Equality - In all Things?
In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendment Act, a comprehensive law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. This act would have enormous repercussions for women student's empowerment, leadership, and opportunities, both during their college years and after graduation. But the fight for equal funding was not easy.
The University of Kentucky –prior to Title IX - had a long history of female sports. In 1903, the school fielded many intramural sports, including swimming, archery, rifle, hockey, volleyball, and basketball. But there was a limit to female involvement in sports. In 1924, the women's basketball team and others were disbanded because, according to President McVey: “Women’s basketball was too strenuous for females.”
Although at the time of its passing Title IX was controversial, at base the law required that universities who accepted federal assistance and funds uphold an American treasured value, the right to not be discriminated against - in this case because of gender. But after 1972, just because UK women had the same legal rights to athletics as men, accessing that right was not easy. Women struggled to find their place in the male-dominated arena of college athletics. Just how athletic could women be?
As the 20th century progressed, and it was understood sports were not damaging to female anatomy (as educators, doctors, and parents believed in the early 1900s), the tension between sport and femininity still remained. Societal conceptions of female strength and beauty would need to undergo serious change to fully accept female college athletes.
The 1960s Women’s Liberation movement would do much to help bring about the societal changes necessary to not only allow, but to encourage women to strive for their best in sport and retain their femininity - or at least their acceptance - among their peers.
In 1981, the University of Kentucky's women’s swim team filed a discrimination lawsuit against the University with the federal Office of Civil Rights. The team instituted the suit because, despite the fact that both a men's and women's swim team existed at that time, the women's swim team remained a club team while the men's team had varsity status. Being designated as a club team meant that the women did not have access to a paid coach, practice time, or a budget or more than $300. The varsity men’s team, on the other hand, had two paid coaches, practice time available on campus, and a budget in the tens of thousands including scholarships available to male swimmers.
In the interim of the swim team discrimination suit and the resulting investigation, UK basketball player Lady Kat Valerie Still broke the record for length of time taken to score 1,000 points - beating all former male basketball players. And in 1983, the same year UK was found out of compliance with Title IX by the Federal Office of Civil Rights as a result of the women's swim team's complaint, female athletes pulled in more titles and victories than men.
Clearly, while fighting for their legal rights, UK female atheletes were also proving their worth in the arena of sport.
After a thorough investigation in 1983, the federal Office of Civil Rights found UK out of compliance with Title IX for denying its female athletes equal opportunities – particularly in allocation of coaches and travelling funds, required by federal legislation.
The fight for equal opportunity in sports reveals much about American society and how long real change takes. Federal legislation is not enough to ensure equality of opportunity for women in the workplace, university, or playing field. Legislation is but a tool women can use to fight for change against an unwilling structure.