Title IX is an unquestionable success, but more action is needed

Fifty years ago today, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 was signed into law, prohibiting schools or educational programs that receive federal funding from discriminating against anyone on the basis of sex. In that time, women have made incredible gains in education, which, in turn, have led to incredible gains in labor and employment — perhaps most visibly in sports.

But the law was not intended to simply allow for women and girls to exist in the classroom, board room or field of play. It was designed to force those with power to treat women as equals with their male counterparts, creating opportunities for women and girls to thrive.

The result was a revolution in education that benefited both women and society as a whole.

Before Title IX, women earned less than 40% of all associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and less than 10% of all doctoral and professional degrees. Most medical and law schools limited women’s enrollment to 15 seats or less per class year.

Title IX brought the opportunity for a more proportionate percentage of women to attend college and to pursue any field of study they desired. Today, women earn 60% of all associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and nearly 50% of all doctoral and professional degrees. They have also made significant progress in closing the gender gap in STEM subjects. Subsequent interpretations of Title IX allowed it to be used to open doors for LGBTQ students, leading to a substantial increase in LGBTQ high school and college graduation rates, and decreases in LGBTQ homelessness and future socio-economic success and acceptance.

A similar revolution occurred in sports. When Title IX was signed into law, fewer than 30,000 women participated in college sports, women’s athletic scholarships were non-existent, and women’s athletic programs collectively received only 2% of Division I athletic budgets. Today, nearly 200,000 women play collegiate sports and receive about 48% of total Division I athletic scholarships. Once again, those impacts also translated to LGBTQ people, who are increasingly “out” in high school and college athletics.

Increased opportunity, funding and visibility led to monumental shifts in the athletic landscape and scenarios in which the NCAA Women’s Final Four bumped the NBA regular season from its prime-time ESPN time slot, college women are earning million-dollar name-image-likeness deals, and female (and in some instances LGBTQ) Olympians like Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Megan Rapinoe, Lindsey Vonn and Diana Taurasi have earned their place among the most recognizable athletes across a variety of sports.

In the United States, the women’s national rugby and soccer teams are even more revered than their male counterparts. Both U.S. women’s teams set off a firestorm of interest after winning their respective inaugural Women’s World Cup Tournaments in 1991. Since then, the U.S. Women’s Rugby Team has placed in the top four in four of the past eight women’s World Cup tournaments. Simultaneously, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has never placed lower than third in their eight women’s World Cup appearances.

Meanwhile, the men’s teams have only placed in the top four one time between them — a third-place finish by the soccer team in 1930.

These accomplishments demonstrate what government can achieve when “We the People” treat each other with dignity, respect and empathy for the betterment of all.

As we wrote back in May, U.S. law and society have a long history of treating women with contempt and disrespect, and the U.S. Constitution does not concern itself with the rights of women.

For the first 150 years of U.S. history, women had few legal rights. It wasn’t until 1920 that they gained the right to vote.

While conversations leading up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 included discussions of women’s rights, the act itself did little to correct injustices perpetrated against women.

It would take another eight years before women’s rights advocates could garner enough votes to pass Title IX (and another two after that before women could open their own lines of credit with a man co-signing the account).

Title IX is imperfect, and its passage and implementation took too long, but its now-50-year success story is a strong reminder that, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Title IX and the many people who fought tirelessly for it are worth celebrating.

So too, are the now two generations of women leaders who have benefited from Title IX and are on the front lines of the next battles for social justice, equality, dignity and equity.

Cheers to 50 more years of Title IX and the next generations of women and LGBTQ leaders. Perhaps under their leadership, we can dare to dream of working together to accomplish big things that benefit all of society, not just a select few, once again.