My heart rate was up to about 160 beats per minute, my hands were sweating and I was breathing heavily. It was not because of any kind of physical exertion. It was from purely emotional exertion, and fear. I was about to go to the lunchroom for lunch at my new high school. There were 1500 kids in the school and I didn’t know one person, other than my brother. Being an introvert, the thought of having to go through with this struck terror into my heart. I thought about just leaving the school but that was not really an option. I made a move out of desperation and begged a girl in my last class if I could go to lunch with her, and she agreed. Disaster averted!
The next day was when Title IX came to my rescue.
My Dad was an engineer for General Mills and we moved every 2-4 years for projects he was involved in and for career advancement. That was how it was with corporations in those days. We had just left a great kid scene in Minnesota with programs at the school and in the community rich in music, academics and sports, and a whole lot of good friends. My brothers and I told our parents that they were ruining our lives by making us move to Massachusetts. We all had a bad attitude about the school we were entering right from the beginning and it really was a bad time for us to be moving. I was entering 10th grade, my brother was going into 9th grade and youngest brother into 7th grade. That was a rough time to be uprooted. And the school was huge. My new graduation class was 365. What the heck?
Turns out my parents knew what they were doing when they chose this community to move to. Especially for me. It was 1972. Title IX had just passed and my new high school fully embraced girls’ sports. I didn’t even know about Title IX. It just turned out that there was a place for me in this huge school because I was a good athlete.
For those of you who don’t know what the Title IX federal civil rights law is or are unaware of it’s impact on women in the United States, here’s the deal:
Before this law was passed in 1972 equality between women and men was virtually non-existent. This was the case in education as it was very difficult for a woman to get into a university let alone be a teacher in one. There were very few female engineers or lawyers or doctors or university professors. The women who did manage to get through a school and land one of these jobs faced tremendous discrimination and often sexual harassment and ridicule. And imagine if you were a woman of color in this environment??? And this environment was certainly present in women’s athletics. “Women were warned that physical activity was not only unfeminine but proof of lesbianism. Female athletes were depicted as physically unattractive and women were told that competitive sports would hurt reproductive organs as well as a women’s chance of marriage.” (https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/seventies/essays/impact-title-ix).
So by the early 1970’s a few legislators had had enough and started crafting the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Representatives Patsy Mink from Hawaii and Edith Green from Oregon wrote it and Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana introduced the bill.
The upshot… Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving any type of federal financial aid. And here’s how it reads:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Most people think Title IX only applies to sports, but athletics is only one of ten key areas addressed by the law. These areas include: access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and technology.
These are many things that we take for granted in 2022. I know that young women do, and even I am complacent about my life in America because I was a beneficiary of Title IX right as it became law.
Back to my story:
… having the lunch situation taken care of (because my new friend took me to lunch every day after that) I was still having to go into classrooms every day, not knowing anyone. I would go in, find a seat and endure the stares from the other kids in the classrooms.
In those days we had ‘Gym’ (now PE) every other day. We all had to change into uniforms and in this case the shorts were red and was accompanied by a sleeveless white top. We’d then gather in the gym and await instruction. I just quietly went in and sat alone watching and feeling it out. Turns out this Gym class was doing the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. You might remember this if you are of a ‘certain’ age? It was a just what it sounds like- a physical fitness test given to middle school and high school public school students across the country, supported by the president, focused on ‘bettering’ the health of America’s youth. Many kids hated this mandated test because everyone could see who was struggling and who was achieving. It was terrible for many kid’s self-esteem. In my case, however, it was great.
My Dad had always coached my brothers and I in athletics and I had always run, played baseball and football, skied, hiked and generally spent all my time outside doing something active. (He lived Title 9 even before it was invented. I was never discriminated against in my family) I had never heard of this Fitness test but started doing the 50 situps, the pullups, the jumps, the softball throw and even the mile. I was immediately recruited by the gym teacher for the field hockey team, even though I’d never heard of field hockey.
I had 20 new friends that afternoon at practice and that began my transition into the high school life of my new school. It turned out that this school had all kinds of athletic options for young women. Because of Title 9, there was field hockey, volleyball, gymnastics, a ski team, track and field, and softball that I can remember. Of course the boys program was huge. I played a sport every season and created great friends, gained attention from others in the school, and felt a part of something. It gave me more confidence in the classroom and in other extra curricular activities. It gave me the confidence and skill to attend an Outward Bound course one summer between my Junior and Senior year which changed the course of my life again.. another story. And to go on to graduate from college and become a geologist and then a career ski instructor. Being in sports at that time of my life gave me a sense of myself and my body and what I was capable of. I realized that I could push hard and achieve more than I thought I could.
My generation of women has now raised strong, self-sufficient and independent young women. I know my daughter believes she can achieve anything she can put her mind to. Before 1972, unless you had parents that believed the same, society certainly didn’t. We owe a debt of gratitude to all the women who came before us who didn’t have the opportunities we have today in the United States. They helped the country reach the tipping point where this kind of law was instituted so that women could reach their potential. And thank you Patsy Mink, Edith Green and Birch Bayh for all your efforts on our behalf!