Last weekend was the 40th anniversary of Title IX. On June 23, 1972, Congress decreed that “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.”
To commemorate that anniversary, Nike unleashed a campaign called “The Power of IX.” You may have seen this ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1ighxU1vYw. It is the most moving, inspirational commercial I’ve seen in years.
Usually, I prefer to avoid thinking about politics, but that ad campaign, plus reading a great op-ed piece by President Obama, got me thinking: What is the power of IX?
There’s the sports aspect. Growing up, I never thought about not getting to play sports because of my gender. I played soccer, basketball, softball, even tennis (er, briefly) and finally laced up my first running shoes, and never once did I hear “Well, but you’re a girl…that’s not for you.” I just accepted it as the natural order of things.
Then I learned a little history. As running ingrained itself into me, I read up on its pioneers, especially the women. There was Kathrine Switzer, who ran the 1967 Boston Marathon registered androgynously as “K. Switzer”; the race director tried (unsuccessfully) to physically remove her from the course. How about Ingrid Kristiansen, who remains the only runner ever to simultaneously hold the world record in the 5k, 10k, and marathon? And of course Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first women’s Olympic marathon champion in 1984. When Joan was a newbie runner, she would stop and pretend to be picking flowers whenever a car passed.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
But Title IX covered more than just sports. It also opened up opportunities in all kinds of careers. Not only can girls stride confidently onto playing fields now, but into the academic world and beyond that, the business world. Math? Science? Running had Joan Benoit Samuelson; science had Sally Ride. Interestingly, even though girls have stormed playing fields, they haven’t stormed (as much) the fields of science, technology, engineering and math – a.k.a. STEM. Do we need more female role models in those fields? Or is it that there are role models; they’re just not on medal podiums or Wheaties boxes? I don’t know. If any ladies reading this are pursuing STEM careers, hats off to you. You are awesome.
Maybe the best gift of Title IX is the power of recognition. With Title IX, women can look back at those pioneers with respect and admiration, not curiosity or scorn. We recognize them with gratitude for creating opportunities we now just accept as, like I said, the natural order of things. Title IX also gives us the power to recognize…yes…men! In 1972, most lawmakers were men, yet an enlightened group of them realized the error in keeping women from sports, from politics, from “hard” careers. Here’s to those men. Here’s also to the men who support us women in our forays into all of those arenas: family members, spouses, everyone. Cheers.
The Power of IX? I think we’ve only just begun to see it. In the next few months, I’m sure we’ll all get sick and tired of politics – but the piece of politics called Title IX? That one did good.