Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reluctant Feminist

I would label myself as a reluctant feminist. It's not so much that I disagree with the basic principles of feminism as I understand them, but rather how they are sometimes applied or interpreted.

Having a wife that's a fairly prominent feminist scholar, I often forget that some basic facts about gender and sexism are still in question by some men. I would have thought that by the year 2008 we would no longer have guys talking about women who "deserved" to be raped. When I read this post from the Sexist and I was floored. Even more dismaying to me personally, was that this was a young brother talking this absolute insanity. Perhaps even more shocking than the actual blog post itself, was that there were dudes co-signing on what the first jerkoff was saying.

I'm the Father to a wonderful little girl that I want to have every opportunity there is, athletic and otherwise. Unfortunately, there are still too many men out there who think that every increased opportunity for women and girls comes at the expense of men and boys. This frustrates me because equality between men and women isn't (or at least shouldn't be) a zero-sum equation. Providing the chance for my daughter to play soccer or participate in an after-school science program doesn't mean that I want to take those things away from someone else's little boy.

When I was finishing my degree, I did quite a bit of research on Title IX and I find myself in favor of the legislation. Much of the objection to Title IX comes from various misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the law. This bit from Glenn Sacks (a men's and fathers issues newspaper columnist) illustrates the most common misconception about Title IX:

Time and again the Federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has investigated schools and allowed them only two options to meet Title IX--create new women's teams for which there often are neither funds nor interested female athletes, or cut men's teams.
Fortunately this isn't true. Mr. Sacks is looking at a 30 year old policy interpretation that has long since been updated.

[Update] I received an e-mail from Mr. Sacks pointing out that the quote of his that I use is from 2001, four years before the 2005 OCR clarification. My gratitude goes out to Mr. Sacks for taking the time to write and allowing me the opportunity to set the record straight.[\Update]

In 2005 the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights offered additional clarification of the three-prong test of compliance. In this clarification, the OCR provides chapter and verse on how an institution can show they are complying with Title IX without cutting men's sports programs. In fact, the number of men's programs at a school and how much they spend are in no way a part of this test of compliance.

Without a doubt creating surveys discussed in the OCR clarification, sending them out, ensuring adequate participation, and compiling accurate results takes resources. Perhaps resources that are hard to come by in a small, underfunded athletic department.

There are ways to deal with the challenges raised by creating athletic participation surveys; graduate students in the social sciences are a potential untapped resource. Rather than fighting with feminists about Title IX, athletic departments should enlist their help by inviting feminist scholars to create and administer their compliance surveys. Grad students get a real project to work on, the athletic department works pro-actively to comply with Title IX, and the institution finds out if it's truly serving all its stakeholders. Everyone wins.


The Sexist said...

Thanks so much for this post. I know a lot of women who also consider themselves "reluctant feminists" ... interested in the issues but turned off by the ways that a lot of people talk about them. Part of the solution to that, I think, is adding different voices to the discussion. So thanks for adding yours!


Hill Rat said...


And thank you for your support. At the far end of the long tail, every comment and page view means the world to me.

I'm doing my best to add a strong, male voice to the call for equal rights for women and girls.