Why women no longer need to strip for attention: Title IX today

Published On July 15, 2012 | By Alice Cook

When I was a junior at Boston College I chose Title IX  as the topic of my persuasion speech for my public speaking class. We’ve come a long way since then.

While I was at BC, the ruling was in its infancy. Passed in 1972, it took many years for the law to get up to speed and make a difference for female athletes everywhere.

The women’s athletic director at the time denied my request for an interview I wanted to use for my persuasion speech. That was fishy. Then I was told the only woman on athletic scholarship  was the “Golden Girl,”  the head baton twirler for the Screaming Eagles marching band.

Don’t get me wrong, the Golden Girl was and always will be a good athlete and performer. Years of training go into that job, and whoever had it at the time deserved some scholarship money. It’s certainly not her fault she was the only one on scholarship.

I’m happy to report that these days, BC has some of the best women’s programs in the country in soccer, basketball and ice hockey.

For those too young to remember (or for those who forgot), Title IX is a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity in every educational program that receives federal funding.

What this meant on an athletic level is that college athletes — both men and women — would stand on equal ground when it came to funding programs, scholarships and facilities.

It was the ‘facilities issue’ that brought Title IX to the attention of the country, and the headlines of the New York Times.

In the winter of 1976, 19 members of the Yale women’s rowing team revolted. At the time, there were no shower facilities for the women rowers.  They shared the same river with the men’s team and took the same bus, but when practice was over, the women were literally left out in the cold. The uprising was not about scholarships, it was about survival.

Anyone who knows the weather in New England during the month of March realizes March is still very much winter. The Yale boathouse was for men only. While the men stood under the heat of the showers, the girls waited outside shivering in their own cold sweat.

On March 3, 1976  the women’s crew team, led by Chris Ernst, marched into the office of Joni Barnett, Yale’s director of women’s athletics.

Ernst had her speech prepared but did not deliver it until she and her team mates stripped off their sweatshirts and sweatpants. They stood naked in front of Barnett with a writer and a photographer in the room. Each of them had ‘Title IX’ inked on their chests and backs.

With Barnett’s full attention, Ernst read the following:

“These are the bodies that Yale is exploiting. On a day like today, ice freezes on this skin. Then we sit for a half hour as the ice melts and soaks through to meet the sweat that is soaking us from inside.”

The next day’s headline in the New York Times read, ” Yale Women Strip to Protest a Lack of Crew’s Showers.” Four showers were quickly installed in a trailer next to the boathouse.

It was a small step for the Yale women’s crew team but a giant leap for Title IX and generations of girls to come.

It took incredible bravery to do what Ernst and her teammates did that day. They not only bared all to get their showers, they paved the way for female athletes from Maine to Maui.

Just take a look at today’s soccer fields, lacrosse fields, softball fields, gymnasiums and hockey rinks of America.  They are full of girls and women immersed in sports.  It’s not just about the scholarships or the facilities any more.

It’s about seeing several generations of girls grow up on the same fields their fathers and brothers played on, and playing the same sport.

It’s about seeing all those dads coaching their daughters!

It’s about all those moms and dads carting their daughters to practice just like they shuttle their sons.

The first ladies of Title IX are old enough to be grandmothers. These grandmas remember the days when the only athletic option a girl had in high school was cheerleading.

I am not a grandmother yet, but I was one of those cheerleaders.

The big difference is that these days the cheerleaders play as hard as the football team. My daughter is one of them. I know.

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About The Author

is a veteran television sports reporter and Olympian. Her experience includes 25 years of sports reporting for WBZ-TV, the CBS and former NBC affiliate in Boston. Cook has worked for ESPN, Turner Sports, and WTBS. Cook is a feature writer for She's Game Sports and Boston.com. She is also President and Founder of She's Game Sports LLC.