On the Basis of Sex: The amazing success and frustrating challenges of Title IX.

AuthorColarusso, Laura
PositionON POLITICAL BOOKS - 37 Words: Title IX and Fifty Years of Fighting Sex Discrimination

37 Words: Title IX and Fifty Years of Fighting Sex Discrimination

by Sherry Boschert

New Press, 400 pp.

This past February 13, the tennis superstar Billie Jean King walked to the center of SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles to start the Super Bowl with the customary coin toss. Moments before the camera zoomed in on King, it panned out briefly to show six girls decked out in red, green, blue, and yellow football uniforms standing near the midfield in front of the players, referees, and 70,000 fans. It was a striking visual and a reminder of just how far girls and women have come in sports.

King, a longtime proponent of equity who fought for equal pay for women tennis players, was there along with the female football players to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that prohibits gender-based discrimination in education and essentially opened the door for girls and women to compete even in traditionally male-dominated sports like football. "It's hard to understand inclusion until you've been excluded," King said during a short tribute to the law. "But the fight for access isn't unique to women. It is for all of us."

The historical contours of that push for equality form the basis of the journalist Sherry Boschert's new book, 37 Words: Title IX and Fifty Years of Fighting Sex Discrimination. Five decades ago, it may have been a distant dream that girls one day would have the opportunity to play football (in fact, women's rights activists weren't focused on sports at all as they were trying to move the provision through Congress), but as Boschert lays out in meticulous detail, the protections the law affords have continued to evolve through intense cycles of expansion and backlash.

The journey begins in the suburban Maryland home of Bernice Sandler, whom many regard as the godmother of Title IX. She was completing her doctorate in counseling and personnel services and had come up against her own glass ceiling, applying for teaching jobs in academia but being repeatedly passed over for male candidates--some of whom were far less qualified. In 1969, Sandler began coordinating complaints against colleges and universities that were violating an executive order from the Johnson administration by refusing to hire or promote women while taking federal money.

Before long, Sandler and other activists--including Pauli Murray, a cofounder of the National Organization for Women--began pushing for stronger legal protections. They...

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