In the Family Guy episode “Baby, You Knock Me Out“, Glen Quagmire gives Peter Griffin tickets to a foxy boxing event for his birthday.  When Peter, his wife Lois, and friends go to the event the ring announcer invites someone from the crowd to enter the ring and compete. Unbeknownst to Lois, Peter volunteers her to fight.  Initially Lois is unwilling to compete, but eventually she bows to peer pressure.  Surprisingly, Lois not only survives the match but actually annihilates her opponent after mentally substituting Peter’s face for her opponent’s.   Afterward, Peter attempts to convince Lois to become a professional boxer so that she can leverage her new found talent.  In actuality, Peter simply wants to benefit by becoming Lois’ fight promoter.  Initially Lois resists Peter’s suggestion, but after a brief morning exchange with Peter in the living room she agrees.

Peter:   You will recall last night ere I drifted off into slumber, with a nudie magazine betwixt my legs, I spake thusly: “Lois, tomorrow morning, I want flapjacks.” It was a simple message, yet it has gone unheeded.

Lois:    [Growl]…All right Peter, give me a minute.

Peter:   For every 5 seconds I don’t have flapjacks, I will break one window.

[About a minute later]   This is crazy.  Is nobody really making me flapjacks yet?

In recent years women’s sports have risen from obscurity as female athletes are given the opportunity to develop their athletic talents at all educational levels.  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law enacted on June 23, 1972, is largely responsible for this rise of women’s sports.  Interestingly enough while Title IX is now closely associated with women’s athletics at universities there was little discussion of athletics during congressional hearings prior to its enactment.  Title IX was originally intended to address sexual discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions receiving federal funds.  However, the most visible applications of Title IX have been in university athletic programs; therefore, they have received the most attention.

In reality, Title IX affects every aspect of education at the educational institutions covered by the law.  For example, it requires such institutions to provide equal access to all academic courses offered, comparable facilities for men and women, and equal financial assistance.  Furthermore, the institutions are required by Title IX to evaluate their extracurricular programs every two years in order to ensure compliance.  However, Title IX explicitly exempted a public college with traditional and continuing single-sex admissions policy and single-sex military schools.  The U.S. Supreme Court later judicially eliminated that statutory exemption.

In United States v. Virginia, the U.S. Attorney General sued the Virginia Military Institute (“VMI”) to challenge the VMI’s all-male admissions policy.  Since Title IX exempted single-sex military schools, the United States brought suit under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.  The United States claimed that by excluding women from a state-supported college, VMI was violating the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.  The federal district court that originally heard the case had ruled in favor of VMI.  In its decision, the district court noted that a “separate but equal” institution had already been flatly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in its earlier civil rights cases.  However, since the Commonwealth of Virginia had provided a “parallel program” when it created the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL), located at Mary Baldwin College, VMI’s policy was constitutional.  On appeal, the Fourth Circuit which had suggested the “parallel program” standard in a previous ruling affirmed the district court.

The Supreme Court overturned the lower courts on the grounds that unless VMI’s justification was “exceedingly persuasive” then its gender-based discrimination was unconstitutional.  In order to demonstrate a justification is “exceedingly persuasive” a defendant must show that (1) the challenged classification serves important governmental objectives, and (2) the discriminatory means employed are substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.  Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her majority opinion that even if the Court accepted a parallel program standard, VWIL did not even meet that standard.  For example while VMI offered numerous NCAA competition level athletic facilities, like a large boxing facility, VWIL only had two multi-purpose fields and one gymnasium.  VMI attempted to demonstrate that its gender-based admissions policy supported a Virginia policy of providing diverse higher educational opportunities.  VMI proposed a requirement of admitting women would destroy the unique educational opportunity provided by its single-sex program.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court rejected VMI’s proposition noting the school had successfully managed another notable change when it admitted its first African-American cadets in 1968.  The Court noted that VMI was not only denying women the primary benefit of a VMI education by excluding them.  The exclusion of women also denied the secondary political and economic benefits provided VMI’s strong alumni network.

Boxing offers Lois the secondary benefit of providing a means to release her frustrations over Peter along with the primary benefits of physical exercise.  Similarly, Title IX provides women substantial secondary benefits above the primary benefits of greater opportunity in collegiate sports.  Statistics generated by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education demonstrate the dramatic effect Title IX has had on the number of post-secondary degrees earned by women.  Prior to the 1972 adoption of Title IX, a higher number of men earned post-secondary degrees with a widening gap between genders.  Between the 1972 adoption and 1978 compliance date of Title IX, that trend reversed.  Considering all the benefits a college degree provides, Title IX certainly provides women with significant secondary benefits.

« »