Title IX's Legacy

By Lawrence Hardy

“Women of Troy” might sound like a heroic name for a girls’ volleyball team, but the reality was less exalted.   Just ask Peggy Hausler, a former four-sport athlete at Iowa City’s West High School, home to the Trojans and the Women of Troy. The year was 1979, seven years after Congress passed Title IX, the groundbreaking law that prohibited educational discrimination on the basis of sex. Eventually, Title IX would change society by vastly expanding the opportunities available to women and girls in academics and, most notably, sports.

Eventually. But 33 years ago, the disparities between boys’ and girls’ teams were still striking. For example, Hausler, a varsity player who wore No. 8, shared a uniform with a JV player whose team played immediately before hers.

“The team that played in front of us would peel off their sweaty polyester uniforms,” Hausler says. And then, after some grousing in the locker room, the Women of Troy put them on and took to the court.

Unpleasant? Well, yes. But Hausler didn’t see it as a federal case.

“I didn’t think we knew to grumble about the inequities,” Hausler says. “I was grateful to be putting on those sweaty uniforms.”

In the decades that followed, a lot more women and girls would be grateful to play and later come to expect these opportunities as society fundamentally changed its view of the kinds of sports and activities girls could -- and would want to -- undertake. In high schools alone, the number of female athletes grew nearly tenfold in 26 years, from 294,000 in 1971-72 to more than 3 million in 2007-08, according to the American Association of University Women. At the college level, those numbers rose from about 30,000 to more than 166,000, a 456 percent increase.

Title IX also has played a big role in expanding the academic opportunities for women. Within the first 22 years of the law’s passage, the percentage of women receiving medical degrees rose from 9 to 38 percent, and those earning law degrees increased from 7 to 43 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The law also has been cited in sexual harassment cases -- increasingly, in defense of gay and lesbian students who are threatened or bullied.

But it’s in athletics that Title IX has made its most visible mark.

“The biggest impact has really come from the massive participation of girls in sports,” says University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah L. Brake, author of Getting in the Game: Title IX and the Women’s Sports Revolution. “It’s hard to overstate.”

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