Forty years ago today, Title IX became a game changing, civil rights movement for women. With the passing of the gender-neutral law, girls in particular were not to be excluded from special programs in schools. When Congresswoman Edith Starrett Green, a Representative from Portland, Oregon began working on the law in the early 1970s, public schools discouraged females from math and science classes; quotas met, women were kept out of medical and law schools.
With the law’s passing in 1972 women and men were protected from discrimination in federally funded education or activities. Colleges, universities, local school districts, some for-profit schools, museums and libraries had to reset their practices and allow equal access for all. The game notably changed for women in the fields of athletics. Running parallel, before 1975, women were limited in the fields of opportunity for military careers beyond administrative, storekeeper, nursing, etc. – other missions prohibited women from roles and specialities reserved for men. The Air Force Academy, West Point, Annapolis and Coast Guard Academy did not admit women until 1976. Many lives were changed and shaped by the new opportunities to excel in fields women were told “no” to before. Progress took decades.
Pioneers set records. Inspiring women leaders and team players changed the rules of engagement. “Title IX babies” -women born during the mid- 1970s years - would win Olympic gold for the U.S. in gymnastics, soccer, synchronized swimming, basketball and softball in 1996. Women in the military began seeking changes in policy to allow them to fly military jets, serve on ships and be soldiers just like their male peers. (I profiled 17 of these courageous and modern women in my new book “Changing the Rules of Engagement – Inspiring Stories of Courage and Leadership,” Potomac Books, Inc. released in June 2012.)
Its hard to think where women would be today without the vision and persistence of Congresswoman Green pushing for equal opportunities for all and President Nixon’s signature making it so. On one hand it’s a bit disheartening to think that we needed a law at all to motivate our leaders, communities and citizens to treat each other with respect and equality.
The law, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website (ww2.ed.gov) states: ”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.”
We are not there yet. For the first time in history, women will be allowed to box for a medal at the upcoming London Olympics. I’m cheering for a Michigan teenager and middleweight boxer, Claressa Shields.
Game changers are good. Change is good for us, our nation and our citizens. It’s not about boys vs. girls or men vs. women. It’s about looking out for each other’s equality in all manner of ways including pay, opportunity and respect. What about equal pay in sports and the corporate world?
Believe in your bigger dream. Surround yourself with a team of supporters who also believe in you and help you go farther than anyone else imagines possible because challenges still remain. Let’s hope the pay rises to the meet the talent.