Friday, May 25, 2012

Title IX in My Life--And Yours

A few weeks ago I was talking to my daughter's track coach about the SHARP Title IX conference that took place in Ann Arbor. Yes, she said, she had gotten an email about it. But in the course of our conversation it became clear that she (who was born after Title IX) really didn't understand the impact of Title IX. Two weeks later, it became clear to me that my son didn't either. Maybe that's not surprising, given that he's only twelve, but he did reject it as an interesting topic to write about as a sportswriter for the school newspaper. And then last night, it became clear to me that another mom on my son's baseball team--of a similar age to me--had only the vaguest notion of how her daughter's educational opportunities were affected by Title IX. Yet in the case of the track coach, in the case of my son and his classmates, and in the case of my friend's daughter, Title IX has had a tremendous impact on their opportunities.

Title IX is a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding.
Many people have never heard of Title IX.  Most people who know about Title IX think it applies only to sports, but athletics is only one of 10 key areas addressed by the law. These areas are: Access to Higher Education, Career Education, Education for Pregnant and Parenting Students, Employment, Learning Environment, Math and Science, Sexual Harassment, Standardized Testing and Technology. (From

So I thought I'd set down, for the record, some ways in which I am aware that Title IX directly affected my life, and the life of the girls in my hometown. The Title IX blog recently had a post where they described these as the "little moments" of Title IX. We do need to document these! I know I was not alone. Thousands of girls around the country had similar experiences.

1. I went to a middle school that was run separately from the high school, but was physically attached to the high school and was simply in a different wing of the building. There were two gyms in the building. The small gym was in the middle school wing, and the large gym was in the high school. When I was in seventh grade, all of the girls, grades 7-12, had gym in the small gym; all of the boys had gym in the large gym. In eighth grade, the building use changed. The middle schoolers got the small gym; the high schoolers got the large gym. (Also in eighth grade, we got to stop wearing silly one-piece uniforms in gym, but that is besides the Title IX point--although it did definitely affect my enjoyment of gym, which we had four days a week!)

2. In seventh grade, I took home economics (cooking). All of the girls did. It was a requirement. All of the boys took wood shop. I didn't mind cooking, but I didn't want to take sewing. That was the eighth grade home ec. requirement for girls. They wouldn't let me sign up for metal shop though. I was a girl. My father appealed to the assistant principal. Said assistant principal told him it was against the law to let girls take industrial arts. My father asked him to cite the law. When he couldn't find it, my father left--and called the ACLU. The ACLU informed him about Title IX (which at that point was a few years old), and they wrote a letter to the school district threatening further action. They must have also put out a press release, because I remember that the issue made it into the local newspaper. The district changed its policy.

We can't leave aside the part that in the end, I was the only girl in the class, and if my dad hadn't gone to a lot of trouble for me I would have dropped out of industrial arts, because I was somewhat shy. Because the point is that my parents did go to bat for me, and actually, parent advocacy is a huge part of Title IX's success.

We can't leave aside the part that the teacher gave me an "A" for a project that was, objectively, terrible. This was an action I didn't understand until a few years later, when I realized it was his way of being supportive of the fact that I took a risk. And I do think that the industrial arts teachers--and probably the home ec. teachers too--were very supportive. If you think about it, giving students choices doubled their potential audience of students. In fact, when my brother, two years later, took home ec., one-third of the class was boys; and when he took industrial arts, one-third of the class was girls. In other words, because of one apparently small decision, things changed rather quickly.

3. I ran track in high school, but there was no girls' cross country team. When a group of us decided we wanted to start a girls' cross country team, Coach Miller was able to say yes. He was able to say yes because of the Title IX mandate.

4. And after years of advocacy on the part of my friends Denise and Anne, in our twelfth grade year the district agreed to add girls' soccer. We were on the first team. That was because of Title IX. It's not an accident that a couple of years ago the soccer team I helped start won the New York state championships. It's a legacy of Title IX.  (Two years ago I wrote about soccer, Title IX, and the Skyline soccer team here.)

What's your Title IX story? 


  1. Love the industrial arts story. Good job!

  2. While I am no expert on Title IX, I certainly recognize that our world would be very different without it.

    My own "little moment" is that my older sister was in junior high when the girls had synchronized swimming her first year. I think it was her second year that a real swim team for girls came about. It made a huge difference in her life, and mine, too, because I joined it in 7th grade. Being on the swim team gave me more self-confidence, it made me want to better myself, it contributed to a healthy sense of competition, and it gave me a feeling of belonging. I swam till I graduated, and I can't imagine being denied that opportunity.

    Ruth, you had great stories. I don't know whether girls were allowed in "shop" classes during my era, but my youngest sister did take a couple classes in junior high! (Now I just mourn for the loss of shop and home ec to ALL kids. They are long gone in Ypsi. Do they exist in Ann Arbor?)

    - YpsiAnon

  3. As far as I know there are no shop or home ec. classes in middle school in Ann Arbor. There are some building construction classes in Ann Arbor high school--but I don't think they are available to the student who wants to take one or two classes. Your question made me wonder what replaced it. When I was in high school I did yearbook and newspaper, and my friends did Model UN, all as extra-curricular activities. And now, those are all classes you can sign up for.