My students and I had many conversations this year about equality for women and men in schools. We even had two debates on this subject: one about whether or not toys should be gendered, and one about whether or not sports teams should be separated into girls’ and boys’ teams. The latter topic came about because, when I bring up the topic of gender equality, the students usually jump to sports, which makes sense because this is a clear example of an aspect of American high schools where there is still rampant inequality. Girls’ sports, and by extension, women’s sports, are grossly underrepresented. Some of the best athletes in the world are women, yet female sports teams still don’t receive the same funding, nor do they get the same attendance, press, or attention that men’s sports do. It is also widely accepted – even by some of my students – that women just don’t have the strength and sheer physical ability that men do.
My goal in having these debates is twofold. First, I want my students to learn the skills of persuasion, as it is the most valuable rhetorical skill I can teach them. Second, I want to open my students’ minds and eyes to some of the inadvertent ways gender discrimination creeps into our attitudes and our society. As I always tell them before we start talking about any topic like this: my goal is not to change their minds, but to open them.
What I always make clear to them when we have these discussions and debates, though, is that the reason we can even have these conversation is because of Title IX, which turns 40 this week. Title IX was a part of the Education Amendments of 1972, which passed on June 23 of that year.
My students are very familiar with Title IX and its positive implications for sports, but many of my students still don’t know that Title IX was originally created to end gender discrimination in all aspects of public education, not just sports. With Title IX, women were free to take career and technical education classes rather than home ec, for example. It also dictates that pregnant women and teen mothers receive the programs they need to stay in school, among many other things. Of course, it also says that men’s and women’s sports need to be equally represented.
During one of these discussions about Title IX and its positive impact on our lives, one of my students raised her hand and asked, “Does this mean that Title IX says we can have a group for girls to talk about issues that relate to us that meets after school since we already have a group for boys here?”
“Yes, it does.” I said. And, thus, Fearless Females was born. Once a week, for an hour after school, female students who are interested in discussing gender related issues meet in my classroom. This year, we talked about beauty standards, planned a no makeup day, and explored what we can do about teenage dating violence. Next year, we plan on tackling financial independence and budgeting, as well as incorporating more visitors of positive female role models in the community.
Title IX has benefitted so many generations of women in its 40 years of existence. I see its positive impact every day. From open discussions about gender discrimination in the classroom to female athletes shining on the field to a group of young feminists meeting in my classroom after school, Title IX’s influence has already allowed young women so many more opportunities than they may have had otherwise. Now, if we can eradicate sexism from our everyday consciousness, I see equality for young women in public schools reaching entirely new heights. And I believe that will start with this generation’s fearless females.
Photo Credit: Medill DC
This post was written as a submission to the National Women’s Law Center’s Title IX blog carnival.