This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.
The second breakout session I attended at the NOW conference was Title IX at 40 - Breaking Barriers, Challenging Limitations and Strengthening Advocacy Networks. The first speaker was Dr. Bunny Sandler, NOW’s Woman of Action honoree who is also known as the Godmother of Title IX. She discussed Title IX’s impact on high school athletics, sexual harassment, and bullying, and how it’s supposed to be enforced. Next was Dr. Christina Vogt, former President of West Virginia NOW and education equality researcher. She read a letter she wrote to the WV school superintendent about how to improve the system from a feminist perspective. The third speaker was Jennifer Martin, former NOW Title IX Task Force Chair. She talked about how Title IX has to do with bullying and the importance of Title IX coordinators. Afterwards came Sue Klein, the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Education Equity Director. She talked about the rise of single-sex schools and classes during the Bush administration and how to stop the trend. Next was Stephanie Ortoleva, an advocate for the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in education programs. She discussed the barriers that women and girls with disabilities face, especially the obstacles that stand in their way of receiving an education. The final speaker was Eleanor Smeal, former NOW President and Advisor to the NOW National Board. She talked about the harm that single-sex schools perpetuate, and how it’s important to protect not only girls’ rights, but those of boys too.
It’s unfortunate that Title IX is usually only associated with women’s athletics, since it really does so much more. The reason it may not be widely known that Title IX protects women and girls from sexual harassment and bullying is because, as Sandler said, it originally didn’t. The term sexual harassment didn’t exist when Title IX was passed in 1972, so it would have been difficult for Title IX to prohibit something that there was no language for.
It really broke my heart when Martin talked about a Michigan anti-bullying law that couldn’t pass because it contained LGBT+ language. I understand that some people feel uncomfortable with LGBT+ individuals and the concept of homosexuality at large; it’s their prerogative to feel that way, as much as I disagree. However, it’s beyond my comprehension for anyone to support the persecution of the LGBT+ community, especially kids and teens who are gay. While Title IX protects victims of LGBT+ bullying/harassment, it’s not usually very well-enforced. I find this situation absolutely unacceptable, and I’m glad that there are activists like Martin out there doing something to remedy it.
Another thing that got my interest was the rise of single-sex public schools and classes. Klein explained that there are only about 1,000 sex-segregated classes and 100 completely segregated schools in the entire country, but it’s an issue that must be nipped in the bud or it will spread. Having separate classes or schools for boys and girls is a Title IX issue because separate usually means unequal, so each gender gets a different quality education (you can guess who gets the short end of the stick). Personally, I’ve spent more time in single-sex classrooms than I have in mixed environments. I went to a K-8 Modern Orthodox school, and when I was there the classes were coed K-4 and separated from 5-8, except for tracked classes (Hebrew language from 4-8 and math in 8). My ultra-Orthodox Bais Yaakov high school is all-girls. I see no problem with single-sex education, and I am extremely happy that I am in an all-girls environment. However, there is no place for sex segregation in public schools, and it’s shocking to me that people are trying to bring the idea to life.
I really appreciated hearing what Ortoleva had to say. I’ve got some health issues, although I am far from being disabled, so hearing about the plight of girls with disabilities across the world really makes me feel blessed. The double discrimination that girls with disabilities face is really heartbreaking, especially in developing countries.
I have always been relatively ignorant about Title IX, the landmark legislation that outlaws sex discrimination in federally-sponsored programs, so this session taught me a lot. I’m really glad that I attended.