Growing Up in a Title IX World
It was not lost on me as a child that my father wrote his college thesis on Title IX. And it is not lost on me as an adult that while I don’t remember having ever talked about the specifics of his paper - his motivation, his thesis, and his findings - I do recall never thinking as a young girl obsessed with the ‘99 Women’s World Cup team that his incentive could ever have been for any reason other than his undying support for women’s equality. Whether that was the case or not never occurred to me.
What I do remember talking about as a child, however, was how my great gram was the fastest girl in Albany but never played organized sports, that her mother (my great great grandmother) marched for the women’s right to vote, and that my own mother was the fastest girl at Stratford School (the local elementary) and how she played softball because that was the only option back then. Or so the stories go. My mom told stories from her childhood about watching the famed Battle of the Sexes tennis duel and how all the neighborhood husbands and wives made bets against each other leading up to the match. And how vividly she remembers the wives’ heated investment in the outcome of a professional sporting event for the first and only time in her memory. Well, could you blame them? But most importantly it is not lost on me that, akin to claims of older generations walking to school uphill both directions in the snow, these stories and pieces of my family history all seemed entirely too ancient and old fashioned for my privileged little-kid mind to relate to in any substantial way. I was too busy going to soccer practice and watching the women’s World Cup team beat China in pks.
The only people in my life who constantly tried to convince me that boys sports were superior to girls’ sports were the boys who lived down the block who I could eke past in a race right up until we all hit puberty, and that’s just science. Their constant barrage did nothing but annoy me, likely because I was not fighting for the right to play soccer. Incidentally, these same neighbors were the ones sitting with me, years later, collectively losing our minds after Abby Wambach scored the late goal against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinals.
And perhaps that is what it means to have been one of the first generations to have grown up with Title IX steadily in place. We heard stories about the past but couldn’t relate in the moment. We were pestered by boys but didn’t put any weight behind their words because we all knew them to be inconsequential. We grew up in a post Title IX world.
But did we? Since the ratification of the first collective bargaining agreement in U.S. women’s soccer league history this past February, I have quickly come to realize that legislation is only as good as its enforcement. Title IX was not enforced overnight, not even close. Just a few years ago, when Covid hit and sports leagues around the country entered various bubbles, a video went viral comparing the NCAA women’s basketball weight room, a rack of dumbbells wedged against a wall, to their counterparts on the men’s side, a vast expanse of all the weightlifting equipment imaginable. Sadly, the shocking part of the video for me was my lack of shock. My team and I were in our own bubble in Utah, and we laughed about the injustice of this video, joked about how ridiculous it was, retweeted it for the world to see what we knew all along and had experienced ourselves along the way - that things are still not equal. Yes, there is an equal amount of roster spots for women and men at any given college, but the legislation doesn’t stop at opportunity alone. However, in reality, somehow it did.
And so as I grow older, all that history and all of those stories start to mean something. All along, women have had to push the bar. We’re not living in a post Title IX world, we’re very much a part of it. We cannot be the ones who find contentment in this definition of “equality”, because if we do, we will be the first generation to have done so.
But we should not just push for the sake of pushing. Our focus should be: what can our generation contribute to this history?
There was a moment in CBA negotiations that changed it all for me. We were waist deep, picking apart a certain section making the argument that the MLS gets so-and-so, so in turn we should ask for so-and-so, and it took one player to raise the question: why are we comparing ourselves to the men? Why are they the gold standard? We aren’t men. We will always lose the race after puberty hits, and that’s ok. We are our own league.
And maybe that’s the answer. The men aren’t slowing down, nor should they, and until we stop aiming for their ceiling, we will constantly be trying to catch up.
Equality for basic rights is necessary, but to expand our potential as women athletes we need to reroute and identify our own ceilings to raise. And if we do, our own daughters will find our stories antiquated and outdated, and that will be the measure of our success.
By Emily Menges