The Progress of Title IX 40 Years Later

Jun 23, 2012

Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon signing Title Nine into law.  

The goal of the legislation was to ensure the same opportunities for women as men in high school and college.

AS WBAA’s  Sam Klemet reports, the law has opened new doors for women, particularly in sports, but inequality still exists.

It’s a beautiful night at Lafayette’s Murdock Park.   A crowd of about 50 has gathered around a fence that encloses a dusty softball diamond.

Sunglasses and shorts are the official attire.  Kids are begging their parents for a few extra bucks to buy popsicles and the lawn chairs add to the sense of a relaxing summer evening.

But, what’s taking place on the field is anything but calm.  It’s hectic, and tense, and very entertaining.

Youth softball is in the spotlight tonight, and the stars of the show are mostly eleven to 13 year old girls.  It’s what you would expect at this level.  Some amazing plays, others that are used as teaching moments, and some that leave you scratching your head.  But it’s fun, and engaging and most importantly for its participants it’s..

"It's awesome and no boys," said one player.

It’s awesome and NO BOYS.

Just like you are reading a sign on a tree house.  This league is for girls only, but 40 years ago, they would have been excluded.

"I didn't have these opportunities when I played," said Purdue women's basketball coach Sharon Versyp.  "There is a lot of opportunities for girls going to camps and girls teams  and that's not how it was when I was growing up."

Versyp has lived through the transformation of opportunities for women in sports, as both a player and coach.

She says the lessons learned through participating in athletics early translate into important life skills for these young women in the future.

"I think they can learn social skills, behavioral skills, listening skills, teamwork skills, and then obviously have great role models outside of their parents," said Versyp.

Chantel Post0n has become one of these role models.  The senior is spreading her knowledge and experience as councilor at one of Purdue’s girls basketball camps this summer.

Poston uses sports as an outlet.

She admits to having some behavioral issues as a child, but used her time on the court as a way to find direction.

"Almost every aspect of who I am today, for the most part, all of those attributes are who I am and I learned a lot of that from sports, just being driven and working hard and never settling, never settling, just always wanting to get better, never wanting to be satisfied," she said.                      

And Cheryl Cooky says Poston and all women shouldn’t be satisfied with the current state of equality both on and off the field.

"I don't want to say that  Title IX has failed, but that there is more change that has to take place," said Cooky.

Cooky is a professor of health and Kinesiology and women’s studies at Purdue.

According to a report by the National Federation of State High School Associations, the ratio of girls playing sports compared to boys 40 years ago was about one to four.

In the 2010-2011 school year, the gap narrowed, but the difference remained sizeable. About 3.1-million girls competed in sports, compared to nearly 4.5-million boys.

Cooky says title nine has been instrumental is bridging the equality gap between men and women, especially in terms of participation. But says barriers still remain.

“Even though there have been a lot of shifts in the culture with the respect to the expectations for girls and women, there is still the persisting stereotypes around what  girls and women should be doing or are interested in doing," she said. 

"Often times that gets used as a justification for not providing opportunities for girls.  'Well girls just aren't as interested in sports as boys, so let's devote the minimal resources  that we do have to the kids who are really interested which are boys.' ”

She says media coverage of women also needs to change, pointing out male athletes often are covered for their on-court performances, but attention for female athletes is usually focused first on appearance, then skill.

Sara White is the Associate Athletics Communications Director at Purdue.

She says reshaping objectification of women in sports is the media’s responsibility, but also the responsibility of the female athletes.

"It's up to the women themselves, the very successful women to say 'Hey, I appreciate you wanting to give me some exposure, but I want it to be in the right way,' " said White "And not to be afraid to turn down things that don't make them comfortable and say yes to the things, or push for the things that are going to make female athletes shown in a real positive light and taken seriously as athletes.”

Forty years ago, women playing sports was not the norm.  But, the signing of title nine has not only changed the perception of women on the court, but in the American culture, as a whole.

Sharon Versyp says taking the next step in the fight for equality starts with getting women in power in roles in all areas of society.

"You are starting to find executives who are women.  We've got to get into the corporate rules, we've got to run businesses, we've got to continue to do what we need to do," she said.  "It's not just about sports, it's about women knocking down the walls and being able to make equal pay doing the same equal jobs as men.  We still have a ways to go, but we've made some strides."