Forty years ago, we would have been rarities, women lawyers. Congresswoman Gwen Moore would have been a greater rarity: an African American female member of the House of Representatives. Yesterday we were on Capitol Hill to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a law that helped make our careers possible: Title IX.
We attended a panel briefing, hosted by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education and Rep. Moore in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX and the launch of a new NCWGE report. Although Title IX is best known for its impact on increasing participation by women and girls in athletics, the report and the panel covered several of the less well-known applications of the landmark law, including career and technical education (CTE), science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), sexual harassment, the rights of pregnant and parenting students to complete their education, and single-sex education.
We were struck by both the diversity of perspectives of the groups involved in preparing the report — lawyers, engineers, women in construction, social workers who counsel girls, educators, and more — and yet the commonality of the problems and solutions that these individuals and groups identified.
One of the major common themes was barriers to achievement rooted in sex stereotypes. For example, in the fields of CTE and STEM, the report makes clear the extent to which expectations about girls and women’s innate capacities continue to justify discriminatory treatment within non-traditional fields.
Many of the same arguments resting on claims about biological determinism underlie the current trend of single-sex education in public schools, which Galen presented on at the panel. Claims about biological differences between boys and girls are used to justify separating them by sex and teaching them using radically different teaching methods.
Similarly, the basis for harassment and bullying is frequently a student’s failure to conform to gender-stereotyped expectations about his or her behavior or appearance–which the courts and agencies–most recently the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education (OCR)–have recognized is covered by Title IX and schools’ and law enforcement response to sexual assault and harassment can also be infused with sex stereotypes.
And when it comes to pregnant and parenting students, young parents are often shamed, discouraged, or forced out of school because they are considered a “bad example,” or because educators assume that their commitment to education will be diminished, when in fact, the opposite is frequently true.
Moreover, despite the diversity of views, there were common themes for solutions as well: the need for more robust enforcement and leadership by federal agencies, particularly OCR, better public education on the scope and substance of the law, and more outreach to students, teachers and administrators at every level within the educational system to foster gender equity and to encourage students to speak up for their rights.
We return to our own work heartened that we have dedicated allies seeking to respond to Rep. Moore’s charge to “break through” gender stereotypes and open up new opportunities for our daughters and sons.
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