How an Insult Led to Title IX Law Giving Girls Equal Education Access

I’m a day late recognizing the 38th anniversary of Title IX.

But it’s never too late to give a big shout out to Bernice Sandler, the woman responsible for initiating the law that for almost four decades now–long enough to see significant benefits to girls and the women they become–from removing barriers to access to equity in school sports and educational opportunities that used to be denied to females based solely on gender.

How much has changed? Let me tell you this story: When my occasionally impolitic husband, Alex, asked a friend’s soccer ace 8-year-old daughter Emily whether she was a tomboy, Emily replied without a trace of self-consciousness: “What’s that?”

You can be sure women have made serious progress when even the language that would have defined an athletic girl as an aberration from her gender just a generation before has disappeared from the lexicon. Emily learned a bevy of leadership skills from the team sport, and has had the sort of experience that boys have been learning as a matter of course forever but only recently have been available to girls. Physical mastery, for starters. How to be competitive and collegial at the same time. Building a team and the power of teamwork. How to win gracefully, and that losing isn’t the same thing as defeat. Strategic thinking—just to name a few. That girls who play sports are somewhat more likely to get higher education and to work in high-skilled but previously male-dominated jobs suggests that these leadership competencies pay off over the long haul.

Bernice SandlerEmily gets to play soccer in school thanks to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act to honor the late congresswoman who authored the law banning gender discrimination in federal funding of educational programs, including, for the first time, athletics. The impetus for this legislation came about when Bernice Sandler was turned down for a professor’s position. After a male faculty member told Sandler she hadn’t been hired because, “You come on too strong for a woman,” she realized she had no recourse against such discrimination unless new laws were written. Properly insulted, Sandler researched the laws and then located a supportive congresswoman to draft the remedy and champion it through to passage.

Gaining the right to an equal opportunity to play soccer is one thing. Choosing to take the opportunity to play is another. The same is true of all other opportunities women have today as a result of the trailblaing and door-opening done by generations of women before us.

That’s why it’s important to celebrate milestones: to make sure that Emily and her peers not only have the luxury of never thinking that playing sports makes them “tomboys” or in any way an aberration from the norm, but also so that they may learn their responsibility to ensure that future generations of girls and women can do the same.

GLORIA FELDT is the bestselling author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the honors she has been given, Vanity Fair named her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” she was named Glamour’s “Woman of the Year,” a She Knows Media Inspiring Woman, and a Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st century.

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, she has created the most comprehensive initiative to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025. The women’s leadership nonprofit offers a variety of training programs and workshops including the 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

3 thoughts on “How an Insult Led to Title IX Law Giving Girls Equal Education Access

  1. This post was reposted several times on Facebook and drew numerous “likes.”
    Facebook comments include:
    Alida Brill
    Thank you for reminding me,
    I had forgotten the date, but not those awful pre-Title IX days.
    Sue Katz
    Thanks – I would’ve hated to have missed this anniversary. I’ve reposted.
    Janina Serden Sebesky
    LOVE this!

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