20 Title IX: The Fight for Female Equality in Athletics

Kate Citron


Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, implemented in 1972, states that no one can be excluded from any educational or athletic program receiving federal funding on the basis of sex.”[1] While the implementation of Title IX was meant to support equality between men and women in school and sports, the broad guidelines of this rule were often ignored or avoided. One problem that was commonly seen was the initial agreement to the rules of Title IX,  followed by a failure to continue growth and expansion of women’s facilities and equipment. In 2001, 56% of athletes were women but females were only receiving 42% of the athletic budget.[2] Although Title IX was credited with increasing female participation in sports since the 1970s, it also has been criticized for creating a large cut in funding for male collegiate athletics. There was an especially negative response from supporters of  less typically male athletic programs, such as gymnastics or diving, who felt as if their funding was being taken away and given to female athletes.[3] So, as Title IX served as an advance in the fight for women’s equality, a large segment of the population was more focused on its cost to male domination.

One factor contributing to the issue of male to female inequality in sports is the cultural ideologies in the United States. Through studies regarding Title IX, researchers have found that one ideology in American culture is that sports are innately masculine and women have a more artificial relation to athletics that would require men to “share their field.”[4] This outlook is depicted by a male coach’s commentary at the Munich Olympics, saying that Micki King “dives like a man.” Comparing King to a man reiterates the ideology that the only way for women to be acknowledged in athletics is to be compared to men. This statement is also phrased in such a way that it is almost meant to compliment a woman for ever being able to achieve the athletic ability of a man, when in reality, King’s accomplishment is based on her talent and unrelated to masculine or feminine attributes. The argument of sports being innately masculine has also been used to support the claim that women have less interest in participating in sports than men, when in fact it is the lack of support of women’s athletics caused the difference in numbers.

Other studies discuss the ideology of dominance through the subordination of the out-group in order to find dominance in the majority group, which in this case is men. Dahl suggests a perceived tradeoff where a gain of female power or feminine traits is a loss to male dominance, something that is of great concern to most men, especially in social situations when men are concerned about how their masculinity is viewed by the public.[5] In the case of Becky Birchmore, as explained in the source, almost all of her male competitors forfeited matches in fear of losing to a woman, which would therefore cause them to lose their “masculinity” as it is seen by outsiders. The zero-sum perspective implies that any female participation in sports takes away from male involvement and is therefore threatening. Dahl’s study also illustrates how a potential threat to masculinity causes heightened acts of anger, male defensiveness and the ideological dominance.[6] That’s why as Title IX came closer to implementation, male counterparts grew more defensive of their dominance in the field of athletics and may also be a partial explanation for Birchmore’s own coach, Dan Magill,  defending her male competitor after Birchmore defeated him.

Issues with Title IX are still apparent today. There are continuous court cases for reasons such as unequal funding for women’s athletics and program cuts in general; Often, the cases are dismissed as baseless. In 2013, Ellen Staurowsky conducted a study testing the knowledge of Title IX of higher athletic officials such as program presidents or athletic administrators. Results indicated that only 25% of the subjects were required to attend workshops or have previous education on Title IX before being assigned their position.[7] The lack of emphasis placed on the importance of understanding Title IX contributes further to the inequalities in men’s and women’s athletics, especially at the collegiate level. More than 40 years after the original ruling of Title IX, Congress is reconsidering legislations concerning Title IX.[8] Atixa, or the Association of Title IX Administrators, is one of the few yet extremely important  groups of professionals that work to protect Title IX.[9] Particular emphasis is placed not only initial agreeance, but continuous commitment to the deserved equal rights of females.

Programmed to be Losers[10]

Bil Gilbert and Nancy Williamson
The arguments most often used to justify discrimination against women in sports – that athletics are bad for their health and femininity, that women are not skillful enough or interested in playing games- have on the surface a nice paternalistic, even altruistic, quality. Recent studies indicate such assumptions are incorrect and self-serving nonsense. It simply happens to be in the best interest of male athletic establishment to maintain the existing situation. Anything beyond token sexual equality in athletics represents a formidable threat to male pride and Power.

“The status of the female athlete is not something implicit in the nature of the female but rather a manifestation of the ego of the male,” says Dr. Ken Foreman, the head of the Seattle Pacific College physical education department and a track coach. “Men simply cannot tolerate a serious challenge from a woman.”

Any discussion of collective egos is tricky and extremely speculative. But there are numerous incidents that suggest, at least in competitive sports, the masculinity of males is a more tender and perishable commodity than the femininity of females.[11]

Charles Maas, Secretary of the Indiana State coaches association, commented glumly on a recent decision by his state supreme court permitting girls to compete with boys and non-contact sports, such as golf, tennis, track and swimming: “There is the possibility that a boy would be beaten by a girl and as a result be ashamed to face his family and friends. I wonder if anybody has stopped to think what that could do to a young boy.”

Several years ago, Becky Birchmore won a place on the University of Georgia men’s tennis team and played in the Southeastern Conference matches.[12] Since then, Dan Magill, Georgia tennis coach, has had the time to mull over the Birchmore matter and he now regrets that Birchmore was allowed to play against men.[13] “I used her against Auburn one time,” says Magill “and she won. The boy she beat was embarrassed to death. It ruined him. I really wish I hadn’t done it.”

Male defensiveness about female athletic prowess is not restricted to head-to-head confrontations accomplished women athletes, even when they are competing against one another, seem to ruffle the psyches of many men. That there are many women athletic superior to men is indisputable. There surely are a hundred or so male tennis players who could defeat Billie Jean King, but there are hundreds of thousands who would be fortunate to win a set from King.[14] Same situation prevails and most sports. “For obvious reasons it is often the more sedentary, unathletic, spectator oriented man who has the most derogatory things to say about outstanding sportswomen,” says Ken Foreman.

A frequent ploy used to maintain the illusion of total male athletic superiority is to compliment a skillful woman by saying “she plays almost like a man.” Not long ago a male coach commented on the style of Micki King, the only American diver to win a gold medal at the Munich Olympics.  The coach said King “dives like a man,” a statement that drew a sharp comment from Jack Scott, the athletic director of Oberlin College: “Reaction on reading the quote was that she sure as hell does not dive like me or any other man I’ve ever met. In fact, she does not dive like 99% of the men in America. What she obviously does is dive correctly.”[15]

Just as many men feel menaced by the athletic activities of women, many organizations are becoming nervous over the rising expectations of women in sport. Long-standing by-and-for male principals are being threatened, as are by-and-for male budgets. “I know the men who head the High School athletic association’s in all 50 states, and I don’t think there are more than three or four of them who genuinely want to see girls programs comparable to that of boys,” says Wayne Cooley, aggressive director of the Iowa girls high school athletic Union. “Some are hostile, a more common attitude is apathy. Right now some state associations are getting a lot of heat from parents and from courts, so they are putting in token programs for girls. They will hire a woman assistant who is not aggressive and schedule a few so-called state championships and then they let the whole thing go.”

The bedrock reason for this institutional fear – and the fierce resistance to improving girls athletics – has been pinpointed by Harvard’s Dr. Clayton Thomas: “Women traditionally have not been allowed the same share of funds for athletics and Recreational Equipment. The appearance of girls teams to utilize sports facilities not previously required by them will have a great economic impact on schools, colleges and communities. If, by some miracle, women suddenly began using public and private athletic facilities to even half the extent they are used by men, then the overcrowding would be catastrophic.”

Whether or not the situation would be a catastrophe depends on one’s outlook. But a marked increase in participation by girls and women certainly would bring about radical change. Most organized sports in the U.S. fall into three categories, that which is sponsored by colleges and universities, by public school systems and by community recreation organizations. Is a guest – and probably a conservative 1 – that no more than 1% of all college and university athlete funds are spent on women, at Junior and senior high schools perhaps 5% of the funds and facilities, and community recreation programs the figure may be as high as 20%. If females were given as little as 25% of the resources, the shape of the American athletic system would be altered far more drastically then it could be by all the designated pinch hitters, franchise shifters, NCAA rule makers and carping reporters rolled together.

Kate Citron is currently a first year student at Wake Forest University. 

  1. O’Connor and Alixandra, “To Comply or Not to Comply: Evaluating Compliance with Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.”
  2. Whiteside and Hardin, “The Rhetoric and Ideology Behind Title IX.”
  3. Whiteside and Hardin.
  4. Whiteside and Hardin.
  5. Dahl, Vescio, and Weaver, “How Threats to Masculinity Sequentially Cause Public Discomfort, Anger, and Ideological Dominance over Women.”
  6. Dahl, Vescio, and Weaver.
  7. Staurowsky and Weight, “Discovering Dysfunction in Title IX Implementation.”
  8. Kwak, “Title Ix Timeline.”
  9. Wiersma-Mosley and DiLoreto, “The Role of Title IX Coordinators on College and University Campuses.”
  10. Gilbert, Bil, and Nancy Williamson. “Programmed to Be Losers.” Sports Illustrated Vault, June 11, 1973. https://www.si.com/vault/issue/43202/63
  11. In studies regarding threats to masculinity, masculinity is defined as “a cherished social identity” that contains three categories that are necessary to be fulfilled. Those categories are behavior demonstrating power and dominance, physical, emotional and mental toughness, and also keeping distance from any feminine acts or characteristics. Femininity is said to be associated with dependency, nurturance, and in general, a weaker sex. It also states that women containing forms of knowledge and power are said to challenge “gender-stereotypic power differentials.” Dahl, Julia, Theresa Vescio, and Kevin Weaver. “How Threats to Masculinity Sequentially Cause Public Discomfort, Anger, and Ideological Dominance over Women.” Social Psychology, Measure of a Man: Outcomes of Gender Stereotyping for Men and Masculinity, 46, no. 4 (2015): 242–54.
  12. Becky Birchmore was a tennis player at the University of Georgia where she was granted the opportunity to play on the men’s team in the 1960’s. Throughout her season, she remained undefeated when all but one of her competitors refused to play a women and forfeited the match. Shearer, Lee. “Magill as Coach Built Trust, Confidence.” Athens Banner-Herald. https://www.onlineathens.com/article/20140825/SPORTS/308259932
  13. Dan Magill has been pinned as one of the best coaches in college athletic history. He has also been rewarded for the act of putting Birchmore on the team, as the comments regarding the event were not until a later time. But, in addition to the comments in support of male dominance to females in terms of athletics, there have also been reports of Magill condoning negative behavior from the audience to tennis matches. Sports Illustrated shows commentary on some matches saying the behavior by the fans allowed by Magill is “inexcusable.” It becomes clear that while Magill may have been a good coach in terms of the game itself, he was lacking in areas of fairness and equality. Flood, Gay. “GEORGIA STYLE.” Sports Illustrated, June 29, 1987.
  14. Billie Jean King was a professional tennis player in the mid to late 1900’s where she played in 51 Grand Slams. In addition to her several wins in standard matches, she also challenged male professional Bobby Riggs in 1973 and won, serving as a strong statement in the battle for women’s equality. Beyond the tennis relm, King was a strong advocate for women’s rights in terms of education and equal pay and became a symbol of women’s equal ability to that of men. Ware, Susan. Game, Set, Match Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011.
  15. Micki King was an Olympic diver, as well as a military lieutenant throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. After serving in the Air Force in 1966, she entered the World Olympic Games as the only female athlete to compete in this competition. After winning an Olympic gold medal, King continued to compete against women much younger than her, and she continued to win. After her days of competing came to a close, she worked as the diving coach at the Air Force Academy. King served not only as a figure in the fight for women’s equality in sport, but also in military as well. Woolum, Janet. Chapter 3 Outstanding Women Athletes Who Influenced American Sports : Micki King (Diver). New York, United States, New York: The Oryx Press, 1992.


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