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Title IX pushes back at limits imposed “because you’re a girl.”

June 21, 2012 – 10:14 PM

By Laura Pappano

When Title IX became law in June 1972, I was 10 and unaware of what it was or would do. I had discovered that being a girl could be limiting.

My father, a volunteer Little League coach, honed my baseball skills in the backyard but wouldn’t let me join his team. When a middle school teacher had the class name career plans, every girl said “teacher,” “nurse,” or “secretary.” Stunned by the rigid gender roles, I said “President.”

I hated that one could be excluded – explicitly or implicitly  — “because you’re a girl.”

The nation knew Title IX by name, but I felt it as a mysterious force. It suddenly compelled my tradition-minded 6th grade homeroom teacher to announce that, starting next year, boys could take home economics and – gasp – girls could take industrial arts (which I did, despite his efforts to scare me into switching back).

It also spurred my school to arrange a field hockey game with another middle school, handing sticks to volunteer players as we mounted bus steps, unsure how to play, where we were going, or if the stick was the right size. Just, “Here, have a stick.”

The stick, however, was a ticket.

It was an entrance to sports participation, to being – finally – on a team. I would play other sports (even on a boy’s baseball team). But field hockey would give me a place to sweat and commune. During high school trips to away games we banged our sticks on the bus floor (“We’re from NEW MILFORD, and no one could be prouder! If you can’t hear us, we’ll sing a little LOUDER!!!). The sport gave us voice (poor Coach Fran Zaloski) and identity: We deserved to play.

A few years later, at Yale, (thanks to Chris Ernst and the 1976 women’s crew team), the field hockey team was deserving of travel, competition, and support. (They washed our practice uniforms – every day!) Just a few years earlier, of course, Yale had been a stalwart all-male institution. While the masculine vibe lingered, we discovered that Title IX had applied a nudge. We – females – also belonged.

Title IX has acted for me like a Harry Potter spell, a force that did not transform my world, but allowed me to help rearrange it. My inclinations, my demands, to be “allowed,” were made suddenly plausible. There was – of course – discomfort in being the only girl in industrial arts or on a boy’s baseball team. But it was powerful to know – grumbling and cold stares aside – that I could not be stopped.


Bio in the 1981 Yale Field Hockey brochure


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