Monday, June 04, 2012

Terms, time, and Title IX

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Each anniversary engenders a good deal of media attention about the equity in education legislation, but this year, of course, the attention is greater. The Title IX Blog has been covering some of the anniversary coverage.
A trend that I have noticed is the focus on the everyday athlete. We are hearing testimonials and personal histories and reflections from women who are not elite athletes. ESPNW is collecting pictures and mini-stories from women of all ages and abilities that are entered into a collage/mosaic on their website.
This opinion piece on an NBC website fits this trend of hearing from the everyday women and the way Title IX affected their lives. Jelisa Castrodale also discusses what she sees among the girls of today and their relationships to sports, the access (often unquestioned) they have to sports, and the ways sport is incorporated into their everyday lives.
The title of the column is "Don't call us tomboys now" based on an encounter the author had with a pre-teen girl who didn't know what a tomboy was and that girls who played outside and liked sports were just girls--no special label needed.
It was a cute story, and certainly Castrodale didn't take the issue of the label tomboy where I am about to take it--but here I go anyway.
There is a documentary called Tomboy about the history of the term and the change in meanings; and the meanings it has for young girls and older women. I recommend it.
And I don't know if the term has gone away or how aware girls under 12 are of the term and if they use/accept/embrace/shun it. But if girls are saying "don't call me a tomboy--I'm a girl and I can do whatever the boys do"; and if society has moved to a point where girls who play outside and get dirty aren't seen as engaging in masculine activities--well great.
But there are a few incongruities here. If girls who are active and play sports don't want to be called boys, why do they allow themselves to be called men when they take the field? Defensemen. First baseman. History is a poor excuse--especially in this case. Are girls changing history by changing the definition of tomboy, but just going along with the hegemonic definitions of sport once they get into higher levels of sport?

Castrodale also raised an issue I have raised before and have some ambivalence over: the play like a girl slogans that allegedly foster empowerment. So do they? Or are they limiting? What should we stress? Differentiation? Sameness? What is equality today? I hope it's different from what it was 40 years ago, but I hope we retain the same passion and dedication toward achieving it that advocates of Title IX did at that time.

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