I am unclear about what motivated this article out of Omaha about the participation of high school girls in sports, but it fails to understand Title IX, its philosophical foundations and application, in ways that I have seen since we began this blog over a decade ago. I will discuss a few of these at the end of this post, but I want to begin with what really struck me about this very short article. First, we need to start having conversations about how the philosophy and practice of high school sports has changed since Title IX was enacted and how these changes may or do affect opportunities, interest, and treatment. Second, I want to consider what it might look like to measure interest differently.
Starting with the latter: the article repeatedly talks about the interests of girls. It asks whether girls are less interested in sports. Again not a new question. And then suggests that Title IX isn't really fair if girls are just less interested in sports and though it does not definitively conclude that they are less interested, the author does cite some numbers about the plateauing of the participation rates.
So while the author does not say these numbers indicate lack of interest (small kudos), there is the assumption that the greater number of boys who participate does indicate interest. This, I argue, is a false assumption. Are boys who play actually interested in playing? Granted, Title IX mandates equitable opportunities for the historically underrepresented sex so we look to girls to see if they are interested as one measure of equity. (More on this below.) But why aren't we studying how interested boys really are? We have discussed how stereotypes about female athletes can affect participation but what about stereotypes about boys who don't play sports? Are the numbers of boys playing actually overinflated because we assume that their participation equals interest whereas for girls we look at other things that affect (lack of) participation. In short, let's add some nuance to these research questions.
To my first point above, we need to start looking at how the changes in the culture of high school sports has affected participation. In the era of specialization and the obsessive quest for the college scholarship, high school sports are becoming less and less about participation and skill-building and fun and enhancing the educational experience. Maybe this is not the environment some students desire and so they choose different extracurriculars. But who chooses not to participate in high school sports because of the ultra-competitive environment is influenced by the culture. What are the other opportunities? Do these other opportunities bring similar or greater amounts of cultural and social capital? These questions have different answers based on one's gender and race and class and ability and religion (and other identity factors). How will we (or should we) consider these when we talk about what is fair in regard to the distribution of opportunities?
One critique of the article, including the one law professor expert the author uses, is related to this concept of fair. The standard of fairness that Title IX uses is equity--not strict equality. And it has specific measures in place to determine equity in regard to opportunities--none of which are a 50/50 division. Equal distribution of opportunities is not even a goal of Title IX, despite what the law professor says. Fairness is not always about equality; arguably what is fair is rarely about what is equal.
Overall the article fails to understand this, the philosophy of the law, and its history; including the fact that Title IX was not not enforced for much of the 80s and the effects of lack of enforcement have lingered and are nearly impossible to measure. This is made all the more impossible by the fact that high schools are not required to report their participation numbers and thus their compliance is only challenged (via complaint and/or lawsuit) rather than monitored. Is that fair??