When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to be a soccer player when I grew up (that is, whenever I wasn’t being a movie star or a fairy princess). I wasn’t especially good at soccer. In fact, I barely knew how to play. That wasn’t the point. I had just learned that women’s soccer wasn’t taken as seriously as men’s soccer and that, comparatively speaking, not very many people watched it. My five-year-old logic went like this:
“Surely the only reason people take men’s soccer more seriously is that there aren’t very many women playing soccer and so people don’t know about it. If there were more women soccer players, it would be a much more popular sport and everyone would support it. Ergo I should be a soccer player and help make it really popular. If tons of little girls become soccer players, then everyone will pay attention.”
A+ plan, right? This was 1995 and Mia Hamm was becoming a household name, after she became the youngest USA woman to win the World Cup in 1991. A whole generation of girls was being ushered into sports camps.
June 23rd marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX (law requiring gender equity in federally funded educational programs, including sports). Growing up as a post-Title IX child during the “girl power” 90’s, I never really grasped the significance of this law. I still don’t have a thorough enough understanding of what it was like to be an aspiring female athlete pre-1972. My family has never been big on team sports. I follow figure skating like some people follow football (complete with the stereotypical yelling at the TV and threatening to throw things), but I grew up basically ignoring team sports–men’s and women’s equally–so I wasn’t immersed in the culture that glorified men’s teams and disregarded women’s.
When I was three, I began figure skating; when I was 14, I moved over to dance. Stereotypes aside, these are definitely girl/woman-dominated activities. (Side note: if you think figure skating isn’t a sport, you are hereby dismissed.) My friends who were athletic were skaters and dancers. Again, no connection with dominant sports culture that prioritizes men.
It wasn’t until college that I had friends who were athletes in the world of team sports. Going to a historically women’s college, the athletes were almost exclusively women. (Now I’m that weird kid who thinks rugby is primarily a women’s sport and gets confused when people talk about ruggers being upwards of six feet. Yeah. Same goes for crew. Why do people think of this when they think of rowers?) I began seeing what it means to center sports on women’s teams and how much of these athletes’ lives and passion would be overlooked in a setting that didn’t value them.
Watching this video, something finally clicked. In it Laurie Priest, MHC’s Director of Athletics, explains that “at Mount Holyoke, women are treated as first-class citizens, because all the opportunities are for women. Women are not the sideshow. They get top billing as the only show in town” (4:57). Ah ha.
That’s what Title IX gets us–confirmation that women are just as deserving of a top-billed spot and consequently merit all the training, facilities, and support that will get them there. Next step: getting women’s athletics to be recognized with the same prestige accorded men’s. Oh and maybe I should stop referring to half-time as “intermission”…