The Magazine

Ms. Myths

How America's shrinking-violet feminists try to have it both ways

Nov 13, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 09 • By JESSICA GAVORA
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The answer, of course, is power. The Frailty Myth isn't just about the boys wanting to keep the playing fields to themselves. At its core, writes Dowling, it has a "hidden agenda of keeping women in their place by keeping them believing in their weakness." This belief is "what made men self-sufficient" and women not. It was what made men necessary to women, not just for love and intimacy and friendship, but for their very survival. The weakness of women was the rationale for a belief in their total inferiority -- "physical, mental, emotional."

It follows, then, that should women achieve physical parity with men, the political balance of power will shift as well. Men understand this, and they are prepared to fight to the last man, to see that it doesn't happen. "Make no mistake," Dowling writes. "Society's resistance to women having physical equality is huge. It's like Custer's last stand. If women should ever demonstrate that they're just as strong, agile, and enduring as men, the whole game would be up."

Dowling credits the passage of Title IX, the 1972 law that outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex in American education, with the limited progress women have made toward physical parity with men. By bringing the power of the federal government to bear on the he-man recalcitrants, she writes, Title IX has "slowly but surely punctured the male power mystique."

But the law that supposedly broke down the "artificial" physical differences between men and women has in fact served to isolate women from competition with men. By setting aside 50 percent of all athletic opportunities for women -- regardless of their interest in sports -- Title IX carves out a protective niche.

Today, cutting a women's program is virtually impossible, while men's programs are eliminated in the name of "gender equity." Since 1992 when Brown University was sued under Title IX for not maintaining a 50 percent female quota in its athletics program, not a single women's team has been eliminated in Division I collegiate athletics. Meanwhile, over twenty thousand male athletes have had their teams eliminated since 1992.

Instead of leveling the playing field for men and women, Title IX has made women a protected class. And the irony is that in Dowling's ideal -- in which women would compete with men for spots on the same teams -- athletic opportunities for women would be many, many fewer. The occasional female football placekicker notwithstanding, the fact is that Title IX has created opportunities for women by allowing athletic teams segregated by sex. And gender quota advocates have further shielded girls from competition with the boys by creating an effective affirmative action regime in collegiate sports. Should women prove themselves the equal of men, the rationale for this quota regime would disappear, and the "game" most certainly would be up -- the game of women as politically empowered victims, that is.

Still, if Dowling and Mrs. Clinton can't face this prospect, there is a younger generation of women who are less frightened. They are more comfortable with being women. They want less to be boys than to be individuals. One night recently, I was tossing a miniature football back and forth outside with a friend. I let loose an uncharacteristically wobbly throw and a stranger passing by remarked, "You throw like a girl!" -- and his young daughter, walking with him, retorted, "She is a girl!"

Hillary could learn a thing or two from her.

Jessica Gavora is writing a book about Title IX.