By Jennifer Feibelman |
Women have historically had very few opportunities for sport participation, largely resulting from outdated societal norms and gender. To address gender inequality in sports, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was established; under Title IX, all federally funded institutions must provide equal opportunity for athletic participation, regardless of gender. In the time since the inception of Title IX, female sport participation has exponentially increased. Nonetheless, much controversy has surrounded Title IX compliance requirements.
Some Title IX critics purport that women are less interested in sport participation compared with men, and claim that this negates the basis upon which Title IX was established. Noting the proportionally low female participation in collegiate intramural sports, they assert that the need to equally serve sport participation interests is insufficient as a basis for developing and upholding Title IX regulations. However, the sentiment that women are not interested in sports has not been backed by empirical evidence. Further, critics of Title IX have struggled to offer viable alternative practices for improving gender equality in sports.
There is some validity to the claim that fewer women proportionally participate in organized sports. A potential explanation, proposed by researchers, is that both biology and society may contribute to the supposed gender gap in sport participation interest. While there are definite anatomical and biological differences between men and women, research to-date has revealed that there are both benefits and hindrances of belonging to either sex when participating in sports. It should also be noted that the demographic distribution of actual participants may not be representative of the distribution of overall interest in sport participation, as there are a myriad of potential explanations for non-participation by interested parties. Due to the limited opportunities for women to participate in sports, coupled with sociocultural norms and stereotypes that promote male participation in sports but demote female participation, it can be more difficult for women to enter into a sport environment. The need for Title IX regulations to decrease the inequality between male and female sport participation was evidenced in increased female sport participation following the approval and implementation of Title IX; this trend supports the notion that proportionally fewer women have traditionally participated in sports due to lacking opportunity rather than lacking interest.
Still, some critics suggest that there are other differential markers between male and female interest in sports, claiming that proportionally more male students participate in sports that are not affiliated with their institution and that female students are motivated to participate in sports for extrinsic reasons such as athletic scholarships. They contend that, since there are no extrinsic motivations for participating in intramural sports, intramural sport participation is indicative of sport interest. However, these notions are similarly unsupported by empirical evidence. Rather than directly measuring whether or not intramural sport offerings align with students’ interests, many Title IX critics assume that institutions make an effort to meet students’ interests, while proclaiming the unfounded notion that female students would complain if they were pining to play a sport and couldn’t. They fail to acknowledge the historical discrepancy in playing time, space, and facilities provided between genders and for different sports.
Title IX itself includes an assessment of student interests as part of the three-prong Title IX compliance test. Typically, institutions are required to provide male and female students opportunities for sport participation that are proportional to enrollment numbers and must also actively engage in increasing sport participation opportunities for women; alternatively, when these criteria are not met, institutions can demonstrate that they are in compliance with Title IX requirements by presenting data showing that the interests of their student body are represented in their sport offerings. Thus, even if there were a biologically-sourced discrepancy in sport interest between genders, Title IX already accounts for any potential differences making that argument against Title IX a moot point.
Jennifer Feibelman is the Retention Coordinator and First Year Advisor at the United States Sports Academy and is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200) with Yoga Alliance. She is currently pursuing the Doctor of Education in Sports Management at the Academy.