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Archive for June 27th, 2012

I still remember watching one Summer Olympics many, many years ago with a group of men. It was a date, sort of, after a softball game, and we were sitting at the home of one of the team members having a post-game beer. The players were all science majors and athletes, which should have made them slightly more intelligent than the average guy and slightly more sympathetic to other athletes. But it didn’t—at least in one major area.

That area was women in sports. What I mainly remember about that Olympics-viewing session were the derisive comments flying around the room about the women swimmers. They were ugly. They didn’t look like women. They had too many muscles. And, in the case of the US women, they were losers. Ugly losers didn’t count as athletes. They counted as freaks.

Flash forward a good many years to this summer. The US women’s swim team is one of the best in the world. US women athletes like Lindsey Vonn are pictured in pinup shots, showing off their muscles along with their other assets. In other words, women athletes are no longer ugly losers. And they’re definitely not freaks.

So what changed? In a word (two actually), Title IX. Title IX was the Federal regulation that, in 1972, leveled the playing field for men’s and women’s sports. It directed schools to end gender discrimination in their sports programs, among other things. Men’s coaches, of course, have been grousing about this ever since (mutter, mutter, mutter…football; mutter, mutter, mutter…wrestling; mutter, mutter, mutter…revenue streams), but the results are hard to argue with. There’s been a revolution both in the development of outstanding female athletes and in public attitudes toward them. I’m willing to bet that today men who held the kind of attitudes I heard from the softball team would be regarded as prime assholes, which frankly should have been the case back then as well.

I guess I should be clear about the fact that I’m not much of an athlete myself—I have the coordination of Mr. Magoo and I’m not crazy about pain (great athletes have to have a certain masochistic streak). But I envy athletes. I wish I were a runner or a cyclist or a tennis player. And I love to see women excel at sports just as I love to see them excel in other pursuits.

Overall, I think the revolution in women’s athletics in this country has led to a revolution in the way we see women in general, not just athletes. Well-trained, athletic bodies are admired now. Madonna shows off her biceps. Actresses like Anne Hathaway brag about the way they trained for their superhero movies. Serena Williams has her own fashion line. Muscles are no longer the mark of a freak. They’re the mark of a strong, confident woman. And that, my friends, is no small accomplishment.

So Happy Birthday, Title IX. Long may your effects be felt. If not by me then by my hypothetical granddaughters.

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