Thanks For the Dadflys

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which was signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, six days after the Watergate break-in.


The law is an astoundingly simple 37 words:


 “No 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.”


Note that this says nothing about sports.


And yet the world of sports is the arena in which the Title IX political game has been played – with an overwhelming victory for female athletes. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, about 294,000 girls competed in high school sports the year before Title IX became law. Last year, the number was nearly 3.2 million, an increase of about 980%.


One of the great ironies of the Nixon administration might be the fact that the Watergate week marked a watershed moment for the future of, literally, hundreds of millions of American women.


Things seem to be so solid for women’s sports as Title IX reaches the four decade mark that it is tempting to say the job is done. Every girl who wants to play a sport, or two or five, is playing them. Title IX, schmitle IX, who cares? Let’s say thanks, and move on.



We should say our thank yous, but I don’t think it’s time to move on. In fact, I think the struggle to enforce Title IX is more relevant than ever.


(Again: who ever said it was about SPORTS? Why are we content with giving our daughters balls and bats, without also using looking for ways to use Title IX to wage a political war against the other forms of discrimination that are apparently rampant at U.S. educational institutions – all of which receive Federal financial assistance, through Pell grants, Stafford loans, and so forth?)


But since the 40th anniversary should be a time for celebration, and not for griping, let me say thanks.


Respect and thanks are of course due to the early pioneers: to Bernice Sandler, who used President Johnson’s Executive Order 11375 to wage a legal battle for her job at the University of Maryland in 1969, and then joined Representative Edith Green in the congressional hearings where the idea for Title IX was born; to Representative Patsy Mink, who prepared an early draft of the legislation; to Senator Birch Bayh, who was the author and chief sponsor of Title IX, etc.


But I think thanks are also due to the legions of gadfly fathers – “dadflys” is the term Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff recently coined – who took the legislation to heart and pushed for change in sports programs and stadiums across the country.


One of my favorite dadflys is a retiree named Herb Dempsey, a 75-year-old grandfather from Battle Ground, Washington, who is a self-proclaimed “nasty old man”, and has spent the past 20 years making Title IX enforcement his full-time hobby. He uses Google Earth to identify possible shoddy sports facilities – and, if his investigation turns up an underfunded girls’ program, he uses Title IX to force change.


Dempsey has filed more than 1000 complaints with the Office of Civil Rights challenging inequities in high school athletics. One example was a case in Castle Rock, Washington, where girls’ soccer games had to be shortened to 32 minutes from 80 minutes because there were no lights on the field—even though a football field with lights was available not far away.


“It’s hard to believe how bad it still is,” Dempsey told Sports Illustrated, “because people want to celebrate how good it has become.”

3 thoughts on “Thanks For the Dadflys

  1. I think that sports was the natural arena for Title IX to play out (sorry for the puns). Sport is unlike academia (now, anyway), in that male and female participants are separated early on. And so it will be clear when one group’s activities are valued more highly than than another – say, by looking at resource allocation.

    It will be much harder to see this in an academic setting. Even if girls are, on the whole, discriminated against in math classes, or in undergraduate philosophy education, it will still be the case that they have access to the same resources (nominally). There is no “women’s philosophy” that is parallel to women’s basketball. Neither are there only “men only” philosophy positions advertized in the JFP.

    Again, this isn’t to say that there isn’t such discrimination, just that it’s not so obviously structural as it is in sport.

  2. Ajkreider, I think there *is* a structural access issue in the sorts of discrimination that occur in broader academic setting, beyond sports — and arguably even an obvious one.

    Many of the stories that are recounted on the Being a Woman in Philosophy blog suggest that there are (many?) universities at which students are unable to learn, thrive, and flourish in an academic setting because they do not feel safe. To the extent that students are unable to, say, register for a course (because that prof is a sexual predator), live in a certain location on campus (because that student who raped me is living there), or enter a building (because the frat boys are chanting pro-rape slogans in front of it), there is a Title IX access problem that needs to be resolved.

    This access is a “structural” issue in two ways:

    The first is the fact that there is a structural asymmetry between women and men in the way in which access problems arising from safety problems are experienced. Although there are many different ways in which individuals can be made to feel unsafe, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and sexual misconduct of various kinds are a very significant problem on many college campuses, and can lead to a differential between the educational experience and access for men and women on those campuses. I do not of course want to claim that there are no men who are harassed or assaulted, but I do want to argue that the fear of being an object of sexual misconduct is a “women only” problem. (How many men can say that they’ve worried about whether a shirt is too provocative in choosing an outfit? Or left the library early because they’re worried about a student who has been stalking them for weeks? Or crossed to the other side of the street because there are fewer dark doorways where a potential attacker might be standing in the shadows?) And, as the “one in four” campaign has so persuasively argued, these fears are not unfounded.

    Another sense in which the access problem is a “structural” issue is in the apparent failure of many universities to appropriately handle, report, record, and resolve issues of the sort described in the Being a Woman in Philosophy blog. I’ve lost track of how many sexual-harassment-based Title IX cases the OCR is currently investigating at institutions of higher education. Last time I checked it was a couple of dozen complaints, and there were another couple of dozen complaints which had resulted in resolution agreements or compliance and changes of various kinds. There are good reasons to believe that this represents tip of the iceberg. (Where are the “dadflys” in philosophy? And why would fathers care more about access to sport than about safety and access to the broader academic arena?) The sorts of issues described on the blog *are*, in many cases, Title IX violations. But the report needs to be filed within 120 days. The fact that there are so many universities that have failed to develop the appropriate channels to handle sexual misconduct cases, and the appropriate campus climate to discourage such cases, is a structural problem. The fact that so few faculty (and students) are aware of the fact that failure to appropriately investigate and respond to a complaint of sexual harassment/misconduct can be the grounds for a Title IX complaint is also in itself a structural problem.

  3. Thanks HHL,

    Admittedly, I’m one of those faculty who was unaware that failure to properly investigate a sexual harassment claim was grounds for a Title IX complaint, though I can see the argument.

    I would have thought that there was a difficult conceptual hurdle for such claims – showing that the failure to investigate (or have appropriate preventive measures in place, etc.) is indeed sex-based discrimination (a “women only” problem, as you say). But the fact that there have been such cases that resulted in changes to show compliance means that it has been met in the eyes of the courts. Thanks again.

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