- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000


Gender equity in sports has come full circle to bite female athletes. When feminists set about to break down barriers to girls in sports through Title IX, the 1972 education nondiscrimination law, they never considered that their pursuit of exactly equal treatment might be turned against them. But it has. Two recent news items show how nondiscrimination policies based on sex can strike both ways.
At the recent Little League Softball World Series, an Arizona team with five boys on the roster stirred up controversy. The boys joined an undermanned softball team because there was no organized baseball team in their town. However, many of the parents and other players at the tournament were angry at the presence of the boys because the boys are stronger than the girls. As one parent said, "It looks like they stacked the deck. Those boys are huge. We're trying for equality for these girls, and this is not equal." Well, equal opportunity won't mean equal treatment as long as differences between males and females continue to exist.
In 1974, when Little League ended sex specification for play in both the hardball and softball divisions, it laid the groundwork for girls to play baseball. But it also allowed for boys to play softball. People who work with kids in sports know what many feminists refuse to acknowledge that boys and girls are different, especially in terms of physical strength.
As it turned out, the co-ed team won the series when the team from the Philippines forfeited the championship game due to their injuries from playing against the boys in a prior game. If girls are to be allowed to play the boys' hardball game, even at a physical disadvantage, the feminist definition of nondiscrimination dictates that boys be allowed to play the girls game of softball, even with a physical advantage.
When the first girl played in the hardball world series in 1984, the country sent up fireworks in celebration. Now, 16 years later, the fact that boys play in the softball championship sends up a warning flare instead. What special interest advocates call equal opportunity for girls, all too often, is really preferential treatment. In today's society, where girls have caught up with or surpassed boys in so many arenas, the claim of historical discrimination as a justification for special treatment rings hollow, especially when radical feminists demand that the boys stay on their side of the fence.
In other groundbreaking gender news, the athletic director at the University of Washington (UW), Barbara Hedges, announced that the school would be ending its swimming programs for both men and women after this upcoming school year. Ms. Hedges faced a typical athletic director's dilemma poor facilities, poor performance from the teams, and no room in the budget to improve either. By eliminating both teams simultaneously, UW maintains the gender quota so vital to its Title IX compliance.
In the twisted world of collegiate athletic gender equity, providing opportunities to women has been reduced to a numbers game. Essentially, if a school meets a gender quota (producing a percentage of female athletes proportional to the percentage of female undergrads), the school is considered to be compliant with Title IX. However, this formula has left cash-strapped athletics departments, like UW's, no wiggle room to choose sports which are competitively and financially feasible for the school. The situation has only been exacerbated by the increases in female enrollment through the past decade.
News of team elimination has become commonplace for male athletes. Between 1993 and 1999 alone, more than 350 male NCAA teams have disappeared. But since a 1992 lawsuit against Brown University for downgrading two women's teams (and two men's teams), schools have been leery about cutting any women's teams, no matter how noncompetitive or expensive, and even if doing so leaves their gender proportion intact. Parents of some of the female UW swimmers are contending that Title IX means that a women's team can never be eliminated. This theory may be put to the test if the female swimmers pursue a lawsuit (and news reports indicate that they are talking with the same trial lawyers team that persecuted Brown University).
If we follow the radical feminist logic of exactly equal treatment, then women should expect to see themselves sustaining a more equal share of the cuts in the future as their majority on campus continues to grow. Similarly, as women's numbers on the playing field and in the classroom continue to outpace men's, schools will be reluctant to expand women's athletic programs simply for the sake of gender equity.
Feminists who have insisted that there are no differences between males and females significant enough to keep girls out of boys' sports will now have to acknowledge that equality is a two-way street. If they seek to eject boys from girls' activities, or to shelter girls from the ugly realities of budget cuts, the bite of the gender equity beast will be quick and deadly.

Kimberly Schuld, a Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow, is the director of Policy and Liaison for the Independent Women's Forum.

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