In an age when many teenagers take their everyday rights for granted, it's easy to forget that things were not always as they are now. We know that there was a time when people's rights were restricted based on race or gender, but it's something we learn about in history class.
It all happened ages ago, right?
What we may fail to appreciate is the fact that discrimination is not a long-dead thing of the past; it was highly prevalent in recent decades and continues to exist in various forms today. However, this year marks the 40th anniversary of a great stride our country took toward equalizing women's rights - the passage of Title IX.
Adopted in 1972, Title IX is younger than many of today's teens' parents. However, the act has accomplished significant good in the years since its conception and continues to affect teens today. Title IX bans gender discrimination in all educational programs that receive federal funding. It addresses a variety of areas, ranging from standardized testing to sexual harassment to employment. It protects not only the rights of students, but of teachers and staff as well.
Title IX has played a vital role in the increase of young women pursuing a higher education. It has greatly reduced injustices that limited female college attendance, such as unfair admissions and financial aid processes. These changes have contributed to a shift in the gender balance at universities; there are currently more females attending college than males.
One of the areas that Title IX has perhaps had the most notable influence in is athletics. Title IX requires schools to provide equal opportunities for both genders to partake in sports, making athletics far more accessible to women. It's been effective: according to the American Association of University Women, there was a 940 percent increase in the number of female students participating in sports between 1971 and 2008.
Though Title IX has brought us a long way, gender discrimination continues to exist within the school system. Many schools don't fully comply with Title IX; girls' sports teams often have inferior facilities, equipment, publicity and scheduling. As an example, boys' teams commonly have games on the weekends when more people are likely to attend, and girls' locker rooms, both for athletes and students taking gym classes, are sometimes smaller or in poor repair.
Other problems have arisen as a byproduct of Title IX itself. Although the law doesn't favor one gender over another, in some cases men's opportunities have been reduced in order to make way for the women. Many schools, rather than cut their budgets for sports such as football or basketball, have chosen to cut less popular sports, including swimming and wrestling. This not only makes it difficult for male swimmers or wrestlers to compete at a college level, but it also lessens the ability of those athletes to obtain athletic scholarships.
To solve these remaining problems, more is necessary than changes in law. Title IX and laws like it can benefit a gender as a whole, but often individuals can fall through the cracks. The legal system can require "equality," but equal doesn't always mean right. There is an essential difference between equality and equity: males and females should have the same freedoms and opportunities, but should not be expected to behave exactly the same or to make the same decisions. What is right for one isn't always right for the other.
A person should be given the opportunity to choose his or her own path, regardless of gender, by both the law and society. At the same time, justice shouldn't be judged by numbers; just because there are fewer women in a certain career doesn't necessarily mean that men and women are unequal. As long as women have the right to make their own decisions and are not treated poorly or unfairly because of them, we have attained true liberty.
For this to happen, we must change how we perceive the world. For now, societal stereotypes continue to promote male dominance in areas such as athletics, math and science, while supporting women's reign as nurses, teachers and stay-at-home moms.
Although these careers can all be honorable and fulfilling professions, a lot of girls may be limited from an early age by social norms and expectations. Their talents in other areas may never be fully realized because they believe they shouldn't stray into "male" areas such as science and technology.
So, although Title IX has brought us far in 40 years, our work has not yet ended. Every day, school children pledge allegiance to a flag and a nation "with liberty and justice for all." We have yet to see a day when those words ring resoundingly and unquestionably true - when every citizen has the ability and freedom to pursue happiness, no matter their gender.
America is great, and when we all join together to fight for freedom, it can become greater still.
Kalli Damschen will be a senior at Clearfield High. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.