Do Women Today Take Title IX for Granted?

Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine

It may be best known for giving female athletes an equal shot on the playing field, but Title IX -- which was passed 40 years ago on June 23 -- was actually intended to give girls more opportunities in education.

"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 receiving federal financial assistance," the law reads in its entirety. Those 37 words opened up a world of opportunity for American women.

Related: What Title IX means to 3 women in one family

Inequality in the classroom may seem like a strange concept to kids today, but some of us remember being told that math and science were "too hard" for girls or having to take home-ecoomics instead of woodworking. In 1972, the year the law passed, women earned just 7 percent of all law degrees, The National Organization for Women points out; by 2008, thanks in part to Title IX, 45.7 percent of law degrees were awarded to women.

''Title IX was about education, opportunity and equal rights. Any federal funds should be going equally to boys and girls. It's just a no-brainer to me. It's logical," Hall of Fame tennis star and founder of the Women's Sports Foundation Billie Jean King told the Associated Press. ''In athletics, because we're the most visible, we set the tone. You have to see it to be it. And when there's equality with women's sports, and opportunities, it helps permeate everything else.''

"The concern I had was you had 53 percent of American people happen to be women, you can't ignore their brain power," Senator Birch Bayh, co-author and sponsor of Title IX, told the Associated Press. "If you give a person an education, whether it's a boy or girl, young woman or young man, they will have tools necessary to make a life for families and themselves."

Thanks to Title IX, kids today rarely hear that they can't do something simply because they're female. Which may be why Title IX's anniversary is receiving so little fanfare among the people whom it helps most: If you're under 40 years old, Title IX has always been there for you.

''I couldn't really imagine growing up in a world where someone said, 'No, you can't play basketball because you're a female,' or can't do something else," said 2011 WNBA champion Maya Moore. "There's just so many ways my life would be different.''

According to the Obama administration, since Title IX passed 40 years ago, "The number of female college athletes has increased from 30,000 to 190,000, the number of female high school athletes has grown ten-fold, and the proportion of female professors in science and mathematics has more than doubled." Studies have linked the increase in female sports participation to an increase in female participation in high-skill, high-wage, traditionally male-dominated careers.

This week, the administration announced several initiatives that they hope will build on the success of Title IX by increasing women's participation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, preventing sexual harassment and violence, resolving and investigating Title IX-related complaints, and stepping up enforcement in school environments. And girls and boys both benefit from it.

"Title IX matters. And it is just as important today as when it was first passed forty years ago," says Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to President Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. "From addressing inequality in math and science education, to ensuring dormitories are safe, to preventing sexual assault on campus, to fairly funding athletic programs, Title IX ensures equality for our young people in every aspect of their education."

The fact that most young women and girls take it for granted may be a good thing, Senator Bayh points out.

'That's the way it should be,'' she said. ''It should be a given. That's what we were trying to accomplish.''


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