My late father-in-law (who lived his adult life surrounded by a wife, two daughters, two granddaughters (although one grandson), and string of female cats) used to say he did not really become an impassioned feminist (although he had always supported women's rights) until he had daughters and the demand that women and girls get fully equal opportunities came home.
Last Wednesday was National Girls and Women in Sports Day, whose celebratory purpose is obvious, particularly in this, the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Yesterday, the University of Miami sponsored a girls' sports clinic, featuring stations with members of various UM women's teams and a short speech by women's basketball coach Katie Meier. This was followed by tickets to a women's basketball game (UM is the defending ACC champion and ranked 7th in the nation). Halftime featured a scrimmage of 3d and 4th grad girls from my daughter's school (which runs a popular girls' basketball league). And every timeout during the game featured announcements of various statistics and information about the benefits girls enjoy from playing sports. And doing it all on the day of the Super Bowl--arguably the culture's most male-centered day of the year--was brilliant counterprogramming. Of course, many of the girls left the game talking about how they were going home to watch the Super Bowl, which I hope reflects the instantiation of a general love of sports in many different forms.
I was very impressed with Meier's remarks, where she talked about how relatively new opportunities are for girls in sports (Meier is about my age, so she was growing up when Title IX was in its relative infancy), how sports have allowed her to have a career she never could have dreamed of when she was a kid, and the benefits that sports have for people in all walks of life. She particularly emphasized something I never thought of--that sports teach you how to fail and how to come back from failure, an ability we can use in all aspects of our lives. I also was struck by one statistic that was announced during the game--today, 1-in-3 high-school girls play some sport, compared with 1-in-250 in 1971 (the year before Title IX). Finally, I was amazed by how fast the women players were--I had not seen a women's game live in a long time and the athleticism was surprising. I often have said that women are about 50 years behind men in most sports (i.e., women play a game that looks somewhat like the men's game of 50 years ago); I wonder if it may be less, at least in terms of speed and quickness.
I close with one of the great commercials of all time and the source of most of the statistics about girls' sports participation.*
* And a key piece of evidence in my arguments for why it really is difficult to separate commercial from political speech.