Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Reaganism and the Dismantling of Civil Rights: Title IX in the 1980s

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Reaganism and the Dismantling of Civil Rights: Title IX in the 1980s

Article excerpt


In the 1980s, Title IX and other civil rights laws faced significant challenges within a political climate of Reaganism and the growing strength of the alliance between the New Right and the Religious Right. In the 1980s two major events impacted all civil rights legislation based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The first was the Grove City College v. Bell (1984) Supreme Court decision and the second was the 1987 Civil Rights Restoration Act passed over the veto of President Reagan in 1988. This article examines the public discourse of these events through a critical media reading of mainstream newspaper coverage throughout the 1980s, highlighting the central role of Title IX in the debate over civil rights. This examination highlights the importance of dominant discourse in the enforcement of civil rights laws, as well as in the resulting lack of opportunity development over time.


In 1980 the political landscape of the United States shifted significantly with the election of Ronald Reagan as President. The Reagan era marked a rollback in the civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s and 1970s--whether in the form of court cases gutting legislation or from a lack of enforcement of earlier civil rights legislation. The lack of funding that came with the Reagan administrations' low priority on civil rights also had an important impact on the Departments of Education and Justice and the ability of officers to carry out investigations and enforcement. Specifically for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 addressing discrimination against women in education, two major events impacted the law in the 1980s. The first was the Grove City College v. Bell (1984) Supreme Court decision, which relieved educational institutions from their Title IX obligations in areas that did not directly receive federal funding, including nearly all athletic departments. The second was the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, which passed through the legislature over the veto of President Reagan in 1988, restoring the broad meaning of Title IX and other civil rights laws. In this article, I analyze the mediated debates during the 1980s over Title IX and athletics, the Grove City College decision, and the Civil Rights Restoration Act.

Reaganism, the New Right, and the Religious Right

Clearly these debates can only be understood in the context of Reaganism in the 1980s. As Schull (1993) argued, "the American President is the most prominent catalyst for public policies. Presidents can influence the entire policy process, from setting priorities through assessing results (evaluation)" (p. 28). Moreover, the election of Reagan was indicative of a shift in strategy and ideology within the Republican Party. Reagan came to represent the political alliance between the New Right and religious conservatives through careful ideological maneuverings. According to Reeves and Campbell (1994), to understand this we must first take Reaganism seriously as an 'ism.' "As such, the proper name 'Reagan' performs what Foucault terms the 'author function' for a top-heavy economic, electoral, and moral coalition that solidified in the 1970s around the politics of resentment and the worship of mammon" (p. 75). Reaganism centers on and promotes backlash and greed in such a way that it is best understood as "a highly versatile political-moral-ideological-economic-coercive-and-discursive formation made up of a multiplicity of forces and voices, not all of which are compatible" (p. 75). Indeed, one of the strengths of this coalition building was the ability of the movement to bring together groups of people who cared little for the main agenda of the Republican Party related to economic ideologies, but cared deeply for particular religiously oriented causes, such as abortion or the inclusion of Christian teachings in public schools. Others were drawn in via issues of government interference, such as gun control. …

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