Congress passed Title IX on June 23, 1972, exactly 40 years ago tomorrow. Women of my generation and younger never knew what the world without Title IX looked like, and yet we still don’t know what it feels like to be truly equal either. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
Many people know of Title IX as pertaining to equal participation and treatment for women in athletics programs, but Title IX’s protections extend far beyond the sports arena. It prohibits sex discrimination in education, including in academics, athletic programs, and in other extra-curricular activities. It applies to public and private schools that receive federal funds (which is basically all of them). 20 U.S.C. 1681(a) (2012); 34 C.F.R. Part 106. Notably, Title IX requires schools to prevent and address sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Sadly, despite having 40 years to comply with the law, many schools fall short of fulfilling Title IX’s promise of equal opportunity in education. For example, many schools fail to provide equal athletic opportunities and treatment for their female students. Many schools, including my own alma mater, also fail to address sexual harassment and sexual violence adequately.
Since reading Ryan Quinn’s The Fall, which I reviewed, I’ve been thinking more about what I believe is one of the biggest obstacles to women’s equality in education: American football culture. Quinn’s novel features a college campus where football players are “treated like gods.” The team’s bigotry toward gay students, primarily perpetrated by a handful of players but tolerated by many more, is readily apparent. Although the book focuses more on homophobia than on sexism, homophobia is connected to sexism because it relies on traditional gender stereotyping and hierarchical roles.
Homophobic, sexist football culture perpetuates sexual violence. University of Colorado, for example, became the subject of a lawsuit after football players and recruits sexually assaulted two young women. The program had paired recruits with women to show them a “good time” and had a history of assaults related to the football team. Simpson v. Univ. of Colorado, 500 F.3d 1170 (2007). In the Office for Civil Rights case against my alma mater, linked above, the underlying events centered on sexual harassment perpetrated by a fraternity connected with the football team and, at one time, with George W. Bush. One example of their sexually harassing behavior in the fall of 2010 was when fraternity pledges, standing near an area where many women lived, shouted loudly, “No means yes! Yes means anal!”
To me, athletic equity and the right to be free from sexual harassment and violence are inextricably linked. If schools gave women proportional athletic opportunities and treatment, as the law requires, it would go a long way toward dismantling the sexually hostile and homophobic components of football culture. Football teams would not receive as much money, assuming more of the budget would be directed at women’s teams, and the school would finally treat women’s sports as equal to men’s sports, sending the message that women should be respected and treated as equals.
Everyone would win, including the male wrestlers, who inexplicably always seem to blame Title IX for cuts to their teams when, really, everyone loses to football, including the players themselves, who suffer brain injuries and have reduced lifespans. Football is a dangerous, expensive sport with a ridiculous number of specialized coaches who are often paid high salaries and given all kinds of costly perks. Contrary to what many people believe, football teams are rarely profit-making, especially not for smaller schools or schools with bad teams. Football programs often require a great deal of institutional support that, in my opinion, should be directed at academics. My guess is that pumping more money into less expensive sports, instead of into football, would provide ample athletic opportunities for both men and women.
So, schools spend a lot of money on a sport that encourages a sexist and homophobic environment and is actually killing its players, all of which raises the question: WHY? Why can’t students and alumni rally around women’s and men’s tennis or soccer instead? A basic cost-benefit analysis suggests we should.