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Young Olympians on Title IX: It Leveled the Playing Field but Gender Hurdles Still Persist

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Erin Hamlin, World Champion, Luge; Neena Chaudhry, Senior Counsel, National Women’s Law Center; Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Senior Director of Advocacy, Women's Sports Foundation and four-time Olympic medalist in swimming; Christine Grant, former Athletic Director, University of Iowa; and Christine Brennan USA Today (from L to R) celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX at the Center for American Progress.

CREDIT: Campus Progress

It's been four decades since Title IX was passed, and significant strides have been made to close the gender inequality gap that was once pervasive, particularly in the male-dominated arena of sports.

“My hope in this celebration of Title IX is that we can get beyond trying to defend the law and get back to ‘what do we need to do for that full enforcement?’” Nancy Hogshed-Maker, senior director of Advocacy at the Women's Sports Foundation and four-time Olympic medalist in swimming at an event  hosted by our parent organization, the Center for American Progress.

“High school girls have a 41 percent participation rate in high school sports. Girls today have not yet reached the participation level that boys had in 1972,” Christine Grant, former Athletic Director at the University of Iowa said.

Perhaps more striking than the disparity in participation between men and women is the fact that there are still people who see Title IX as a hindrance—a piece of legislation that imposes unnecessary restrictions, as opposed to one that levels the playing field for countless young women.

Title IX, though it is well known for providing equal access in athletics, doesn’t mention sports overtly in its wording. The rule was created to help women enter traditionally male-dominated fields and to counter institutionalized discrimination on the basis of sex that leaned on notions that women are less competitive, and less able than men. Title IX has not only enabled more women to play male-dominated sports but also created numerous scholarship opportunities, helped women compete in time sensitive situations, engage in an overall healthy lifestyle, and experience all the intangible benefits that playing a sport can provide.

“Title IX has done so much more than revolutionize sports. It has derailed the notion that women don’t deserve the same opportunities as men,” said CAP's Executive Vice President for External Affairs Winnie Stachelberg,  in her opening statements. 

The White House is helping to further that idea by expanding on Title IX to focus on STEM , and other careers fields traditionally held by men.

In 40 years, Title IX has had its fair share of successes, extending beyond sports as well.  Prior to the law's passage, women accounted for just seven percent and nine percent of doctors and lawyers, respectively. Today, roughly half of doctors and lawyers are women. In 1970 just five percent of female students participated in athletics; today 30 percent of female students do so.

Neena Chaudhry, senior counselor at the National Women’s Law Center, highlighted that despite the long legacy Title IX's has left behind the gender gap is far from being closed. In one instance, a coach was fired for complaining about the lack of adequate conditions for his girl’s basketball team. An initial ruling deemed that the coach couldn’t sue, and it wasn’t until the suit was brought to the Supreme Court that the court ruled he could sue for retaliation. Chaudhry says in her work, she regularly receives complaints about unequally maintained sports facilities, unfair practice schedules, and a host of other discriminatory issues.

Though Title IX hasn't eliminated all stereotypes for women, the rule has certainly improved career prospects for today's generation, and greatly reduced overt discrimination. CAP's panel also featured 26 year old luge world champion Erin Hamlin, who praised her co-panelists for their efforts in promoting gender equality and working to end discrimination, not only in the realm of sports, but also in other areas– for thousands of women throughout the nation. Both growing up, and as an Olympic athlete, Hamlin reported that she never faced the kind of discrimination that her co-panelists spoke of.

“I feel very, very lucky after listening to all of your stories and just realizing that’s the reason I’ve been able to do what I’ve done.”

Amisha Sisodiya is an online communications intern with Campus Progress. 

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