By Jeremy Steinberger
In 1776, the Founding Fathers established the United States as a democratic society. In a democratic society, citizens have the ability to contribute and participate in all decision-making processes pertaining to their everyday life and the ability to hold others involved in making decisions accountable if they violate human rights. Also, all citizens must have all necessary resources available to them in order to be as successful as they can. Despite these ideals, prior to 1972, women in the United States saw extreme discrimination and social prejudice in society. As a result, in the 20th century Women’s Movements swept the country, hoping to make gender equity between men and women a reality. One of movement’s most significant gains was the passing of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, stating “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.” Through this law, for the first time, schools receiving federal funding were required to have equal educational programs for men and women, which prior to Title IX was not the case. One of Title IX’s most significant results was the opportunity women were granted to compete in sports at all levels. These changes were instrumental to the women’s fight to solidify their status in society. Before Title IX, women were not guaranteed their democratic right of having access to all potential resources to succeed in society. From the passing of the law, women gained numerous resources to thrive. Not only did they get the chance to compete and succeed in competitive sports, but women were also provided with far greater opportunities to prosper in society as a whole. However, failure to comply with the language of Title IX by society has resulted in gender equity in society to remain in question.
The passing of Title IX gave women an opportunity for success in society that they previously did not have, as the requirement for gender equity in all sports programs receiving federal funding resulted in the development of women’s sports leagues at all levels. This was a necessary step in establishing the ability for women to build successful athletic careers. Before 1972, the sports world’s primary focus was on men. Women could play sports, but without leagues or programs, they were unable to develop the necessary skills needed to pursue a career. During a time when women lacked basic rights, it is not surprising that society did not typically think of females as athletes. Sports are typically viewed as aggressive, physical, and masculine activities, thus women’s participation seemed unlikely. As a result, society left no opportunities for women to showcase their athletic talents and prove they could perform at a level similar to men. For such an unjust prohibition, the reasons behind the exclusion of females in sports are seen as completely ridiculous. Many believed that women who played sports would lose touch with feminine activities such as child-rearing, and start developing masculine traits such as being unable to have children, wanting to be men, or even start to developing masculine features, such as a mustache. This perception reflected the common belief that women were inferior to men. It was not believed that women possessed the characteristics men had that allowed them to be successful in society. Thus, when it came to sports, which were believed to be a very manly activity, women were never considered. The belief was also that the qualities gained from sports were not needed in a women’s life. Building character was essential to the life of a man, but for women, character was of no use. This lack of emphasis on women’s education was due to the perception in society that women’s purpose in the family composition was to be the housewife. For men, however, building character was necessary to complement their primary responsibility of providing for the family.
Title IX was passed in 1972, giving women gender equity in all educational programs that received federal funding. In a time when females were undermined in schools, as they were disallowed to participate in the same educational programs as men, Title IX’s initial focus was not on the athletes of our nation. Its purpose was to help solve the problems of discrimination on the educational level. Thus, the law called for equity in every educational program that received federal funding. Sports just happened be considered as an educational program, thus discrimination here had to end as well. The door was opened for the creation of female athletic programs in high school and college, which eventually led to the development of professional leagues for basketball and soccer such as the WNBA and the Women’s World Cup. Girls were able to compete in sports leagues as early as six years old, providing a foundation for their continued development and ability to achieve a successful career in sports. As girl’s exposure to sports increased, family’s attitudes towards their daughters and sports changed. “Nearly 90 percent of the 1,000 parents interviewed in a 1988 study viewed sports participation as important for their daughters as for their sons.” As a result of this increased participation, it became more and more of a societal norm for young girls to participate in sports to the point where today it is hard to imagine our society without the AYSO soccer girl and the soccer mom cheering from the sidelines. From previously being unheard of, the participation of young girls in sports is now encouraged and prominent. In fact, “In 1971 fewer than 300,000 high school girls participated in athletics. Today that number is close to three million, with almost half of all female high school students on a team.” From these opportunities in high school, athletes are able to gain the necessary skills and experience to continue to pursue their passions whether that be in college or beyond in professional female sports leagues. “In 1972 about 16,000 young women participated in college athletics, a number that has grown to over 180,000. The number of women’s teams per campus has increased from an average of 2.5 before 1972 to 8.5 in 2006.” Evidently, once women were able to become college athletes, they took full advantage of the opportunity.