It’s the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and there is much reason to celebrate. From June 2007, Title IX’s 35th anniversary.
The reason more girls still aren’t playing sports has everything to do with the pressures we put on them — and far less to do with a lack of interest in athletics.
On Wednesday, the National Review published this piece by Jessica Gavora, who is associated with the nemesis of women’s sports, the College Sports Council.
Gavora is worried that having had great success in defending the proportionality rule in colleges (which has led many schools to cut certain men’s sports, like wrestling, in order to meet quotas), the advocates for Title IX are going to push for similar measures in high school. Gavora, like most conservatives, is a fierce believer in gender essentialism; she is convinced that girls “just don’t like sports” as much as boys do. Thus mandating equal funding for both sexes unfairly punishes boys for their “natural” competitive nature. After all, many conservatives seem to believe that most real women would rather be at the quilting bee (or shopping at the mall, or writing sonnets in imitation of Millay) than running, leaping, or striking at balls with their bats or their cleats.
Okay, so maybe that’s not fair. Here’s what Gavora says that I did find interesting:
The reason high schools are having trouble finding as many girls to play sports as there are boys clamoring to take the field is apparent to anyone who takes the time to look: Girls have more varied extracurricular interests than boys. Girls out-participate boys in every extracurricular activity band, drama, debate, student government every one, that is, except for sports. The extracurricular gender gap so favors girls that the Independent Women’s Forum calculated that if the government were suddenly to require the same gender quota for participation in other extracurricular activities that it does in sports, 36 percent of female choir members, 25 percent of female orchestra members, and 33 percent of female debaters would have to be eliminated.
The implication of this is clear: If high schools follow colleges and universities in instituting gender quotas in athletics, boys will be forced to pay the price in limited or eliminated opportunities. Girls are too busy doing other things after school to turn out at the same rate for sports.
Bold emphases mine. There’s a grain of truth in what Gavora says, though it’s hardly an argument against proportionality. I’m convinced that the primary reason some schools have a hard time getting enough girls to come out for sports is not because of a lack of interest, but because of a perception on the part of these over-scheduled, over-pressured young women that sports isn’t the best use of their time. I’ve written before about the colossal pressure we put on this generation of young women to be successful; all things being equal, it does seem clear that our daughters are more anxious to please and to achieve tangible signs of success than many of their brothers.
It’s not that girls are any less competitive, any less interested in getting sweaty and dirty, any less interested in victory than boys. But as they think about college applications, as they look to their parents and adults for cues as to how to succeed, they are more likely to be pushed towards student government, the debate team, the French Club, or massive amounts of community volunteering. That’s not a function of nature — that’s a calculation about what will look good. When applying to a selective university, these girls imagine that being president of the student body will look more impressive than being an all-league mid-fielder on the soccer team.
Not everyone wants to play sports, of course. There are plenty of boys (I was one in high school) who have no interest in being athletic, and I know perfectly well that there are lots of girls who find the idea of playing on a team to be a dreary one. But I know full well that those boys who are interested in playing are more likely to be encouraged to do so, while their sisters are more likely to be pressured to choose other, seemingly more “prestigious” extra-curricular activities.
Applying proportionality to the high schools will force a necessary cultural shift. We’re going to need to do more than demand that dollars spent reflect the percentage of girls and boys in the entire school. We’re going to have to challenge the “culture of perfection” in which so many young women labor, a culture which often discourages girls from putting their hearts, bodies, and souls into sports. (Courtney Martin writes very well about that culture, I reviewed her book here).
And we’re going to need to get some boys up off the damn couch, away from the video games, and into not only sports, but those activities now so often dominated by girls: debate, band, student government.
Bring on proportionality.