Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law on June 23, 1972. Title IX most famously applies to women’s sports, but in fact the law is much broader than that:
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.
The U.S. Department of Education gives grants of financial assistance to schools and colleges. The Title IX regulation describes the conduct that violates Title IX. Examples of the types of discrimination that are covered under Title IX include sexual harassment, the failure to provide equal opportunity in athletics, and discrimination based on pregnancy.
On its 28th anniversary today, Title IX continues to elicit controversial opinions with regard to its extension from sports to science. Though extenders’ laudably recommend supporting women in a male-dominated field, the problem with legislative “support” is that it leads to twisted legal realities.
In school sports, Title IX has developed a controversial reputation for its creation of a de facto “quota” system. Just as true supporters of civil rights disdain quotas as racial basis for education, it makes little sense to impose equality on high school students at the expense of their choice.
Title IX supporters promote the legislation as permitting women to enter athletic fields formerly reserved exclusively for men. Dissenters argue that we should not cancel men’s sports if there is no female equivalent — if women are more interested in the arts, for example, it makes more sense to encourage participation there, rather than require young women to match the interests of their Y-chromosomed counterparts in the interest of quota metrics.
Feminism is, after all, about choice. Stated the New York Times in a 2008 article:
The members of Congress and women’s groups who have pushed for science to be “Title Nined” say there is evidence that women face discrimination in certain sciences, but the quality of that evidence is disputed. Critics say there is far better research showing that on average, women’s interest in some fields isn’t the same as men’s.
In this debate, neither side doubts that women can excel in all fields of science. In fact, their growing presence in former male bastions of science is a chief argument against the need for federal intervention.
American law is premised on protecting negative rights. This means that we are “free from” interference with our right to live as we please. If there is some outside force restricting our choice, legally we are entitled to ask for that force’s removal.
Yet if, as the NYT reports, women’s interest is lagging in pursuing scientific careers, there is no infringement. Feminism is about choice, not about forcing women into certain careers simply because there are few women already represented in those fields.
The Times goes on to quote psychologist Susan Pinker:
Now, you might think those preferences would be different if society didn’t discourage girls and women from pursuits like computer science and physics. But if you read “The Sexual Paradox,” Susan Pinker’s book about gender differences, you’ll find just the opposite problem.
Ms. Pinker, a clinical psychologist and columnist for The Globe and Mail in Canada (and sister of Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist), argues that the campaign for gender parity infantilizes women by assuming they don’t know what they want.
Women know what we want. Feminism is about feeling empowered to achieve whatever it is that we want. Feminism is not about imposing some mandated quota across fields, be they professional or athletic.