Title IX: Separate But Not Equal?

by Cara on November 5, 2007

in books, discrimination, education and schools, feminism, gender, marketing, media, patriarchy

Stephanie at OUPblog (that’s Oxford University Press) sent me a post on a topic that us feminists don’t seem to talk about very often — the discrimination against women and girls in sports.

Now, maybe we don’t talk about it often because we’re more theoretically-minded people, more likely to have our noses in a book than be out on a race track.   And though there are plenty of bookworms who are also athletes or sports fans, it seems like a large number of us aren’t. Also, women are taught from a very young age to not be interested in sports, even with Title IX, because the TV and all of the school pep rallies are still blaring with messages that “serious” sports are for the guys. In any case, I’ve always been a highly nonathletic person and take little interest in sports. All I know is that even with my embarrassingly gratuitous use of tags, I don’t have one for anything to do with athleticism. But my personal interest or investment in an issue isn’t exactly the defining factor in what is an is not a feminist issue.

And as a matter of fact, I did find this post to be very interesting. It’s an interview with Laura Pappano, co-author of Playing With Boys: Why Separate Is Not Equal in Sports.

Says Pappano:

Title IX opened doors for females to play sports, but it opened sex-segregated doors, effectively limiting women’s athletics to second-class status. Title IX never demanded equality – only improvement – and it is not well-enforced and budgets for female sports dwarf spending on men’s sports, particularly football. Ticket prices for women’s events are lower than comparable men’s teams- even when a team (like the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team) far outperforms its male counterpart on the national stage. Publicity, television and print exposure for men’s teams remain the primary focus of college sports offices. This is not fair, particularly at institutions receiving federal funds. We need a wholesale re-thinking of the way organized sports are structured and supported.

It’s an interesting point, and certainly not one that I’ve ever considered before. Of course I was aware of the disparities between male and female sports teams in terms of funds and media coverage. But we always consider Title IX to have made things better. And yes, it certainly did. But it also seems to have had the unintended consequences of creating a separate but (not)equal system.

I find her argument about sports at a young age to be even more compelling:

We need to create more opportunities for mixed-sex play. It may be at the very top levels of competition (some Div. I college sports, some – not all – professional sports) that males and females may need to compete in same-sex arenas. But this should NOT be the dominant way that sports at EVERY level are organized. For most of us – from pre-schoolers to older recreational athletes – gender should not be the dominant consideration in creating teams, playing opportunities or competitions. We should also encourage boys & girls to play sports that have not been traditionally played by athletes of their gender, reinforcing the message that sports are played by individuals, not a collection of sex-group attributes. (The final chapter of the book also has other suggestions).

This is one of those strange moments that I think we probably all get from time to time, when the realization smacks you in the forehead that even you, bad ass feminist that you are, can completely overlook a sexist social structure. Why have I never looked at Little League and seen it as sexist? I don’t know. But while it’s true that some kids’ teams are gender-integrated, a hell of a lot aren’t, right down to T-ball, in some cases. Once kids enter Junior High, it’s almost guaranteed that there are going to be separate “boys” and “girls” teams for after-school sports. And in integrated gym classes, I remember that when we played a team sport, the gym teachers would always tell the guys who played in after-school sports to “tone it down,” not for the other boys who didn’t play regularly, but for the girls.

Now that it’s been pointed out to me, yup, that’s pretty fucked up. We ought to do something about it.

I recommend reading the whole interview, and if this is the kind of thing that interests you, the book sounds like it’ll be a good one.


1 Heather November 5, 2007 at 9:57 pm

Actually, this book does sound really interesting. I never played sports when I was little, but I started rowing, and I love it. What’s great is that our team practices co-ed, but I know it’s not like that every where. I have seen women’s boats (at a collegiate level) beat men’s boats. It’s impressive. I’ve also always loved to watch footbal, and it’s kind of disappointing that such a great sport has virtually no woman’s league. The NFL is finally reconizing that women do like footbal, but PINK jerseys? Seriously?

2 derek November 5, 2007 at 10:17 pm

actually, little league has been coed for more than 30 years, and 12 girls have played in the Little League World Series. Two girls pitched against each other in a friendship game between Venezeula and Kentucky in 2004.


Even in Division III, if sports were not divided by gender, you’d see only one or two women on teams, I think. I ran cross-country in college where the results are completely objective. (time, versus a coach’s opinion). An All-American woman is about equal to a very good guy.

3 Cara November 5, 2007 at 10:47 pm

Little League is coed? So does that mean that very few girls actually play, or that all of the kids baseball teams I see are in a league other than Little League?

4 derek November 6, 2007 at 1:05 am

very few girls actually play, but some do. Most play a separate girls-only Little League softball league.

(trying to leave this comment again…)

5 derek November 6, 2007 at 1:10 am

I think maybe in 50 years or so, women might play on an equal footing with men in certain sports where strength and size aren’t really factors. But we’re not there yet, and requiring women to compete in against men would just hurt female athletes, IMHO.

Look at Annika Sorenstam – one of the best women golfers in the world couldn’t make the cut in the PGA. Or Paula Radcliffe – perhaps the world’s best female long-distance runner, who won the NYC marathon on Sunday in a time of 2:23:09. In a race without gender divisions she’d have come in 17th – still very respectable, but not worthy of recognition, and she wouldn’t have gotten any prize money. As it was she got $130,000 and a Toyota Prius.

6 Veronica November 6, 2007 at 12:21 pm

I agree with derek…we’re getting there and fast, but not quite at the point where I would advocate for gender-less sports. And I’m a HUGE fan of sports and actually get pissy when feminists say that sports isn’t our issue. There are out there.

Anywho, Michelle Wei is another good example of a woman who can bring it to the next level – the men’s level. (OMG, did I just cite golf as a real sport?) Women closed the marathon gap in such a short amount of time!

And many top NCAA women’s basketball teams use men during practices. It’s controversial, but it does happen.

We’ll get there…quicker than we realize, but not as quick for some.

7 derek November 6, 2007 at 2:22 pm

wellll actually veronica the marathon gap still exists and is still very real. In the 90s, it actually increased, leading to speculation that women would never be as fast as men in the marathon. Then along came Radcliffe and she and a few other women shaved five minutes off the women’s record this decade. I think it is still an open question whether women will ever be as fast as men in the marathon.

good article on this subject – http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9805E3DA163CF936A15751C0A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

ps cara your anti-spam thing keeps eating my comments. i HAVE javascript enabled, but it says i don’t and deletes them.

8 Cara November 6, 2007 at 4:06 pm

Hmm . . . that doesn’t sound like anything of mine, Derek. My spam filter wouldn’t delete your comments, it would only throw them into the moderation queue and there’s nothing there. Sometimes wordpress will give me an error on my own blog that says “we don’t allow spam here,” but I can’t explain it and it usually clears itself up within the hour. If that’s not what you’re getting, I wish that I knew what the problem was but I don’t! If anyone else has an explanation or fix, though, please let me know. And is anyone else having problems?

9 Jackie May 1, 2008 at 9:31 am

just wanted to say that i agree with you and have recently been slapped in the face with gender inequality in Australian rugby, specifically local community rugby. The policy states that my 12 year old daughter can no longer play mixed gender rugby, because both genders are now starting to develop differently and boys are becoming physically stronger from the age of 12, she can’t play anymore rugby untill she is 18 and joins the womens comps. According to the equal rights board, obviously in sport and some occupations it makes sense to discriminate against someone because of their gender due to physical differences, and our minister for sport and recreation told me the same thing…none of them can supply me with facts that this is true though….the funny thing is that on the score board at the club it states in big red letters “all welcome” what a joke.

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