Editor’s Note: Leading up to the 40th Anniversary of Title IX on June 23, 2012, SWSG is engaging the voices of women of all ages who have been impacted by this groundbreaking legislation. So far, Diana Cutaia, Director of Athletics at Wheelock College, and Linda Driscoll, Founder of Dream Big!, have contributed. This month, Susan Golbe, Research Associate at the Center for Sports-Based Youth Development at Up2Us (and former SWSG Development Intern), reflects on Title IX:
I can sum up my feelings on Title IX without writing pages on my childhood as a tomboy, my high school sports glory days, or my time as an improvisational college athlete.  I am who I am because of Title IX and the opportunity to play sports.   I understand this only because of my deep academic and personal interest in Title IX and of the plight of female athletes.  For better or worse, this isn’t exactly the prevailing sentiment of other women of my generation.
In 2010, I spent the summer conducting research about adolescent female athletes with a regional under-18 summer softball team.  Naturally, during the three months I spent observing and interacting with 15 girls at practices, games, team dinners, and sleepovers in order to learn more about how they managed their identities as athletes and as girls, I assumed Title IX would come up organically.  The anticipation of when and how was thrilling. Much to my disappointment, it came up only once –  and I was the one who brought it up.
I mentioned it when the team started to discuss the merits of cheerleading as a sport.   The summer of 2010 was a critical summer for cheerleading and Title IX, but none of these girls knew of the controversy involving Quinnipiac University. The school had tried to eliminate women’s volleyball (a very small team) and use cheerleading (many more girls can participate for a similar cost) to comply with Title IX quotas.  The problem was that cheerleading is not legally considered a sport according to NCAA guidelines.  A complicated battle ensued over whether or not this was a legal (or productive) way to comply with Title IX.   Simultaneously, cheerleading lobbied for consideration as an official sport.  I wasn’t entirely surprised the girls hadn’t been following the news, but none of them had even heard of Title IX!  After hiding my shock and dismay, I explained Title IX and the issues relevant to cheerleading.  The first comment uttered after my simplified version of the socio-political nature of their position as female athletes was, “When I was five, I was a cheerleader.” No one cared about Title IX.  They were all on the softball field all summer, played two or more sports during the school year, and never thought twice about the gendered politics of their situation.
So it seems Title IX has become invisible for many girls of today’s generation.  I am unsure if this is a good thing.  I am disappointed in this lack of awareness of the hard work that went into enacting this law and the women who suffered on the sidelines before 1972.  On the other hand, I’m pleased that the issue of females in sports has become mainstream enough that a 15-year-old softball player doesn’t have to constantly be an unwilling agent of social change.  She can just be an athlete.   It’s true that progress needs to be made: not all young girls have access to athletic opportunities, many universities still fail to comply with Title IX stipulations, and one often hears that women’s sports just aren’t as important as men’s.  Still, it is at least a little comforting to know that after only 40 years, girls playing sports is no longer special, but commonplace.