Happy Birthday, Title IX!

“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”

When Title IX was passed 40 years ago this month, even its supporters likely did not predict how great its effects would be on the lives of girls and women today. Even though the actual law itself is short, its impact can be felt in areas ranging from the reduction of sexual harassment incidents in middle schools to the promotion of women workers in nontraditional field such as engineering. Today, when people think of Title IX, they often think of sports and how the law opened up opportunities for female athletes in schools, which means they overlook the many other aspects of women’s lives that have been improved. Recently, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Title IX ,the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Educations released a report, Title IX at 40: Working to Ensure Gender Equity in Education, detailing all of these others areas that have benefited from  its passage. There was also a hearing held on Capitol Hill to discuss these different interests, and while part of the report talks about Title IX’s impact on athletics, the hearing instead focused on the other benefits that often go ignored.

 

One of the most forgotten outcomes of the law regards pregnant and parenting students. Lara Kauffman, of the American Association for University Women (AAUW), explained how before Title IX, many young women who became pregnant were forced to drop out of high school, effectively ruining their chances of gaining higher education. By reducing the pressure that caused them to drop out, Title IX has allowed many girls to graduate high school on time, ensuring the opportunity for brighter futures. However, there is still progress to be made in order to ensure that girls are aware of the right to an equal education that Title IX affords them.

Another place where discrimination can occur is in single-sex classrooms, which divide boys and girls based on the idea that they require different teaching styles. Galen Sherwin from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) related in the briefing that this practice often ends up just reinforcing old stereotypes and typical gender roles. This ultimately can create situations where lessons are focused on math and science for boys and English and social sciences for girls, even though there is no concrete evidence one sex is better than the other in any of these subjects. Title IX is often successful in preventing the detrimental effects of gender stereotypes in the classroom.

It is because of the ideologies behind single sex classrooms that many women remain underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.  As Betty Shanahan, the CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, and WOW’s own Susan Rees discussed, before Title IX, most women were turned away from classes in STEM fields, or discouraged from going into more technical careers. However, with Title IX making such actions illegal, more woman than ever have begun studying and later working in nontraditional fields. Although their percentage of participation is still much smaller than men’s, it is still a vast improvement over 40 years ago.

Finally, one last example of Title IX’s impact is the way that sexual harassment is handled in schools. Because of Title IX, any type of bullying involving sex, gender, gender identity or sexuality counts as discrimination, and has helped reduce the amount of sexual harassment (a concept that did not even exist 40 years ago) in schools. Since Title IX’s creation, as Dr. Catherine Hill from AAUW explained, both boys and girls can now feel more comfortable in education settings without having to be worried about being sexually harassed.

Hananh Basile,

Communications and Resource Development Intern

Wider Opportunities for Women

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