If you defend Title IX, you're a man-hater, oppose it, and you're a pig.
I myself am in imminent danger of being called one thing or the other. I'm immediately suspect on this subject, anything I say will come into question, seeing as how I'm a, you know, woman. Worse, I'm a woman who writes on the sports page, which very often makes people see red. Or, worst of all, pink.
Any discussion of Title IX is full of these gender land mines, not to mention more than a few trapdoors of logic. It's a war between the sexes, and a war between conservatives and liberal intellectuals, and I don't know how a simple girl like me found herself here. But there it is. Next week, a national commission studying reform of Title IX will vote on recommendations to forward to Secretary of Education Rod Paige. One proposal would allow schools to devote as little as 43 percent of scholarships to women -- despite the fact that women now make up 55 percent of college enrollments, while men command about 60 percent of all athletic scholarships. Another proposal would require women to prove their interest in sports via campus surveys.
Now, check me on this: When's the last time a government law was written by a stereotype?
What we have here is a classic case of the federal government intruding where it shouldn't, and on a topic about which it knows little. What I mean to say is, if chicks don't know sports, the feds know even less.
The chief difficulty with Title IX compliance is not social, or legal, but economic: Bloated athletic department budgets of $40 million and up, spiraling deficits, and excessive numbers of football scholarships make it financially impossible to achieve gender parity without cutting something, so athletic directors cut men's wrestling. Then the wrestlers claim discrimination. The Bush administration promptly appoints a commission -- and staffs it with athletic directors. Ten of the 15 commission members come from football schools -- the very people who, if there has been gender discrimination, perpetrated it.
Here's another thing that makes me gaze at my nail polish in a fit of pure female air-headedness.
How come the current administration is considering weakening a law that has never been enforced -- not once? No school has ever been penalized for non-compliance with Title IX in the 30-year history of the law.
And another thing that makes me put a manicured hand to my little harpy's head in confusion: How come the Bush administration is considering revisions to a law that encourages sexual abstinence? Weakening Title IX is simply not a wise conservative decision, if for no other reason than the fact that it's simply the best antiabortion program ever instituted. According to the Institute for Athletics and Education, girls who participate in sports are 80 percent less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy. They are also three times more likely to graduate from high school, and 92 percent less likely to use drugs. Female athletes value themselves as something other than just a potential girlfriend. In other words, Title IX fits the Bush administration's agenda perfectly.
So what gives? One answer is that Title IX has become part of a holy war by conservative intellectuals against a woman named Norma Cantu, who headed the Office of Civil Rights under the Clinton administration. In 1996, Cantu issued a policy interpretation of Title IX. The OCR under Bush has demonstrated a visceral hostility to anything touched by Cantu, dubbed a "quota-queen" by her opponents.
Curt A. Levey, director of Legal and Public Affairs for the Center for Individual Rights, the conservative public interest law firm, contends that current Title IX policy interpretation is a quota that should be revised along the lines of interest, as reflected by surveys. "I don't think it's too much to say that people who are interested should say they're interested," he says. Levey also says, "I don't think you should tell women they're interested when they're not."
But you shouldn't tell them they aren't, when they are, either. Interest is tricky ground for Title IX opponents, and they should be careful. Athletic participation by women at the high school level has risen over 800 percent in the last 30 years. One can argue that they've already proved their interest: 2.8 million high school girls play a varsity sport, while there are only about 159,000 varsity college scholarships available to them. Over the same period, male athletic participation has remained flat. What's more, women are playing in ever increasing numbers despite the fact that their treatment tends to be lousy and their facilities inferior.
Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimabalist says, "They're being told to play in dumpy locker rooms, on dumpy fields, with no travel, and no print attention in local paper. They don't get any of the resources that make it an attractive thing to do. Suppose you take somebody to McDonald's for dinner, instead of the Four Seasons. If they don't want to eat at McDonald's, it doesn't mean they don't like food."
Some would-be Title IX reformers argue that the law is too often used to redress the gender discriminatory past. "I don't think the best way to correct discrimination that is suffered by minorities and women is to have a program of institutionalized discrimination the other way," says Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative public interest forum. "Instances of discrimination should be addressed directly."
Well, yes. Exactly. In the 1950s and early '60s, public accommodations law required swimming pools to integrate. Some chose to close, rather than to allow blacks to swim with whites. And some people lost their opportunity to swim. They sued the pool owners. No one ever suggested it was the fault of the law.
It's wrong to write off advocates such as Clegg and Levey as enemies of opportunity for women, just as it's wrong to write off Title IX advocates as man-haters. Neither is true, and both sides make some good points. In this heated political game of shirts and skins, one person's opportunity is another's discrimination. What female soccer players call blue sky, male wrestlers call rain. But in the end there is a fundamental lack of intellectual rigor and consistency in the challenges to Title IX. You can't argue on the one hand that Title IX should be gender-blind, and on the other that women should have to prove "interest." You have to pick a lane.
The real intellectual problem here is that college athletics are unique; they aren't like law schools, or engineering schools. Quotas deal with situations in which you set aside slots for one or another sex, in a piece of artificial social engineering. But the sports world is an inherently sex-segregated world -- and a highly charged, isotopic one at that.
Title IX and the policy interpretations that emanate from it just try to see that it's segregated fairly. To date, no legal challenge to the law has succeeded. A stacked committee shouldn't either.