Title IX women’s equality law marks 40th anniversary

July 1 marks the 40th anniversary of a landmark equality law: Title IX. The measure, an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, prohibited gender inequality in federally funded education programs and institutions. As we watch women’s basketball on TV, we may take this for granted today, but there was quite a struggle to pass Title IX. And battles over it continue to this day.

Title IX is also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, named for its author, Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii. It was signed on June 23, 1972, by President Richard Nixon and became law on July 1, 1972.

Title IX is often associated with women’s equality in school sports, but it applies to all school activities at all educational levels, both public and private: elementary and secondary schools, colleges, graduate and professional schools, and vocational programs.

Molly Carnes, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for Women’s Health Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes, “When I entered medical school two years after Title IX, women medical students in more than token numbers were a new phenomenon, and the change was not welcomed by all.” Senior professors told her things like: “I don’t think women should be doctors,” and “Women just don’t have what it takes to be researchers.”

It’s hard to believe today, but as Gwendolyn Mink, a professor of equality law, poverty policy, gender issues and American politics, and the daughter of Patsy Mink, writes in her blog, “The Washington Post and New York Times opposed it in editorials; college presidents decried it; college football coaches demeaned it; and many members of Congress tried to figure out ways to weaken it.”

After Title IX became law, the attack on it intensified.

Mink notes, “The loudest assault came from the male athletics lobby – the NCAA, and legions of college football fans. Although Title IX was not enacted with women’s athletics primarily in mind, the male sports establishment certainly predicted correctly that under Title IX, women would flourish as athletes.”

President Obama, in a Newsweek oped marking the anniversary of the bill’s signing, wrote that as result of the law, “Today, thanks in no small part to the confidence and determination they developed through competitive sports and the work ethic they learned with their teammates, girls who play sports are more likely to excel in school.”

One of those women athletes is Joanne Smith, founder and executive director of Girls for Gender Equity. Smith received a college basketball scholarship as a result of Title IX. Nevertheless, she told The Root, “There is still such a gap between the letter of the law and the application of the law.” She noted that the majority of intercollegiate athletic coaches continue to be men, even for women’s teams.

Patsy Mink, after graduating from college with a stellar record in 1942, applied to 20 medical schools but none of them accepted women. She wound up going to law school. Today, writes Carnes, Mink would be gratified by the positive impact her bill has had for women in medicine. Women are now nearly 50% of medical students nationwide and hold leadership positions in all areas of medicine. However, new women doctors get paid significantly less than their male counterparts, women get less research funding, and men continue to be the overwhelming majority of medical school professors and department heads.

Title IX was a milestone, but the struggle to complete its promise goes on. For example, battles continue over charges that Title IX discriminates against men. Some colleges claim that Title IX forced them to drop predominantly male sports like wrestling.

Gwendolyn Mink says, “The history of Title IX over 40 years is really the story of millions of bold and resilient girls and women who have enforced Title IX by their actions – by resisting exclusion; demanding fairness; exposing sexual harassment; and challenging educational institutions to change because of the contributions of women.”

“Going forward,” she writes, “we must all hone Title IX to pierce and transform the culture of educational institutions, to dispel stereotypes that impede women’s incorporation on equal footing, and to undermine the gross disparities in money and other resources that make it difficult for many girls and women to pursue the opportunities that Title IX assures.”

Photo: Happy A // CC 2.0


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.