I went to the Title IX conference put on by Harvard's Gender and Law Journal yesterday afternoon. It was okay. There were two panels: one on Title IX's application to sexual harassment and assault law and the second on athletics. I did not know all that much about the former so it was a good panel for me.
But overall I thought that despite the prestige and experience of all the speakers, the conference organizers could have put together a more diverse group to speak about different aspects of the law or their experience with it.
And of course I found the presence of former basketball player, coach and current ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman a little problematic. She was last to speak and her role was to rev up the crowd to take action. I get it; she was there for star power. But what she preaches isn't exactly the rhetoric I would like to see around Title IX; and she is not the person I really like to hear preaching it.
First, she feels the need to mention her 12-year old son right at the start--and then repeatedly throughout. Yes, Nancy, we get it. You're a hetero now. That Martina moment is just a distant memory.
And then she tells all of us who are buying Prada and Coach bags to put our money into season tickets for women's basketball. Except when she asked those in the crowd to raise their hands if they owned such a bag few did. Know your audience, Nancy. We're academics. We don't have that kind of money. And most of us already support women's athletics.
Her point: that we need to prove (to men) that we are interested in sports (by buying tickets and not Prada) before we can get taken seriously. This comes dangerously close in my mind to the excuse that Title IX backlashers give: that women are not as interested in sports and so we shouldn't give them opportunities, especially at the expense of male athletes. Also, in this vein was the, "we need to stop blaming the men and do something" argument. But Lieberman also likes to blame football for the out of whack budgets and opportunities. This is true--but are not men involved in football and shouldn't we be blaming them--and then going after them--for impeding not only women's athletics but men's "minor" sports?
I was also troubled by the neoliberal discourse that came about in the Q&A--not started by Lieberman but by an attendee--but which Lieberman quickly took up. The reasoning that athletics will teach women--as it has taught men--how to succeed in corporate America, and that is why Title IX should not be touched is disturbing. I am not sure we really want to be teaching women--or anyone--that the current structure and functioning of corporate America is one we want to perpetuate. I would think participation in athletics should ultimately teach you how to not become a mindless corporate automaton, perpetuating America's imperialist agenda.
I don't want to end on a Debbie Downer note so I will say that Coach Roderick Jackson gave, as usual, a great talk. Jocelyn Samuels from the National Women's Law Center did an inspiring job explaining where we are at and what we need to do in terms of Title IX and the legislative threats against it. And Dr. Ellen Staurowsky of Ithaca College deftly deconstructed the rhetoric around the JMU cuts to show what was really happening at the university and how it has nothing to do with Title IX.