Gender Equity: The Title IX Debate Rages On

Little more than 30 years ago, the Educational Amendments including the famous (infamous?) Title IX section that prohibits sexual discrimination in all education institutions that receive federal funding. Title IX states 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 program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Since its implementation in 1972, Title IX has meant huge increases in athletic scholarships for female athletes as well as the addition of countless women’s teams in programs previously dominated by men’s sports teams. This has also meant more opportunities for higher education for women that would not have been possible before. The way it claims to level the “playing field” for women in sports is by requiring the proportion of female to male athletes to be equal to that of the general student body. It also requires funding for men’s and women’s athletic programs to be proportionally equivalent. So if 60% of the students at your high school were women, 60% of the athletes at the school should be women, right? This is not the reality in the majority of high schools and universities across the nation. While UVM has done better than many other schools in this aspect, currently boasting 54% athletes to its 60% female student body, many problems of sexual inequities persist. A study done by the Women’s Sports Foundation in 2001 reported that women are only one-third of interscholastic and intercollegiate athletes. It was also reported that women receive less than 28% of college sports’ operating budgets and college recruiting money. At UVM, the men’s hockey program at has been around since the ’63/’64 season, but it took the athletic program almost 30 years after Title IX was passed to even have a women’s club hockey team. The men’s team also offers 18 full scholarships while the women’s team, which moved up to Division I this season, offers none. However unfair this seems, it is understandable that it will take a new program quite a while to be established as a good program and able to attract the caliber of players who deserve full scholarships. The current debate about Title IX has critics claiming that by adding women’s sports in universities and high schools, it takes away so much from the men’s programs that the amendment has actually done more harm than good. These critics fail to consider that participation from male athletes has increased along with female athletes in schools nationwide. There is also the fact that 67% of the administrators of athletic programs are men and in turn, make the decisions about which programs are cut and which are added (Women’s Sports Foundation 2001). For example, if a school like The University of Michigan wanted to add a women’s ice hockey team, rather than cutting the men’s gymnastics, swimming or wrestling teams, which has been the general trend in other programs, it could decrease its football scholarships from 85 to 65 and continue funding all of the men’s teams as well as starting a women’s hockey program. Do they really need 114 people on a football team? Even the New England Patriots only have 70 men on their roster. UVM Softball coach Pam Childs commented on this problem, saying, “Who runs collegiate athletics? Men. They have made the decisions to cut men’s sports rather than balance the budget and keep all the sports going.” Childs has been the softball coach at UVM since 1985 and was the field hockey coach through 1997. While she admits that Title IX has done a lot of positive things for women in sports, Childs believes that there is still much to be done. At UVM, three of our women’s varsity teams are coached entirely by women (lacrosse, softball, and tennis), three are coached entirely by men (swimming, hockey, and track), and four are coached by a combination of men and women (soccer, field hockey, skiing and basketball). When asked about this situation and how it is perceived by the players and coaches themselves, UVM women’s head soccer coach Jodi Kenyon said, “It’s a little bit disheartening that we don’t have more female coaches here, but I don’t think that someone is going to react better one way or another. It should always be the best candidate for the position.” It is seen as normal to have a male head coach for a women’s team, in fact according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, half of all women’s teams are coached by men, but only two percent of men’s teams are coached by women. Says Childs, “Society tells us that men aren’t actually supposed to listen to women. A lot of women are comfortable with it (having a male head coach) because society tells us that that’s how it is.” While it is still often hard for women to be involved in this enterprise which is dominated by men, there are still many options for women to stay involved in sports. The UVM women’s tennis coach, Muff Parsons-Reinardt, who has won the America East Coach of the Year Award three times since 1990, mentioned the U.S. Tennis Association as a great option for her players who want to stay involved. There are tournaments in which people of all skill level are welcomed to play. Interestingly enough, it took UVM 13 years to put Parsons-Reinhardt on as a full time staff member, the same time they hired Denis Miller as the women’s hockey head coach. There are not a tremendous amount of options for women to play professional sports. If they are good enough, which is a very small percentage of people who play college sports, there are a few different leagues such as the Ladies Professional Golf Association, or the Women’s Pro Bowling Association. Then there’s the United States Pro Volleyball, the WNBA, the Women’s Pro Football League, the Women’s Pro Softball League, the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s United Soccer Association. There is no way that all of the women that play high school or collegiate sports will play in one of these professional leagues, nor will all the men who play sports. The problem is that the critics of Title IX are advocating making it easier to spend more money on the development of men’s programs and less and less on women’s programs because they say that fewer women are “interested” in athletics anyway. It is true that fewer women play sports right now, but at the same time, Title IX has really only had one generation of women to bring up believing that playing sports doesn’t mean you are like a man, or that you must be gay because you play sports. We need more time to continue getting women and girls involved in order to really make things equal for the women who do want to play. So pick up a raquet or pick up a ball, and get out there, ladies!