This paper was written by a student in a course at Bryn Mawr College, and reflects that student's research and thoughts at the time the paper was written. Like other things on Serendip, the paper is not intended to be "authoritative" but is instead provided to encourage others to themselves learn about and think through subjects of interest, and, by providing relevant web links, to serve as a "window" to help them do so. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

Gender Discrimination In Sports

Lane Thomasson

Throughout this paper I will explore the issues of women, athletics, stereotyping, and opportunities that are available to females in the arena of athletics. Indeed, racism and sexism continue to permeate American society and in its institutions. There have been a number of laws passed to alleviate these entrenched values, Affirmative Action being the most notable. Nevertheless, females in America continue to be viewed as the "weaker sex", and inevitably this mentality continues to impact women in American society. It is my intention to address these variables both individually as well as in intertwining units.

In 1972 Title IX was passed by the Supreme Court. The intent of the framers was to pass a bill that would act as an anti-discrimination statute in response to employment and admission departments' discrimination against women at colleges and universities. Women were not receiving the same opportunities as men at the time and Title IX was passed to remedy that problem. In order to mandate more opportunities for women in varsity athletics the Department of Health, Education and Welfare wrote the Athletics Regulation in 1975. This regulation was intended to ensure that women were not denied opportunities that presented themselves on the playing field.

In 1979 the federal government wrote a three sectioned test to further ensure compliance with the Athletics Regulations. A school can pass the test in any of three ways. The first way is to show that the number of female varsity participants is proportionately equal to the females in the student body. The second way is to show that the school has a history of accommodating women in athletics and is continuing to make strides in the right direction. The third possibility is to show that your school has met the expectations and desires of the student body. Many schools have found that the proportionality test is the easiest to pass and therefor are moving to comply with it. Though the rules do not specify what constitutes substantial proportionality, some out of court settlements suggest coming within five percentage points would be sufficient. U.S.A. Today found that 28 of 303 Division 1-A schools, or 9%, passed this proportionality test. The Equity in Athletics Act of 1997 has made it federal law for all colleges and universities to report data on men's and women's athletics. This provision makes the policing of many colleges and universities easier to facilitate.

Title IX, while framed to combat both scholastic and athletic discrimination, has had the most notable impact on the field of play. Many court cases have arisen concerning female athletic participation at colleges across the country. Much of the media attention that Title IX has garnered in the recent past has been centered on athletics. Little attention has been paid to the less controversial, and thereby widely accepted, impact Title IX has had in the classroom. In the next two paragraphs I will discuss the pros and cons of Title IX enforcement on the field of play.

Proponents of Title IX simply desire to give women all of the opportunities that men have in a college atmosphere. Supporters state that competition helps women and girls to nurture a sense of self-esteem and accomplishment. The benefits of competition are evident in the "freedom, strength, and joy of a generation of women," (The Nation). Giving women opportunities on the playing field also engenders camaraderie between girls and boys at a young age. "It's like they understand what you have achieved," said one University of Wisconsin Madison track runner (The Nation). This level of understanding between men and women was something that few women of older generations got the chance to experience. "For women my age it's a foreign thing to understand this competition," says Joan Hoyer-Weaver, "we weren't even raised to be competitive," (The Nation). This competition facilitates better understanding not only on the playing field but also in business, politics, and society at large. Women are starting (albeit slowly) to be viewed as equals and not as the "weaker sex." Verna Williams of the National Women's Law Center says it best: "Title IX's not just for sports anymore. It's a tool for making schools more hospitable for girls and women, ending sexual harassment, and winning real gender equity across the board in education" (US News and World Report).

Opponents of Title IX primarily focus their objections on one issue. That focus is the issue of proportionality. As I stated earlier many schools find the proportionality test to be the easiest with which to comply. The most common mode of compliance is not to add women's sports, it is instead to cut men's. The common culprit is seen to be football, a traditional male sport that is not only well-funded but also under fire because of team size. Football, because of the size of the teams (anywhere from 80-100 men) is usually the first sport to be cut. The opponents of Title IX argue that while proportionality may be served, it is not in the best interest of either the men or the women concerned. Many on both sides of the issue claim that proportionality doesn't necessarily reflect equal opportunities. Richard Epstein, a University of Chicago law professor argues, "Title IX would be read to require a rough proportion of men and women in engineering and science on the one hand, and art and literature on the other, even though, most certainly, far more men are engaged in the former activities and far more women are engaged in the latter," (US News and World Report). While he makes a good point, it is also evident in his statement that Epstein also falls prey to the very thing his opponents are trying to abolish, and that is stereotyping.

The University of Minnesota has long been a liberal and fair institution. Title IX is not meant to damage the opportunities of men, even if it's opponents feel it fair to make that claim. The intent of the bill should be enforced, and that is gender equity. If there are opportunities for men then there should be both equal quantities and qualities of opportunities for women. Equality cannot be separated by location. If women do not receive gender equity on the field of play they will continue to be denied it in society at large. Equality is an all or nothing right, and it certainly seems easiest to begin on the playing field.


Brady, Erik and Witoski, Tom, "Title IX Improves Women's Participation," U.S.A. Today, 3 March, 1997
Van Keuren, K. 1192. "Title IX 20 Years Later: Has Sport Actually Changed?" CSSS Digest Summer:9
Leo, John, "Gender Police: Pull Over!", U.S. News and World Report, 24 March, 1998 v124 n11 p11
Schuld, Kimberly and Cantu, Norma, "Does government require 'proportional representation' for women in college sports?" (Symposium, Panel Discussion), Insight on the News, 3 August, 1998 v14 n28 p24
Conniff, Ruth, "The Joy of Women's Sports," The Nation, 10 August, 1998 v267 n5 p26
Sigelman, Lee and Wahlbeck, Paul J., "Gender Proportionality in Intercollegiate Athletics: the Mathematics of Title IX Compliance," Social Science Quarterly, Sept 1999 v80 i3 p518

| Forums | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994-2002 - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:19 CDT