The Rhetoric and Ideology Behind Title IX: An Analysis of U.S. Newspaper Editorials, 2002-2005

By Whiteside, Erin; Hardin, Marie | Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

The Rhetoric and Ideology Behind Title IX: An Analysis of U.S. Newspaper Editorials, 2002-2005


Whiteside, Erin, Hardin, Marie, Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal


Abstract

This study explores assumptions about the relationship between sport and gender through a textual analysis of newspaper editorials on Title IX from 2002 to 2005. Through the analysis we found that none of the articles opposed Title IX outright. The arguments in the editorials used a liberal feminist rationale that positioned women and men as equally deserving of civil rights protections and the institution of sports as needing to become gender-neutral to provide those protections. An "oppositional reading" of these editorials from a radical feminist perspective, however, found the assumption that the practice and values of sports are naturally masculine; thus, sports ultimately belong to men. The analysis illuminated the shortcomings of the liberal feminist rhetoric and the need for more radical voices to move women's sports from a defensive to an empowered position in U.S. culture.

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Thirty-plus years ago it may have seemed impossible to imagine that ESPN would feature the NCAA women's basketball tournament in its prime-time lineup, that a Women's World Cup soccer game would attract more than 80,000 fans or that the Indy Race Car Series' most noted driver would be a woman. Such is the case today, and these achievements in women's athletics are credited at least in part to Title IX. An initiative that is strongly supported by the women's movement, Title IX has enabled millions of girls and women the opportunity to play sports. The results of the 1972 law have been astounding. In 1968 around 16,000 female athletes competed in collegiate varsity athletics, but by 2006 that number had grown to over 180,000 (Carpenter & Acosta, 2006). These figures illustrate the remarkable growth of women's athletics after the induction of Title IX. Despite the improvements for girls and women, Title IX has not been unanimously received and critics of the law contend that it has limited opportunities for boys and men even with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Recent public events involving Title IX, including the law's 30th anniversary in 2002, have led to heavy news coverage on the issue. Several studies have critiqued framing within news coverage of Title IX-related events; researchers point to news coverage, which they contend has reinforced misunderstanding of Title IX as stealing opportunities from boys and men (Hardin, Simpson, Whiteside, & Garris, 2006; Lane, 1998; Rosenthal, Morris & Martinez, 2004; Staurowsky, 1998; Walton, 2003). For this study, we chose instead to look at newspaper editorials. It is in editorial sections that newspapers as institutions wield their voice of authority to argue various social and political issues of the day, and because Title IX was in the news between 2002 and 2005, it appeared regularly on editorial pages.

Literature Review

Overview of Title IX

Title IX, passed in 1972, is a liberal feminist initiative that ensures equal funding and opportunity for males and females in any program at a government-funded institution (United States, 1998). Although the law does not specifically refer to athletics, it has been applied to sports programs and has come to symbolize women's struggle for inclusion (Suggs, p. 2) Since the passage of Title IX, the opportunities for girls and women in sport have grown exponentially; during the 1971-72 academic year, 29,977 women participated in collegiate sport; by 2000-01, that number had increased to 150,916. In high school the increase has been even more pronounced; in 1971 fewer than 300,000 girls participated in a scholastic sport. By 2001, nearly 3 million did. (Priest, 2003). Still, only about 20 percent of schools are in compliance (Priest, 2003), and girls are still institutionally discouraged from sports participation as early as their elementary school physical education classes (Fredrickson & Harrison, 2005; McCallister, Blinde & Phillips, 2003; Nilges, 1998). …

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