I never stepped near a sport in high school or college, so I didn’t think that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 had any noticeable impact on my education.
Most people know Title IX because of its impact on women’s and girls’ athletics, but the law seeks to end sex-based discrimination in all aspects of education. The overarching purpose of the law is to ensure that all students, regardless of their sex, have access to the same educational opportunities in school and in extracurricular programs, so that boys and girls alike can achieve their full potential.
This means that schools may not rely on harmful gender stereotypes to separate boys and girls or offer them different educational programming. It also means that schools must prevent and respond to sexual harassment, bullying of students who do not conform to gender stereotypes and physical violence such as rape and sexual assault. It even means that students who become pregnant or who are caring for a child are allowed to finish their education free from discouragement or hostility. So Title IX isn’t just for female student athletes, it is for students, whether they are male or female, gay or straight or transgender (according to some courts and the Obama administration), whether they are on the soccer team or the chess club, whether they take AP Calculus or Home Economics.
It may seem obvious now to say that young men and women deserve an equal opportunity to receive a quality education and pursue their goals free of sex stereotypes. But before Title IX, that wasn’t the case.
My mother was one of just a very small handful of women in her class to graduate with an engineering degree in the 1970s. In high school, I was actively encouraged to take upper-level math and science courses, and I graduated from college with a minor in math. My college math and programming classes still had more men than women, but not significantly more and it was certainly more balanced than my mother’s classes.
Women now earn about half of all degrees in science and engineering fields, including the social and behavioral sciences. In 1971, women earned about 29% of these degrees. And instead of women making up 0.8% (!) of engineering degrees like we did in 1971, we now comprise 18.5%, which is certainly a far cry from ideal, but still a long way from pre-Title IX days. (And check out this interesting chart from feminist.org)
Tomorrow, June 23, marks the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, a law that has fundamentally changed the face of education – so fundamentally, in fact, that most people think it only applies to athletics. And while women have made great advances in 40 years, on the field and in the classroom, we still have some more progress to make.