Thursday, December 16, 2010

Title IX, Again

Title IX is the act which bans sex discrimination in education. You might not realize that it's not just about college athletics, because that's where all the backlash takes place.

John Stossel is the latest voice in that raven-chorus:

To Fox News' John Stossel, gender inequality and sexism simply no longer exist. In an appearance on Fox News' America Live yesterday, Stossel railed against Title IX, the 1972 legislation that mandated that schools and colleges getting federal funds provide the same opportunities for girls as boys. Stossel dismissed Title IX as legislation by "bully lawyers" whose "conceit and error" resulted in their believing that "just as many girls want to play sports as boys." He also stated that Title IX no longer is needed because, well, according to him, we live in a post-sexist world.

After host Megyn Kelly argued that, sometimes, "you need Uncle Sam to come in and say, hey, be fair to the little girls," Stossel summed up his attack on Title IX this way:

STOSSEL: No. No, the school's trying to attract customers. If the customers want this, and more girls do want to play sports, it will happen. But the conceit and the error of the Title IX lawyers is that the demand is equal -- that just as many girls want to play sports as boys. And I don't think that's true.
We live in a post-sexist world? Guess what? I'm now going to keep a beady eye on Mr. Stossel's pronouncements about women, just to make sure that he indeed is post-sexist himself. mmm

Let's look at the arguments of those who hate Title IX because it "discriminates against boys and men." What do they mean?

They argue that boys and men are inherently much more interested in sports, that girls and women don't really want to play in the first place, and that forcing colleges to limit the number of sports slots for men (who are raring to go to the field) in order to give sports slots for women (who'd prefer to do their nails) is reverse discrimination against the male sex. Because, to repeat, boys and men are inherently more interested in sports.

Is that true? How can we determine something of that kind? If you look at women participating in Olympics, you find widely differing levels of "apparent interest", ranging from no women ever participating (Saudi Arabia) to fairly high levels of participation (United States).

Does this mean that women in different countries have inherently different levels of interest in sports? I doubt that. What those differences suggest is that societal rules and norms have a lot to do with how much women participate in sports and in which sports. They also suggest that we don't know what the "equilibrium" level might be for women's sports. It's only at that equilibrium level that we can start evaluating any potential innate differences.

But suppose, just for the sake of this discussion, that such differences did exist. Suppose that men were twice as eager to do sports than women, say. Would this then mean that colleges should offer them twice as many sports slots?

Then suppose that women were twice as eager to use makeup than men, say. Should colleges then offer scholarships for make-up classes? Should all students subsidize the purchase of make-up equipment?

If you found that example ridiculous, congratulations. The sports example may not look ridiculous, because we believe that sports are good for students. They become physically fit, learn teamwork and how to take failure. Makeup classes appear to have no such benefits.

But if athletics offers those benefits, why should women be allowed to participate less than men? Doesn't it matter that women won't get physically fit or won't learn teamwork? Or put somewhat differently, should colleges finance something which "inherently" benefits one gender more than the other?