A review of Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sex, and Title IX, by Jessica Gavora
With so many books that promise more than they deliver, it is refreshing to find a volume that delivers more than it promises. Jessica Gavora's Tilting the Playing Field aims to deconstruct the abuses surrounding Title IX, and does so in a way that will prove enlightening to the general reader and indispensable for the public-policy specialist.
Title IX of the Education Amendment, with bipartisan support, passed Congress in 1972. It reads: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
The co-sponsor of the original legislation was Texas Republican John Tower. The author of the original Title IX regulations in 1975 was Caspar Weinberger, then Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. In those days, however, the women's movement began its Long March through American institutions. Its initial battering ram was the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, which failed to gain ratification. Militant gender feminists then looked for another vehicle and found it in Title IX. As Gavora explains, a dogmatic, dedicated cadre of radical feminists hijacked Title IX. With the help of compliant courts, activist lawyers, echo-chamber journalists, weak-kneed administrators, and politically correct politicians, they got virtually everything they wanted.
A respected speechwriter and political analyst, Gavora does a fine job of confronting the dogma of proportionality, the notion that men and women should be equally represented in all endeavors, including sports. As anyone without a grudge against reality knows, however, men and women are not undifferentiated in their abilities and inclinations. To assert otherwise is to ignore natural differences, as well as effort, and personal choice among both women and men. Further, statistical disparities among groups and individuals, as Thomas Sowell has often pointed out, are the rule rather than the exception. But Gavora shows that the quest for government-enforced leveling ignores such considerations.
The author introduces us to Donald Sabo, called to testify in a Title IX case against Brown University that was used to establish that Title IX had a "remedial" purpose. A character straight out of Tom Wolfe, Mr. Sabo is a feminist theorist and sociologist at something called D'Youville College. He told the court that women do not have interests of their own, that their interests are determined for them by society. Yet, he did not explain how the feminist vanguard miraculously escaped this social conditioning. They not only have interests of their own but have appointed themselves judges of the aspirations of all women.
Consider also Colette Dowling, author of The Frailty Myth, who tells anyone who will listen that given equal training, women will some day achieve physical parity with men. Actually, they won't, and Gavora is to be credited for explaining how a bizarre feminist wish-list now passes for science and is repeated uncritically by journalists.
Legal action under Title IX stepped up once courts awarded monetary damages, making greed the abettor of militant ideology. Egging on this descent was Norma Cantu, President Bill Clinton's choice to head the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education. Accurately dubbed a "quota queen" by Institute for Justice's Clint Bolick, Cantu deployed a 700-member staff and $60 million budget. She reviewed 240 schools concerning which no civil rights complaint had been filed, and demanded that her enforcement squads double the number of complaints received. It is as though, in the absence of calls, the police were instructed to create a crime wave.
Under Cantu's lash, the easiest way for schools to show their Title IX compliance was to adopt proportionality as their goal. But the easiest way to get proportionality, Gavora proves, was not to provide more opportunities for women, because even when the opportunities are equalized, women do not choose to participate in sports at the same rate as men. Accordingly, the easiest and fastest way to achieve proportionality was to cut men's programs, and the author lists the casualties. These include longstanding baseball programs at Providence College and Colgate, the wrestling team at Princeton, and the UCLA swim team, which had sent so many to the Olympics. The cuts include numerous wrestling teams and football programs at Boston University, and at California State University, San Francisco, and other Cal State campuses.
Far from being a tragic unintended consequence of Title IX, this was probably the outcome the quota forces had in mind all along. After all, wrestling and football smack of maleness, as Mariah Burton Nelson argued in her feminist classic, The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football. The National Organization of Women, it should be recalled, once claimed that Super Bowl Sunday was the occasion for a veritable orgy of wife beating, a bogus charge now exposed and exploded.
When women athletes excel, notes Gavora, the quota feminists attribute this not to the athletes' training, determination, or skill, but to Title IX. The athletes are portrayed as beneficiaries of federal law, the "welfare queens of sports." The author shows, too, that women's sports were on the rise before the advent of Title IX.
"Denial of opportunity for men is occurring," writes Gavora, "because a group of people with a narrow agenda has worked hard and successfully behind the scenes to make it happen." Yet the law does not call for punishing men in order to advantage women athletes. On the contrary: Title IX demands equal treatment under law.
The question then becomes what to do about it. Gavora closes this tough-minded, well-researched book by deftly swatting the ball into the legislators' court. "Re-leveling the playing field in American education will not be easy," she concludes. "But those who go into this battle have at their side two often underrated assets. First, it's the law. And second, it's the right thing to do."