The month of June almost squeaked by without me mentioning the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a clause of the Federal Educational Amendments that makes it illegal for any education program or activity receiving federal financial aid to discriminate on the basis of sex.
Practically speaking, most of us think of Title IX in relation to women’s collegiate sports participation and funding, although it has myriad other applications as well: access to course offerings and other school activities, sexual harassment and assault, hazing, housing, health insurance, and so much more.
Title IX is a milestone in the process of achieving gender equality, in tandem with the 19th Amendment of 1920, which, as you know, granted women the right to vote — a right that others in our country have held for the past 233 years.
President Nixon signed Title IX into law on June 23, 1972, but, as with so many other civil rights, the road to Title IX was decades long and was paved by individuals who championed this landmark legislation. Many would never personally enjoy the freedom, independence and opportunity that would come as a result of Title IX, but they were comforted by the promise that future generations of women would not experience the discrimination they had: the lack of access to the sports they wanted to play, the narrower range of college options available to them, the limited repertoire of classes they wanted to take and subjects they wanted to major in, the job choices they’d have once they completed their education, the spouses they could marry, the prescribed acceptable paths their lives could take.
Born just a few years before Title IX became law, I was able do things that my grandmothers never imagined was possible and that my mother could have only dreamed about. I would like to think that my daughters will see the doors of equality opened even wider.
As a woman, and as a mother of two teen daughters, I don’t take this for granted. Women’s rights, always precarious, became a bit more secure under Title IX and some of the other equal opportunity laws that followed in its wake. I’ve watched my daughters thrive through playing sports, by having jobs and managing their personal finances, by imagining about where they might live and what they might do with their lives, unimpeded by their gender.
All these experiences give my kids the information they need to make good choices for themselves. It doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes, but they are empowered to act with confidence in their own decisions — as long as they have the right and freedom to make these choices for themselves.
Happy 50th birthday, Title IX. Long may you live.