Progress is subjective. Our actions are not.
Along with June being Pride Month, it also marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark gender equity law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. While it’s true that the legislation was groundbreaking because it acknowledged the deep gender inequalities present in higher education at the time; it also, by happenstance, altered women’s sports forever. Perhaps most importantly, Title IX marks an essential, albeit slow, march toward progress for gender equality in the U.S.
Let’s start here. While we appreciate the impact this policy has had on athletics, the intent behind Title IX was never about sports. The law was written specifically as a means to address sex discrimination within education. At the time, college student bodies and faculties were still predominantly male. In 1970 just 8% of women in the U.S. had college degrees, compared to nearly double that of men in the same year.
A law written 50 years ago to make federally-funded education programs equal for women has today become the primary reference point in favor of equal pay for women in sports. As recently as last month, women around the world celebrated the U.S. Soccer Federation announcement that new collective bargaining agreements would pay the U.S. Men’s National Team and the U.S. Women’s National Team equally.
As human beings, we’re wired to associate anniversaries with some form of progress, or reason for reflection. Years of marriage. Months of healing after a loss. Days of sobriety. In the years since Title IX became law, we’ve seen progress towards gender equality in education. We’ve seen progress in sports. We’ve seen progress in leadership.
And yet, at every government level, women still constitute only a third of all elected offices. In two months, women will have had the right to vote for 102 years, a bittersweet milestone that is hindered by the current reality that support for our ability to make choices over our own reproductive health is still in question.
The truth is, progress is subjective. Currently, full gender equality does not exist on any playing field, in any classroom, in any elected office, or even on the opinions page. But over time, we do see real evidence we’re making headway.
In 1984, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro secured the nomination as the first woman vice-presidential candidate on a major party ticket. Flash forward 21 years to 2005, Condoleezza Rice became the first Black woman to serve as Secretary of State. In 2007, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the House. And finally, in 2021 Vice President Kamala Harris became the first woman and first woman of color vice president of the United States.
Like it or not, change can be slow. Title IX wasn’t a lightning bolt answer to sex discrimination in education, but it opened the door to greater change overall. It’s true we need big action on the many problems we face, but if we’re going to do it we must recognize that every small step we take right now is better than doing nothing. We know that our democracy only stands to benefit from the many voices and experiences women bring to the table. And the only way to amplify those voices is to get them into public office.
On this anniversary, I hope you’ll join me in harnessing today’s reality to put one foot in front of the other and recognize that even bite-size actions add up over time. We all have a role to play in collective progress. What’s yours?
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