Monday, June 29, 2009

'Small stories' and Title IX

As fans of women's sports know, the 37th anniversary of Title IX came and went last week with recognition from the White House, Women's Sports Foundation and women's sports advocates but with little mainstream media coverage.
Of course, the passing of the milestone for the law without wider celebration is disappointing -- but not surprising. Title IX still remains controversial, and myths about the law's impact on boys' and men's sports prevail -- especially among young people. Focus groups with teenagers and college students about Title IX, conducted by the Center for Sports Journalism, revealed that these young people shared their suspicion about the law through narratives in which boys and men were victims. Stories about opportunities stripped from male athletes -- whether based on "reality" or admittedly fabricated by participants -- were used to understand the law.
It was surprising to hear these narratives even from young women who have clearly benefited from the law. But these stories, which are simple tales that conform to gender norms, are powerful tools to tear down support for the law.
The answer? We propose that sports feminists everywhere make a concerted effort to inject individual narratives of equality and access for girls and women into the Title IX debate. An example of these is found in the WSF video about Title IX -- but we also need them at lower levels, among middle-school and high school athletes, for instance. These "small stories" of equality and empowerment can -- over time -- change public discourse.

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