On April 1st and 3rd I attended at the NCAA Women's basketball finals in Denver. What a thrill! As a lover of basketball and someone who never had the opportunity to play much more than driveway ball, I was excited to see the power and skill of the teams from Stanford, Notre Dame, Baylor and Connecticut.
Even more moving? At the half during the Finals game the NCAA honored eight women who had contributed to the success of Title IX, the groundbreaking legislation that prohibited sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving any type of federal financial aid. Among them were 83-year-old Bernice Sandler, the co-creator of Title IX 40 years ago and Marcia Greenberger, the co-president of the National Women's Law Center, who has spent years defending Title IX.
I remember when Title IX was passed. I grew up in a small town in Nebraska, one of three girls. Both of my parents were really good athletes. My mother won the state tennis championship when she was in high school. My father decided that every one of his daughters had to be able to throw a baseball harder than any boy on the block. When you live in a small town where in the summer baseball is really the only thing to do, if you can play “burnout” with any other boy on the block and win, then it becomes a great equalizer.
My father also started a softball league for girls, because at that time, girls couldn't join the baseball league. And when Title IX was signed, he had all three of us daughters on our bikes, and said we're going to the school board meeting tonight because we have to talk about how important it is to have sports for girls in this town.
We've come a long way. Since 1972, female participation in high school sports has increased by more than 900 percent. Furthermore, studies have shown that women athletes are more likely to graduate from college than female students who don't play sports. Wharton professor Betsey Stevenson found that up to 40 percent of the overall rise in employment among women in the 25 to 34-year-old age group was attributable to Title IX.
Title IX legislation has been one of the most significant pieces of policy for women in the past 40 years because it has impacted millions of individual girls and women, every education system in the country and the sports industry.
I was recently reminded that while this legislation has made a difference for women and girls, we still have work to do. Mount St. Mary's College recently released a report on the Status of Women and Girls in California. This report provides wonderful benchmarks for all of us who care deeply about the futures of women and girls in California. Of the 10 critical areas presented in the report, the education section contained data on how girls continue to lag behind boys in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields (STEM). As someone who worked on girls' educational achievement in these fields 20 years ago, it was stunning for me to see how this gender gap persists.
When I was in high school, I was lucky to have someone who pushed me to excel in math. Every year, when I was selecting classes, my math teacher, Mr. Teeter, would tap me on the shoulder and say, “Now Judy, you're going to sign up for trigonometry aren't you.” The next year, he said, “You're going to sign up for calculus, aren't you?” Back then, I was someone who did what she was supposed to do, so I took those classes.
The absolutely top notch basketball that I saw played in Denver and increased awareness of the importance of girls taking classes in Science, Technology and Math are all the result of public policy work. While many people think of Title IX in terms of sports, the legislation applies to all educational programs and activities, not just athletics, and has the potential to make similar advances in increasing opportunities for girls in the STEM fields.
Could we have narrowed the gap between women's participation in sports and men's without the help of policy? Probably not.
This is such a great example of why the Women's Foundation of California trains women as public policy advocates and resources their work to impact policy. Although incredible individuals like my dad and Mr. Teeter are without a doubt inspirational mentors who push and inspire us to be our best, we will not achieve equity without the help of public policy.