both of us. Had I known, we might have celebrated. Well, as much as a nearly six-month-old can celebrate anything, that is.
To honor the achievement of Title IX, I’d like to give a quick history lesson. The legislation was signed into law on June 23, 1972 by President Richard Nixon and says this: “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.”
That’s it. It’s such a simple sentence – such a basic idea – and yet it does so much. And it doesn’t just affect women, although that is who benefitted the most from the law in 1972 and in years since.
In a recent Indianapolis Star article, the bill’s author, former Indiana Congressman Birch Bayh said at the time he knew the legislation was just the right thing to do. He’d grown up surrounded by strong women and he recognized that they should have the same ability as he did to attend college and be employed.
Title IX applies to a wonderful variety of issues: access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing and technology. It is a vital piece of legislation for our higher education and workforce – opening up the playing field for women educators and innovators, business women and athletes.
And while Bayh hadn’t anticipated that the literal “playing field” would be opened up and affect high school and college athletics the way it has over the past 40 years (virtually changing the landscape of athletics across the nation), that is what most people associate with Title IX, typically without realizing the vast many other topics to which the law applies.
I’m sure I’ve never given this much thought to Title IX. For me, this was just what I was expected to do: get good grades and play sports (I played golf, tennis and basketball), apply for and get accepted at the college of my choice, and follow my desires to a career in journalism and writing. I’ve never before paused at any of those fundamental freedoms that I have enjoyed.
It’s not been until I had my own child that the importance of this law has truly dawned on me – to know that just 40 years ago many of our mothers were either not allowed or didn’t have the option of playing organized sports in high school because they were girls. That they could be turned away from the college or university of choice because they checked the box marked “Female.”
It is amazing how far we have come that just two generations apart have such starkly different opportunities.
So, cheers to a one-sentence, life- and society-changing piece of legislation written by an Indiana congressman 40 years ago. I think we will celebrate with some pureed pears.