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Martha Burk

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More Female Than Male Olympians? Thank a Feminist!

Posted: 07/25/2012 9:36 am

We all know by now that for the first time in history, the U.S. Olympic team will have more women (269) than men (261). Just incidentally, these numbers also exactly reflect the demographics of our country as a whole, where women make up 50.8 percent of the total population.

So the dominance of women this year is just a natural progression, right?

Not exactly. When our female athletes march into Olympic Stadium in London, they will be marching on the shoulders of feminists, male and female alike, who worked like hell against very long odds to make it happen. The London games have been called the "Title IX Olympics," appropriately laying credit to the 1972 law that opened athletic opportunities to girls and women in schools taking federal money, meaning virtually all of them.

Getting Title IX passed was no stroll down daisy lane. It took hard work, smarts, and most of all determination on the part of many people. People like Bernice Sandler, who filed 269 sex discrimination complaints 2012-06-12-yourvoicesmallest2.JPGagainst colleges and universities in the 1960s and early '70s, and who first proposed Title IX in congressional hearings along with Representative Edith Green. Pioneers like Congresswoman Patsy Mink, who with Green produced the first draft of the law. And don't forget Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, who introduced Title IX as an amendment to the Higher Education Act reauthorization on February 28, 1972 (it became law in June).

But the amendment would never have gotten enough votes for passage if it hadn't been for women's groups like NOW, and individual fighters like Billie Jean King pushing from outside the halls of Congress. King believed the future of women's sports depended on changes in the law. She also knew that girls had to "see it to be it," to become successful in sports, as she told me in a recent interview. The thousands of women who had been working tirelessly for years to get the Equal Rights Amendment out of Congress for a ratification vote in the states deserve a lot of credit too -- Bayh's bill had its roots in the ERA's equal education philosophy.

So now that women will lead men in the Olympic delegation, it looks like we've finally reached parity and we can declare the job done. Not so fast. Women and girls are still not getting the sports opportunities in schools that their male counterparts enjoy. Literally thousands of schools nationwide are out of compliance with Title IX. Girls are still being transported to games in parent's vans while boys enjoy air-conditioned top-of- the-line buses. Boys sports still enjoy more coaches per sport, better equipment, better locker rooms and playing fields, and far more scholarship opportunities. If you don't believe it, ask any parent of a female athlete -- it's an open secret.

In addition, Title IX has been under constant attack ever since it was passed, with dozens of weakening amendments and rules put forward over the years. Some lawmakers still claim it should be repealed, that it's unfair to boys, and takes away from male sports teams. But statistics show football hogs resources from both male and female teams -- and Penn State should teach us what football worship at its worst can do.

As the mother of two male athletes, I don't advocate taking opportunities away from one group to give to another, and neither do any feminists I know. What we want is a cultural change that says boys and men don't own sports, and boys and men are not better athletes by virtue of their gender.

The number of women entering that Olympic Stadium on Friday night ought to settle that argument once and for all. Kudos to the feminists that made it happen.

 

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