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Making It On Their Own

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
How would you like to tell a fifth grade girl who plays travel team soccer or a sixth grade "Girls on the Run" racer that the main reason she’s able to compete and win is because of a white man who’s been dead for decades?

I wouldn’t advise it; she may be tempted to punch you in the nose. But as the segment of education law known as Title IX turns 40 this month, that’s exactly the argument many of its proponents are making.

In June 1972 President Richard Nixon “signed Title IX, the law that finally opened the playing fields of America to girls and women, forever changing our nation by allowing the other half of our population to learn about winning, losing, teamwork and sportsmanship at a young age,” writes Christine Brennan in USA Today .

But were playing fields closed to girls by law, or by mere tradition?

By the 1970s, the U.S. was changing quickly to become the country we see today, one where women have the same educational opportunities men do. But that wasn’t driven by law; it was driven by a change in attitudes. The law followed a generational changing of opinions. That’s why it’s impossible to imagine Title IX passing in 1945, but equally impossible to imagine a world today in which girls aren’t treated as educationally equal to boys.

But that’s not how proponents of Title IX see things, of course. “Women have not yet come close to achieving the proportional representation Title IX mandates,” Brennan writes. Well, hold on just a moment. This is actually a fundamental misreading of the law.

Don’t take my word for it. As Brennan also points out, Title IX is a mere 37 words, so please read it for yourself: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

There’s nothing in there about “proportional representation.” The law simply demands that the sexes enjoy equality of opportunity , not equality of outcome .

Look at it this way: If Title IX demands equality of outcome in education, the country would need to discriminate against women. They are, after all, vastly overrepresented in higher education.

“Between 1970 and 2005, the gender composition has shifted to the extent that women now make up the majority—54 percent—of the 10.8 million young adults enrolled in college,” according to a report from the Population Reference Bureau. But according to the 2010 census, Population Reference Bureau . But according to the 2010 census , the country today is 50.8 percent female and 49.2 percent male. If we’re going to have equality of outcome, we’d better get busy lowering admission standards for men or booting women out of college.

That sounds crazy, but it’s exactly what schools have done: Get rid of men’s athletic teams in an attempt to even up the numbers . That’s a big reason sports such as wrestling and men’s gymnastics are disappearing from campus.

“Over the past 30 years, college wrestling has lost 45 percent of its Division I teams,” The Washington Post reported recently . “Men’s gymnastics has been hit even harder, with just 16 Division I teams remaining from the 59 that existed in 1981-82. That’s a drop of nearly 73 percent.” Enjoy the 2012 Olympics, since the U.S. may
never be competitive in these men's sports again.

It’s time to take a more adult approach and realize that men and women are different, with different attitudes and desires. One survey, for example, found that “women tend to value higher education more highly than men do and believe it has had a more positive impact on their lives,” as The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last year.

And our attitude toward education has changed. A few years back I was talking with an extremely successful woman in her 60s. Her two brothers went to college; she and her sister didn’t. Their father thought his daughters’ job was to get married.

Her daughters, on the other hand, did go to college.

For me, I hope my daughter will play soccer, softball, baseball, lacrosse and more. But if she does, it’ll be because she wants to. And she’ll succeed (or fail) in sports (and in life) based on her effort and ability, not on her sex.

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