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Anyway, they got the whole IX yards

Bruce Strand on November 15, 2015 - 1:29 am in Reflections & Columns

By Bruce Strand, 2012

 

In this 40th anniversary year of Title IX, a stealthy little document that changed the landscape of American sports, the feminists who made it possible seem shunted to the background.
Right-wing critics love to crow about how feminists have become irrelevant, with fewer and fewer women embracing their causes and guidance.  And they are right. But that’s only because the feminists accomplished so much, against tremendous odds, over many years, like a current wearing down rocks, that today’s women can take for granted a host of privileges and opportunities that were unheard-of before the feminists came along, and not just girls scholastic sports.
Forty years back, not that long ago, employers routinely paid men more than women for equal work. There was no such thing as a female TV news anchor. Female doctors, lawyers, politicians and executives were extremely rare. (Women who aspired to college were nudged toward the teaching and nursing professions  which both benefitted greatly). Wife-beating was seldom investigated because domestic strife was regarded as a private matter. Rape victims were reluctant to file charges because they knew they’d be the ones on trial, not their predators.  And all the money spent on high school and college sports went to the boys.
It was feminists who changed all that. Nobody claims these problems have gone away, but the plight of women is vastly improved in every respect, because gutsy feminists took on the status quo despite the scorn and ridicule that went with it.
Example: When I worked at the Willmar paper in the 1970s, nine women at a small bank there, tired of unequal pay, shocked the town as they went on strike (with no union to back them, they formed one) which became a long, painful ordeal as they got a lawyer and filed a complaint,  were roundly despised, and lost their case (on a technicality), but the publicity, including a documentary made by a Hollywood actress (Lee Grant), followed by a made-for-TV movie, alarmed the banking profession enough to re-think the equal pay thing. Many working women today owe a debt to these long-forgotten ladies who were jeered as they picketed that bank in freezing weather.
Regarding the sports aspect, if there are any female athletes left (or those who enjoy and appreciate them) who think they owe nothing to feminists, here is a news flash — your sports did not come about because Congress, almost 100 percent male then, woke up one morning and said, “Gee, maybe we should start some girls’ teams.”
A small group of what would later be called feminists, led by Bunny  Sandler of the U of Maryland and Democratic congresswomen Patsy Mink (Hawaii) and Edith Green (Oregon), developed Title IX with the purpose of a more level playing field in education. (Backers later realized sports opportunities should be included.) The women were careful  not to make much noise about Title IX, for fear that if enough politicians got wind of what was really in it, the bill would be gutted.
In 1972, when they slipped it past President Nixon, the door was cracked open. Every school soon had a sport or two for girls, which grew to virtually equal opportunity by the 1980s.
But even then, just a decade after Title IX, the girls benefitting already seemed strangely ungrateful. When I asked a star player for a state championship basketball team about feminists in 1981,  the  player shrugged them off as “too controversial.”
Today, after 40 years, Title IX must seem like ancient history to the beneficiaries who are happily dribbling and vaulting and slugging and kicking their way through high school. Which must make it bittersweet for these aging feminists. But they can at least savor the fact that their dream came true, that girls sports and so many other opportunities once unheard-of are now taken for granted.

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