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A Giant Step Back for Women

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Women fought for the right to vote. They pushed for equality in education, equal treatment in public spheres, and equal opportunities in the workforce. At every stage, as women moved more and more into male-dominated arenas, one thing became clear: the separation of the sexes in private places like restrooms, locker rooms, and shower rooms was essential to women’s success. Because such separate facilities were often not provided, private women’s facilities became an essential aspect of the push for women’s rights.

That separation, especially in schools, provides both emotional security and physical safety. It guarantees that a woman’s innate sense of personal privacy will not be invaded. It removes the anxiety, especially for women, of having to attend to their most private needs where men are present. So why would the federal government attack that by allowing biological males into girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms? More importantly, why would they do so knowing girls could be harmed?

In 2014, the Department of Education announced a radical reinterpretation of the term “sex” in Title IX to include “gender identity.” It then set about promulgating and enforcing its new interpretation to require school districts across the nation to allow students to use the private facilities of students of the opposite sex. This means in school districts, like Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Illinois, a biological male can enter and use the girls’ locker rooms, restrooms, and showers. Any district that resists this agenda could face threats that DOE will try to revoke its federal funding.

But this agenda harms women’s educational opportunities. Because of this agenda, any time a girl in District 211 or a school with similar policies uses the restroom, changes for PE, or showers after swimming, she does so with the knowledge that a biological boy is or may be present.

That knowledge is mortifying to girls. It causes anxiety and embarrassment, and it preoccupies them during the day as they know they will inevitably have to use a restroom or locker room that a biological male will also be using again. Worse still is the fact that it is their school that has required this violation of their privacy and robbed them of safety and security in their school environment. Their educational experience is no longer what it was before a boy walked into their locker room. It is now full of anxiety, fear, humiliation, and a deep sense that their right to privacy is being trampled.

So some girls avoid school restrooms and locker rooms. Other girls wait as long as possible to use the restroom. They risk tardiness by running across school to try to find a more private restroom. They try to avoid changing for PE by wearing their PE uniforms under their clothes all day. They reconsider their participation in athletics. And when there is no other option, girls grit their teeth, use the restroom or locker room as fast as they can, avoiding all eye contact, and then leave as quickly as possible.

That is not equal education for women.

Worse still is the message these policies send to girls. You must accept an invasion of your privacy. There is no safe space in this school for you. Your sense of modesty and privacy mean nothing up against a boy’s desire to use your locker room and restroom. No one cares about the adolescent embarrassments and struggles unique to you because you were born with a girl’s body. And worse yet, there is something wrong with you if you feel uncomfortable changing your clothes or using the restroom with a biological male.

Is that what we want for our young women? Recent waves of feminism speak of breaking down barriers to women’s education, climbing the corporate ladder through leadership and confidence, and raising our daughters to do the same. We want our daughters to be strong, independent, and comfortable in their own skin, yet how can they do that in an environment that feels so toxic? Promoting young girls to “lean in” and “#banbossy” doesn’t mean very much when the government is instituting policies like the one in District 211.

It cannot be allowed to continue. The government is threatening the rights women have worked so hard to secure. Worse still, they are doing it by attacking the most vulnerable women—young girls—in school, an environment where the government has almost complete power over them. That kind of overreach and tyranny is unacceptable. It poses a massive backslide in women’s education. It must be resisted, for the sake of women everywhere.

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