MyAmericanFuture

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 31, 2017: Women and Sports: Title IX



[Each year for the last few, I’ve used Super Bowl week as a platform for a series on sports in America. This week, I’ll be AmericanStudying figures and moments related to women in sports, leading up to a weekend Guest Post on cheerleading in American society and culture!]
On two reasons why it’s wrong to limit our understanding of Title IX to sports, and one way in which that focus can still be helpful and meaningful.
1)      The Act and Its Histories: Title IX refers to a particularly significant section of the Education Amendments of 1972, a law co-authored by Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and Hawaiian Congressperson Patsy Mink (after whom the act was re-named in 2002). Bayh was one of a number of legislators who had been working for some time on the Equal Rights Amendment; due to the continued challenges they encountered in bringing that proposed law to a vote, these lawmakers turned to other means to advance gender equality on the federal level, including the Higher Education Act of 1965. Reflecting these sweeping civil rights goals, the language of Title IX was purposefully broad and (as much as possible) all-encompassing: “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.” While sports became and have remained a particularly clear and compelling case study for and application of the law, to define Title IX as in any way a sports-related Act is to elide precisely its status as an overt and important extension of 1960s civil rights and Great Society programs and successes.
2)      A Vital 21st Century Battle: I don’t think it’s much of an overstatement to note that in 1972, sexual violence against women was hardly acknowledged as a communal or national issue at all, much less made a focus of federal lawmaking efforts. That has, of course, rightly and dramatically changed in the four and a half decades since Title IX, and in the last decade sexual violence on college campuses has become a new focus of Title IX applications. Some of the first of those applications have been linked to sports, as when two female students at the University of Colorado (in 2006) and one at Arizona State University (in 2008) used the law to successfully sue their universities for damages after being sexually assaulted by football players. But of course the pervasiveness of sexual assault and violence on college campuses is in no way limited to sports, and to see this evolving extension of Title IX to these issues as simply a sub-category of sports-related applications would be to minimize or circumscribe our understanding of sexual assault in both an inaccurate and unproductive way. To extend my point in item one above, sexual violence has become a new and central civil and equal rights issue for women (and all Americans), and the continued use of Title IX to fight that vital battle reflects the act’s civil rights origins and legacies on one more key level.
3)      Why Sports Matter: So if we think about Title IX in any way as a law focused on athletics, we’re doing an injustice to both its histories and its ongoing meanings. At the same time, however, there’s no doubt that both collegiate and high school athletics became in the years after the act, and continue to be in 2017, a central site of Title IX efforts and applications. And I would argue that there are symbolic and social as well as historical reasons to remember and celebrate that connection of Title IX to sports. For one thing, as yesterday’s story of Babe Didrikson Zaharias illustrates, sports in American society have long been linked to gendered images and narratives, to stereotypes of masculinity and feminity, to ideas about what boys and girls respectively can and should do or pursue or care about. Yet the truth is that (all stats from this piece), if just 7% of all high school varsity athletes in 1971 were women, and if only 16,000 women competed in collegiate athletics in 1966, those statistics reflect social, educational, and funding limitations far more than they do gender identities or realities. How do I know that? Because by 2001, 41.5% of high school varsity athletes were women, as were 43% of college athletes (more than 150,000 in total) in that same year. Sports thus offer a potent site for both providing access for all Americans and revising limiting gender stereotypes in the process—and Title IX has played a vital role in achieving those practical and philosophical goals.
Next post tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other women and sports connections or analyses you’d share?

Monday, January 30, 2017

January 30, 2017: Women and Sports: Babe Didrikson Zaharias



[Each year for the last few, I’ve used Super Bowl week as a platform for a series on sports in America. This week, I’ll be AmericanStudying figures and moments related to women in sports, leading up to a weekend Guest Post on cheerleading in American society and culture!]
On two ways to connect and parallel the pioneering athlete to legendary men, and one key way not to.
1)      Multi-Sport Achievements and Fame: I’ve always thought of Jim Thorpe as the 20th century’s most talented athlete, what with his stunning and groundbreaking successes in Olympic track and field, football, and baseball, among other sports. But in researching this post, I realized that Didrikson Zaharias has a serious case for the same title: I had long known about her unparalleled successes as a professional golfer, but she also won two track and field gold medals (and one silver medal) at the 1932 Summer Olympics and was an All-American in basketball, again among many other athletic accomplishments. Although sports lend themselves particularly well to lists and rankings and debates about who was the best, the truth is that both Thorpe and Didrikson Zaharias should be remembered as truly exceptional and influential athletes, figures whose early to mid 20th century, runaway crossover successes in both amateur and professional sports helped pave the way for the sports world to become the national and global phenomenon that it remains to this day.
2)      Larger-than-life Persona: Born Mildred Ella Didrikson, Didrikson Zaharias would later claim that she gained the nickname “Babe” when she hit five home runs in a youth baseball game. That might or might not be true (her Norwegian immigrant mother supposedly called her “Bebe” throughout her life), but even the uncertainty helps illustrate Didrikson Zaharias’ embrace of a larger-than-life persona that echoes that of her potential namesake Babe Ruth. For example, she long claimed to have been born in 1914 (rather than her actual 1911 birth year), perhaps to exaggerate her youthful accomplishments yet further. And she complemented the athletic successes I detailed above with a lifelong series of forays into the worlds of celebrity and popular culture: singing and playing harmonica on several pop songs for Mercury Records; performing on the vaudeville circuit; trying her hand as a pocket billiards player, as in a famous multi-day match against billiards champion Ruth McGinnis; and marrying professional wrestler George Zaharias, the “Crying Greek from Cripple Creek.” Like Babe Ruth, Didrikson Zaharias’ athletic accomplishments would have been more than enough to cement her fame and legacy; but like Ruth, she clearly wanted all that culture and life had to offer.
3)      Shattering Stereotypes: Jim Thorpe and Babe Ruth are two of the greatest American athletes of all time, and linking any other athlete to them is (I hope and would argue) a sign of respect. Yet at the same time, I did so at least somewhat ironically, to help engage with the particular, unquestionably gendered limits which Didrikson Zaharias continually encountered and yet challenged and destroyed. (Certainly a Native American athlete like Thorpe faced his own barriers and challenges, of course.) The most overt such limits, many of which called into question Didrikson Zaharias’ gender itself, are nicely encapsulated by this quote, from sportswriter Joe Williams in the New York World-Telegram: “It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.” In the last few years of her life, Didrikson Zaharias developed a close, quite possibly romantic relationship with fellow golfer Betty Dodd, a relationship neither would describe as romantic due to the limits of their early 1950s society. Yet at the same time, in those final years Didrikson Zaharias shattered all limits one final time: diagnosed with colon cancer in 1953, she continued to golf professionally until her 1956 death, winning multiple tournaments including the last two she entered. A towering and inspiring sports legend to the last.
Next post tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other women and sports connections or analyses you’d share?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

January 28-29, 2017: January 2017 Recap



[A Recap of the first month of 2017 in AmericanStudying.]
January 2: Ellis Island Studying: Castle Garden: An Ellis anniversary series starts with what didn’t change from New York’s prior immigration station, and what did.
January 3: Ellis Island Studying: The Changing Facility: The series continues with three historic turning points in the immigration station’s space and role.
January 4: Ellis Island Studying: The Questions: Three particularly complex and telling types of questions from the list of 29 asked of Ellis arrivals, as the series rolls on.
January 5: Ellis Island Studying: Quarantine: How Ellis Island continued yet changed the long history of New York harbor quarantine stations.
January 6: Ellis Island Studying: Myths and Realities: The series concludes with why it’s vitally important to remember Ellis, and the less and more productive ways to do so.
January 7-8: 21st Century Ellis Islands: A special weekend post on three contemporary sites that (in very different ways) could be described as 21st Century Ellis Islands.
January 9: Spring 2017 Previews: American Lit I: A spring semester preview series kicks off with reading and applying Christopher Columbus in the age of Trump.
January 9: Special Guest Post: Oana Godeanu-Kenworthy on Thomas Haliburton and 19th Century Populism: A special addition to the blog, in which I cross-post a wonderful piece by Dr. Godeanu-Kenworthy from the great early Canadian history blog Borealia.
January 10: Spring 2017 Previews: First-year Writing II: The spring previews series continues with the challenge of controversial content in a skills-focused writing course.
January 11: Spring 2017 Previews: The American Novel to 1950: Three contemporary topics that six classic novels help us analyze, as the series rolls on.
January 12: Spring 2017 Previews: Adult Learning Class on Inspiring Contemporary Voices: A request for suggestions and nominations for my next adult learning course!
January 13: Spring 2017 Previews: NeMLA Conference: One conversation we’ll definitely have at March’s Northeast MLA conference in Baltimore, and one I very much hope we do.
January 14-15: Spring 2017 Previews: Book Plans: The series concludes with three projects on which I’ll be working as the spring and 2017 unfold—would love to hear about yours, or other spring plans, in comments!
January 16: The Real King: My annual MLK Day post, on the limits to how we currently remember King, and how to get beyond them.
January 17: Luke Cage Studying: Pop and Luke: A series on the wonderful Netflix superhero show starts with my favorite character, superhero tropes, and the barbershop.
January 18: Luke Cage Studying: Mariah and History: The series continues with the great Alfre Woodard’s Mariah and the complexities and ambiguities of Harlem history on the show.
January 19: Luke Cage Studying: Taking the Rap: Two compelling layers to the most overt musical reference in a show full of them, as the series rolls on.
January 20: Luke Cage Studying: #BlackLivesMatter on TV: The series concludes with where Luke differs from two recent TV engagements with the movement, and why that matters.
January 21-22: A Tale of Three Inaugurations: A special post in which I try to respond to the most frightening inauguration of my lifetime the only way I know how.
January 23: NASAStudying: Sputnik and von Braun: A series on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo I tragedy starts with the wartime origins of the US space program.
January 24: NASAStudying: NASA’s Origins: The series continues with three moments and figures that contributed to the space agency’s starting points.
January 25: NASAStudying: Kennedy’s Speech: The Cold War limits and yet compelling possibilities of the famous “moon shot” speech, as the series rolls on.
January 26: NASAStudying: John Glenn and Hidden Figures: The astronaut, the hugely popular film, and the value and limits of additive revisionist histories.
January 27: NASAStudying: Apollo I: The series concludes with two lessons from Apollo I on the 50th anniversary of its tragic fire.
Next series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to write? Lemme know!