The presumption of male privilege is rarely declared so openly as when ignorant people begin yodeling about Title IX, which Congress passed in 1972 to counteract the self-evident gender disparities throughout the education system. Consider the latest cry for gender equity from E.M. Swift of Sports Illustrated:
Look, Title IX was needed in 1972. And it worked brilliantly. But the world has changed. I was a junior in college when it was passed. Now my son is a senior in college. A generation has elapsed, and women’s sports are here to stay. Thank God and Title IX.
But because of Title IX’s unintended consequences, in 2006 the law is causing more harm than good. Women’s sports are no longer on life support. They are vibrant, popular, well-funded and growing. They can be taken off the endangered-species list.
Almost nothing Swift has to say here is either relevant or factually correct. The McGuffin for Swift’s outrage, interestingly, was the decision by my undergraduate alma mater, James Madison University, to cut ten varsity sports (seven of which were men’s teams) to reach compliance with the “substantial proportionality” requirements of Title IX. That decision has evidently set the campus alight with rage, stoked by Jessica Gavora of the National Review among other parties, all of whom (like Swift) promote the errant nonsense that Title IX was “legitimate” in its time but that it has “outlived its usefulness” to such a degree that male athletes are endangered by “reverse discrimination.” (As an alumnus of JMU who remembers the late 1980s — when members of the football team ran a massive gambling operation, when members of the golf team attacked dorm-mates of mine with their putters and sand wedges, and the athletic department became the laughing stock of the mid-Atlantic by hiring Lefty Dreisell as basketball coach after he obstructed the investigation of Len Bias’ cocaine overdose — I can honestly say that the elimination of men’s varsity teams does not trouble me in the least. And Scott Norwood is a graduate of JMU, for chrissakes. But those are my personal views, and I can separate them, I think, from what I see as fair policies.)
As for Swift’s observation that Title IX “was needed” in 1972, nothing could be less obvious. At the time, for instance, women were awarded fewer than 10% of available spots in medical and law schools and earned less than one out of every four doctoral degrees in the US. The University of Virginia, he major public university in my own home state, began admitting women on an equal basis in 1970, the year I was born. Though the 1972 amendments covered all aspects of academic life, most of the hot air disgorged on this issue has emphasized its consequences for collegiate athletics. Swift might be surprised to learn that opposition to Title IX commenced almost instantaneously, before it could have the “brilliant” effects Swift claims to have observed over his lifetime. Since the 1970s, opposition to Title IX developed alongside other movements to curtail redistributive social and economic programs. Congressional efforts to limit the scope of Title IX were routinely raised (and defeated) during the 1970s, and a broader conservative campaign against Title IX has argued that the law has already achieved its goals and that it — like affirmative action, social welfare, the Clean Water Act and so forth — needs to be dismantled. No one, of course, argues that women don’t deserve equal access to higher education and is amenities; but the effects of freezing the enforcement of Title IX (which is what its opponents seek) would preserve the inequities that do in fact exist between women’s and men’s collegiate athletic programs.
For instance, in 2001 Division 1-A men’s college athletic programs spent more than twice the money on men’s programs ($10.9 million) as they spent on women’s ($4.6 million); universities spend an average of $34,000 for each male athlete, compared with about $20,000 for each female athlete. While it’s true that spending on women’s programs has grown at a faster rate than men’s since the 1980s, the overall growth of men’s programs has not — contrary to anti-Title IX mythology — been hampered. Throughout all NCAA divisions, 61 men’s teams were added between 1988-2002. While 174 Division I teams were euthanized, Division III schools added 212 teams Division II schools added just under two dozen. (The truly devoted can read 2002 and 2003 gender equity reports in .pdf form here and here. While improvements have been made since 1972, women are still at an unquestionable disadvantage by every objective measure.)
None of this matter, though, to opponents of gender equity who refuse to be intellectually honest about what they actually want.