What is Title IX? It is a section of a law passed by Congress on June 23, 1972, called the Education Amendments Act of 1972. It prohibits discrimination based on sex (gender) in any school or educational program that receives federal money. In short, no discrimination against girls in public schools and most universities. The law received perhaps the most attention when it came to girls’ sports.
Many of you know that I am an attorney whose professional career has revolved around Title VII (part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination in employment), and while working in Norwalk for the last 26 years, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act, prohibiting discrimination in housing-related transactions (renting, buying, lending, advertising, etc.).
So why do I write about Title IX today?
In 1972 I was in ninth grade and on the high school swim team. Our high school, White Plains High School, has the colors orange and black – we were White Plains Tigers. Our bathing suits were orange and unlined. As you can imagine, once wet, the suits were see-through. We might as well have been swimming naked.
While this attire meant our swim meets were well attended by high school boys, we wanted lined swimsuits. Somehow, I ended up being the person to go talk to the principal about getting new swimsuits. While I don’t remember very much about being a 14-year-old girl, I do remember that conversation. In summary, he told me that no, the school wasn’t going to spend any money on girls’ swimming, it would be saved for the more important sports, sports that brought in money to the school, such as boys football, track and field, etc. I remember this so clearly.
And then the news hit that Title IX had passed and was law. I think it was likely the following September, when I was on the swim team and also a reporter for the school’s newspaper, that I volunteered to write a story for the school newspaper about Title IX. Of course, the local experience would be most impactful, so off I went to interview the principal. This time, when I asked about getting lined bathing suits for the girls’ swim team, the answer was “Yes”!
The power of law. The power of anti-discrimination laws, in particular. A small matter, swimsuits for the girls’ swim team, nowhere near as important (except to 14-year-old girls) as employment discrimination or housing discrimination. But along with everything else happening in the country during these tumultuous years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I could see that law could change lives for the better.
Interestingly, equal pay for women in sports is still not a fait accompli, 50 years later. As we all saw last month, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team settled a lawsuit brought because they were paid less than the men playing for the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team, despite winning more games. Fifty years after the passage of Title IX, the women achieved pay equity, at least in U.S. Women’s Soccer. There is no equal pay act for women outside of federal employment, so today, women in the workplace still earn less than men doing the same job, even if doing it better, like the women’s soccer team. In the general workforce, women earn $0.87 (87 cents) for every $1.00 men earn. These were the numbers in 2021.
The law is the beginning of change. Implementing the law takes time. It is rare, like my high school swimsuit experience, that inequities are changed quickly.
In 1973, we got our lined bathing suits (which I’m sure didn’t cost very much), only because of Title IX and challenging authority appropriately. This was a lesson that clearly impacted my entire life.