Tuesday, August 21, 2012

London 2012: Title IX Olympics?

The U.S. media started buzzing about the progress of women in the London 2012 Olympics even before the closing ceremonies. By now the media outlets seemed to have come to a consensus that these were truly the "Women's Olympics."

Considering that the U.S. women outnumbered U.S. men both in number of participants and number of gold medals, boxing was added for women, and for the first time all countries had a female athlete on the team, it is only fitting to acknowledge the historical significance of the strides towards gender equity.

For the success of the U.S athletes specifically, scholars and journalists -- Christine Brennan, among others -- have given full credit to Title IX. Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded educational institutions. Since its implementation, women's participation in sports in the U.S. has tremendously increased, opening up opportunities for competition in high school and college alike. (See an annual report by Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter here.)

It is important to recognize that the law did not only have a legislative impact, but has also resulted in a cultural shift in regards to women's involvement in sports.

That said, it is also important to recognize that Title IX cannot be credited with the accomplishment of all female athletes. The success of Serena and Venus Williams, for instance, is hardly a direct result of Title IX. And their two gold medals are not the only exceptions to the "Title IX Team" narrative. Wendy Parker adds to this argument by suggesting that the emphasis on winning in the U.S. media coverage "runs counter to what the law is supposed to be about."

Whether Title IX was "supposed" to result in the international success of athletes (male or female) who have organized athletic opportunities throughout their school years, while -- not instead of -- receiving their education, is questionable. Perhaps, this is one of those that can be placed under the unintended (positive or negative?) consequences category.

However, what this celebratory coverage should not be doing is positioning Title IX, once again, within the "battle of the sexes" framework. Title IX is not a battle. Contrary to the myth, it is not a battle between men and women. It is also not a quota system which would require more women than men to compete. And, it most certainly is not a contest of who wins more medals at the Olympics.

Title IX is about equity. It is about protection against discrimination. Title IX is about education, let us not forget that. If it had even a slight impact on how female athletes are viewed in the U.S. society- - and I daresay it did -- which then resulted in a greater number of female athletes participating in and succeeding at the Olympics, then, yes, the American media should celebrate.

But let us also remember: there is no win-loss record in Title IX.

--Dunja Antunovic

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