the “godmother of Title IX,” said the legislation she helped to write was “the most important step for gender equality since the 19th Amendment gave us the right to vote.” Title IX turned 50 this week, and it hasn’t aged well.
Title IX bans discrimination “under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Buried in the Education Amendments of 1972, the provision was dubbed by ESPN the “37 words that changed everything” for women’s sports. It was initially a boon, opening doors to scholarships and lucrative careers unthinkable before its passage. Yet the march of gender ideology threatens to unravel that progress.
Take the now-infamous photo of victorious
towering over the female competitors in the NCAA Division I swim championship. It seemed like gaslighting when the U.S. Postal Service released Title IX commemorative stamps shortly afterward, one of which features a female swimmer in a cap and goggles.
How did women’s sports get to this point? It began more than a decade ago, when schools and athletic bodies began turning the original intent of Title IX on its head. As it applies to sports, Title IX wasn’t meant to be sex-blind. It remedied the lack of teams and funding—a thumb on the scale for girls and women with the purpose of equalizing opportunity.
This approach worked. In the four decades after Title IX became law, ESPN notes that female participation in sports grew more than tenfold, while male participation grew only 22%. Title IX led to a flourishing of women’s sports. America’s girls could look up to inspiring women such as
Florence Griffith Joyner
and Venus and
Millions of dollars have been awarded in athletic scholarships for girls who before 1972 wouldn’t have played past high school.
When schools, athletic associations and courts began reading Title IX as sex-blind, discriminating on the basis of sex came to mean that it was impermissible to note any distinction between the sexes. In 2011 a boy named
broke a state girls’ swim-meet record in the 50-yard freestyle with a time that wouldn’t have qualified him to compete against his own sex. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association upheld the win, on the grounds, as the Boston Globe put it, that “there’s no stopping boys from competing on girls’ swim teams because state law mandates equal access to sports for both genders.”
So-called gender neutrality paved a path for gender ideology to take this principle to the extreme. The Supreme Court threw gasoline on the fire with its 2020 rulings in Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Bostock v. Clayton County that diluted the legal meaning of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity. What a sweeping—and therefore meaningless—definition of “sex” looks like in reality is the fate of women’s sports in free fall.
As of late 2021, 37 states have tried to enact protections to preserve distinct spaces for women’s sports, and polling has found that a majority of Americans believe women’s sports should be restricted to biological women. But for the moment, girls with dreams of athletic greatness are in limbo, left to wonder if a lifetime of hard work will be obliterated by a boy at the finish line.
Of Title IX’s extraordinary impact on women’s sports, Sandler said, “We had no idea how bad the situation really was—we didn’t even use the word sex discrimination back then—and we certainly had no sense of the revolution we were about to start.” Sadly, the revolution seems to have taken female athletes back to where they started.
Ms. McGuire is author of “Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female.”
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