Title IX: Does Making Space for Women Make Space for Men?

In the Washington Post, July 29, Megan Greenwell argues that Title IX made room for female athletes, but inspired men to shoulder out female coaches making an interesting argument to highlight the “natural” selection of leaders in a time of cultural change.

She writes: “And there’s the dirty little secret of Title IX: Female coaches have become a casualty of the same law that provided such huge benefits to female athletes. In 1972, more than 90 percent of the people coaching women’s teams were women. Today, that number is 43 percent, according to data compiled by two retired Brooklyn College professors who have tracked the number of female college athletes and coaches in the United States since Title IX became law.

The explanation for the downward trend is as simple as it is discouraging. By legitimizing women’s sports, Title IX bestowed a new level of respect — and significantly higher salaries — on college coaching jobs, transforming them from passion projects for the most dedicated women’s sports advocates to serious career paths.”

Although Greenwell acknowledges exceptions, like legendary coach Pat Summitt. women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, her argument points out the often frustrating difference between making a law and making a change in society.

The challenge of social change leadership through legislation is that whoever’s dominant remains dominant for a good while, because the ordinary change agents, the on-the-ground leaders, have to use the legislation to move forward to positions where they can shift attitudes, values, and core cultural roles. So yes, a more lucrative market for women athletes attracts men, who are culturally habituated to expect, demand and receive higher salaries.

Women athletes have to lead from the courts and playing fields; women coaches have to get traction from the board room. I agree with Greenwell’s implication that women coaches ought to have an equal chance to coach women athletes. Even if it didn’t make teambuilding sense, it makes sense as the next professional step for talented athletes with a gift for team leadership.

Who says feminist leadership isn’t needed any more? Change happens step by step — the infusion of strong women in a formerly male dominated sports events will eventually create space for women’s leadership in the coaching world. Greenberg’s editorial points out the slow process of social change. A law is a good beginning, but leadership from the ground up is the really transformative force, and that sometimes takes time, as female coaches are finding out.

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