Guest column: The ‘F’ Word: the legacy of Title IX
by Elizabeth Johnston
Sep 23, 2012 | 2415 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(Courtesy of Elizabeth Johnston)
(Courtesy of Elizabeth Johnston)
Let’s talk about the “F” word—feminism.

If you’re a 90s kid like me, the word most likely uproots an unfortunate mental image of Topanga from the first season of “Boy Meets World.” In just one iconic episode, the braless, unhygienic and antimale Topanga conveys all the stereotypical attributes feminists fight against. If I lost you at “feminism,” but recaught your attention at “braless,” good—welcome back, and now stay with me because I’m about to clear up a few misconceptions.

While I’m sure there are a few hairy armpits here and there, being a feminist does not mean you don’t shave. Nor does it mean you despise men. In fact, the only defining characteristic of feminism is the promotion of gender equality by promoting the female.

What better time to reflect on gender equality than the year a groundbreaking law celebrates its 40th anniversary? In 1972, Congress passed a law that we all know as Title IX. This law requires gender equality for boys and girls in every educational program receiving federal funding. What Title IX stands for is displayed in iconic moments like Brandy Chastain’s personal celebration in response to the 1999 victory at the Women’s World Cup. After scoring the fifth kick in the penalty shootout, she celebrated by whipping off her jersey and falling to her knees in a sports bra.

By exhibiting a celebration technique usually only demonstrated by male athletes, Chastain made a bold statement for female athletics. The image was featured on the covers of Time, Newsweek and in the minds of idolizing girls everywhere, but this is only one of the many defining moments enabled by Title IX. It is important to note that the law does not only apply to athletics.

Title IX has many other applications, such as preventing sexual harassment and increasing women’s opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. And since Title IX was passed 40 years ago, women have started playing a larger role in education and the workforce, now earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at much higher rates and going into traditionally male-dominated fields. The increased access to higher education has enriched the economic progress of women as well.

As important as it is to look back and celebrate the accomplishments Title IX has made, it is even more crucial to look forward to the many challenges we are still facing. Women still lag behind men in earning professional and doctoral degrees, specifically in disciplines like math and science. Also, while women are more than 50 percent of the lecturers and instructors and a little less than 50 percent of the assistant professors, they only account for 36 percent of associate professors and only 21 percent of full professors.

It is challenges like these that inspire me and other women on Auburn’s campus to take initiative in continuing to pave a way for female empowerment.

Last fall, a small group of young women got together every Sunday in the Student Center to discuss global and regional issues that affect women on our campus. This small group forum is called Girls Access to Power (GAP) and is meant to foster strong female leaders around campus and battle the societal strongholds that act as obstacles.

“Yes it was therapeutic, and yes it was informative, but more than anything it was inspirational,” said Sheyda Mehrara, active GAP member. The group’s next move is to legitimize the forum as an Auburn University organization.

If you haven’t already gone into epileptic shock from such frequent usage of the F word, then I applaud you. In fact, if you have made it this far in the article, I owe you a cookie, maybe two.

I hope what you take away from this article is that feminism is nothing to fear. Female equality and empowerment will not set your bras on fire during the night, nor will it hide all the shampoo in your household.

So when it comes to girl power, I say F y’all... F as in feminism, of course.

Elizabeth Johnston

The Women’s Resource Center
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