Barbara Winslow, historian and teacher at Brooklyn College, eloquently described what life was like for young women before Title IX:
“Young women were not admitted into many colleges and universities, athletic scholarships for women were rare, and math and science was a realm reserved for boys. Girls square danced instead of playing sports, studied home economics instead of training for “male-oriented” (read: higher-paying) trades. Girls could become teachers and nurses, but not doctors or principals; women rarely were awarded tenure and even more rarely appointed college presidents. There was no such thing as sexual harassment because “boys will be boys,” after all, and if a student got pregnant, her formal education ended. Graduate professional schools openly discriminated against women.”
With the passage of Title IX in June of 1972, everything changed.
Title IX legislation eliminates sex-based discrimination to ensure all students—both male and female—have access and equality in education. It offers a wide range of protections from athletics and admission to housing and sexual harassment.
And while things aren’t perfect, they’ve come a long way since the days Winslow wrote about. So let’s take a look at some of the ways Title IX changed education for the better.
By prohibiting schools from treating students differently on the basis of sex, Title IX allows both men and women to equally take advantage of any course of study regardless of gender stereotypes about traditionally “male” or “female” coursework or professions.
In effect, women can now sign up for plumbing, welding, engineering and other classes that were restricted. And males can sign up for nursing, teaching and other traditionally “female” classes.
Lead by example by discussing sexual assault within your campus community.
More women are attending college and earning degrees than ever before. For example, when Title IX was signed in 1972, women earned just seven percent of all law degrees and nine percent of all medical degrees. Now they earn nearly half of all law and medical degrees.
Women’s participation in a career in technical education (CTE) programs leading to nontraditional careers has increased from close to 0% in 1972 to over 25% nationally.
Women have made gains as university faculty members; their representation among all tenured or tenure-track professor positions in STEM increased from nine percent in 1979 to over 30 percent.
Also in 1970, less than one in five faculty members were women, and a mere three percent of college presidents. In 2006, women accounted for nearly 40 percent of college full-time faculty and nearly 50 percent of part-time faculty.
Title IX also made major strides in increasing female participation in athletics.
Nancy Cole, a retired high school physical education teacher, recounted to Newsday what playing sports was like for her growing up before Title IX:
"It wasn't even 'playing sports.’ You maybe practiced twice a week for maybe half an hour, then you played three games during the season. At the end, you went to what was called a 'play day.' There were, let's say, six softball teams there. You'd play three innings against one team, then three innings against another team. Then when it was over you'd have milk and cookies with all the other teams."
In 1971–1972, fewer than 30,000 women participated in college sports. In 2010–2011 that number exceeded 190,000—about six times the pre-Title IX rate.
In 1972, women received only two percent of schools’ athletic budgets, and athletic scholarships for women were nonexistent. In 2009–2010, women received 48 percent of the total athletic scholarship dollars at Division 1 schools.
Bernice Sandler, one of the pioneers of Title IX remarked about how pregnant women were treated before Title IX:
“If girls got pregnant they were literally kicked out of most schools. Very often people knew who the father was...[but] he didn’t receive any punishment at all. Women teachers also faced tough consequences for getting pregnant, routinely losing their jobs when they began to show.”
Thanks to Title IX, today pregnant women teachers are legally protected from such blatant discrimination, and students are protected from being forced into less academically challenging programs.
Even though there have been many positive results directly because of Title IX, there’s still a long way to go before complete equality is reached. Right now, campuses are taking up the fight against sexual violence and working on diversity initiatives to increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
But the progress that’s been made so far is definitely worth celebrating!