ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE ENACTMENT OF TITLE IX
Women’s Liberation Front
Three things happened in 1972 that would affect the course of my life:
(1) On June 23, the United States Congress enacted Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, providing that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance;”
(2) Johns Hopkins University’s main campus, where I would eventually attend college, began admitting women; and
(3) I was born.
My mother grew up in a predominantly white, working class, Catholic neighborhood in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her father, my grandfather, served in World War II and proceeded to spend the rest of his life working in a factory. When my mother graduated from high school in 1964, she was told that she, as a woman, had essentially three options in life: (1) marry a rich man, (2) become a nurse, or (3) become a teacher. She didn’t know any rich men, and she didn’t particularly want to become a teacher, so she went with option (2). She applied to the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, was accepted, and headed to Baltimore in the fall of 1964. She got her nursing degree in 1968.
The reason that this is significant is that even if my mother had wanted to attend college at Johns Hopkins’s main campus and study something other than nursing, she wouldn’t have been allowed to, because the main campus did not admit women at that time. At that time, women were allowed to use the facilities and services on the main campus, but not attend classes. My mother would eventually go on to earn her undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees, and become a tenured professor.
I started attending Johns Hopkins’s main campus in 1990, when women made up approximately one third of the student body. It was an exciting time. We had a women’s center on campus (where I volunteered), a women’s studies program (where I took classes), and annual Take Back the Night rallies (which I helped organize). A friend of mine (whose boyfriend had secretly video-recorded the two of them having sex and showed the video to his fraternity brothers) established a task force to end campus sexual assault.
It wasn’t all good. One evening, I was standing outside the student union with a female friend and a man approached us to ask where we went to college. When we told him that we both attended Johns Hopkins, he was incredulous. “You both seem too pretty to go here,” he said. That year, Johns Hopkins was rated as having the nation’s ugliest female students, so his incredulity was perhaps understandable. And there was that time when I was 19 when a man raped me. But overall, I can say with confidence that my feminist consciousness was unquestionably raised during my four years there.
In the thirty years since I started college, much has changed on campus. There is no longer a women’s center. The women’s studies program has become the program for “Women, Gender, and Sexuality.” Campus Take Back the Night rallies appear to be a thing of the past.
In the forty-eight years since the enactment of Title IX, a lot has changed throughout society as well. For context, the impact of Title IX on the empowerment of women and girls has been astonishing. According to the NCAA, the number of female college athletes swelled from fewer than 300,000 in 1974 to more than 3.1 million in 2012. What’s more, the Children’s Medical Group reports that participation in sports can have measurable benefits for girls, including better physical health, better grades in school, better social lives and more community involvement, better emotional and psychological health, and career boosts.
However, the truth of the matter is that U.S. society looks very different from what it did in 1972, especially when it comes to the rights of women and girls. I published the following anonymously in a conservative media outlet, on the topic of being politically homeless, in April of 2018:
- Feminists have been fighting back against gender roles for at least decades, if not centuries. It is extremely disheartening for us to see gender being enshrined into law and glorified by the political left. Gender is a prison of sex-based stereotypes that the political left has, historically, fought against. We on the left typically see you, conservatives, maintaining strict gender hierarchies, and we have, historically, railed against them. No longer. Today, the left fully embraces gender in the form of “gender identity” ideology.
- Women are being erased. Girls are being told that if they are uncomfortable with their female bodies, they are actually boys. They are being given hormones and told that they must bind their breasts in order to feel comfortable with who they are. This is extremely damaging from a feminist perspective, and yet the political left encourages it. The civil rights of women and girls are being eroded. Under President Obama (whom I adore), schools were instructed to construe the word “sex” to mean “gender identity” for the purpose of interpreting Title IX — a law enacted in 1972 to protect women and girls (female humans) in the educational arena. Men are now allowed to compete in women’s sports, which is unbelievably unfair to women, yet the left embraces this.
- Sexism is rampant on the political left, and it is depressing for Democratic feminist women. My male friends, for the most part, think that they are enlightened and not remotely sexist. They’re wrong. Men on the political left, for the most part, support an environment of unlimited sexual exploitation of women, in the forms of pornography and prostitution.
- I work with a group of parents in my area who are struggling with kids who have decided that they are “trans.” These parents are traumatized and terrified by what they are seeing. They are almost all liberal, and all of them report that until their kids starting demanding hormones and surgery, they assumed that “gender identity” was an important civil rights struggle. They supported it. They adopted a very typically liberal “live and let live” attitude. Now they are questioning everything. It is absolutely heart-breaking to see what they are going through.
- I have made relationships with some Republican women who share my concerns about “gender identity” ideology. I disagree with these women with every fiber of my being on issues like reproductive rights and marriage equality. And yet we have made alliances to fight back against “gender identity” ideology because we understand all of the ways in which “gender identity” ideology invades women’s rights and privacy. I never imagined that I would work with Republicans, but this is what my party has done to me.
The reason I felt I had to publish anonymously at the time was that I was concerned that I would be socially ostracized if my liberal friends and colleagues found out both about my positions and the fact that I was published on a conservative site. I had previously spoken out on Fox News, but I wasn’t too worried at the time, because the chances of my liberal friends and colleagues learning about it seemed slim. I spoke out again outside the Supreme Court and on Fox News in October 2019, and earlier this year at an event in Seattle that should not have been controversial, but was.
If someone had told me in 2018 that I would no longer care about the risks of speaking out, I am not sure I would have believed them. But I no longer have anything to lose by speaking out under my own name.
As much as I have lost by speaking openly about gender (work and friends, mostly), I have gained so much. I have gained a community of women, and some men, who I genuinely trust to tell the truth about gender, which is threatening the power of Title IX and other laws and policies designed to protect and liberate women and girls. The radical feminist women who belong to WoLF, some radical feminist women who don’t, a handful of men who have our backs, and some conservative women who I have genuinely come to value and respect. Women have a lot to lose by speaking out about the importance of protecting women and girls in the educational arena by preserving the definition of “sex” under Title IX. But we have so much more to gain.
At the time of writing, there is a case pending in federal court in Connecticut arguing that the state’s athletic association is in violation of Title IX because it allows boys to compete in girls’ track competitions. The federal judge overseeing that case recently ordered the plaintiffs’ attorney to refer to those boys as “transgender females.” Helpfully, the U.S. Department of Education has issued a ruling stating that the athletic association’s policy does in fact violate Title IX. But that ruling is not binding on the federal court overseeing the litigation. No one can necessarily predict the outcome of the Connecticut Title IX litigation. WoLF hosted a webinar with the plaintiffs in the case in April of 2020. And, on March 30, 2020, the Governor of Idaho signed HB 500 – an important law that aims to preserve female-only athletics in that state. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that law is also under attack through litigation.
On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme court issued its ruling in the Harris case, holding that discrimination on the basis of “transgender status” (whatever that means – the Court didn’t say) constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. That was an employment case, and no one knows exactly what the ramifications of the outcome will be on Title IX cases, but if the Supreme Court thinks that discrimination on the basis of “transgender status” constitutes sex discrimination, things are not looking good for women and girls, or for the preservation of the spirit of Title IX.
Today we celebrate the enactment of Title IX. It is worth holding onto. The liberation of American women and girls depends on it.