Playing Fair? Title IX at 45

Schlesinger Library Exhibition
Photo by Toby MolenaarPhoto by Toby Molenaar

Playing Fair? Title IX at 45 opens on April 3, 2017, and runs through September 16, 2017.

It will be on view on the first floor of the Schlesinger Library, Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Free and open to the public.

Over the past four decades, the phrase “Title IX” has become practically synonymous with women’s sports. The events leading up to Title IX’s passage in 1972 and the struggle ever since to figure out how to implement the law fairly demonstrate how athletics became part of the broader political and cultural struggles of contemporary American life. The history of Title IX also confirms the difficulties—and the rewards—of putting abstract principles like equal opportunity and gender equity into concrete, everyday practice. Do women and girls enjoy more equitable access to sports than they did 45 years ago? Absolutely. Have they reached athletic parity with men? Definitely not.

The key provision of Title IX is only 37 words long, but from the start, it sparked high expectations as well as conflict and ambiguity—all of which continue to this day. Legislators originally conceived the law as a general tool to combat sex discrimination in educational institutions but failed to grasp its potentially revolutionary impact on athletics. Over the years, Title IX has continued to evolve. Today, it is an effective but often controversial tool on campus for mobilizing against sexual harassment and violence against women—another outcome not anticipated by its original sponsors.

The 45 years that Title IX has been in effect has been a period of enormous change in women’s (and men’s) lives, on and off the playing field. The women’s sports revolution is here to stay, but gender equity in education and society in general is still incomplete. Title IX remains an important tool in the ongoing struggle.