I attended the first-round game of the NCAA women's basketball tournament in which No. 1 seed Stanford University defeated 16th-seeded University of California, Riverside. The outcome was predictable.
What is always surprising for those of us over 50, however, is how much Title IX changed American sports and how much the many women who benefited from its passage have altered the society in which they live. Today women athletes lead a cultural revolution.
Title IX's achievements include the legendary achievements of college women's basketball we see during March Madness. It unleashed women's athleticism and helped create powerhouse programs that in some years draw larger crowds than men's teams.
The rise of big-time women coaches — C. Vivian Stringer, Pat Summitt, Tara VanDerveer — have put to rest the myth that women can play but that men are ultimately better teachers and coaches. Wichita State University's Jody Adams follows in these coaches' footsteps, as anyone who has watched her and her team knows.
Today, however, women's basketball and athletics in general not only attest to the outcomes of Title IX and women's ability to step into an environment of greater equity and win. Of equal significance, women's athletics is in a race with its reactionary twin — the propensity for the same society that produces women's sports to create byzantine "beauty" standards for women. Where beauty was once considered rare, today it has been democratized, making all women subject to the pressure of "working" on themselves, striving through considerable costs to perfect how they appear.
Women's athletics challenges that pressure on women to fit some bizarre standard. Yes, the female athletic form can be marketed as "healthy beauty," and there's still the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. But after sitting at Maples Pavilion at Stanford, and watching WSU women's athletics in the past few years, I believe that women athletes can outrun those who want to make a buck yet again off women's bodies.
Of course a woman athlete can be attractive; it's just not the point of running up and down the basketball court. A woman athlete reveals that her physique can be a means to her own ends, not someone else's. She exudes physical prowess, agility, mental toughness and an ability to win through acting, rather than appearing and seeking to be attractive.
Women's athletics overturn the cultural idealization of women's dependence on men. And that's a sea change and its ultimate significance.