Friday, December 24, 2010

Koller on the Title IX "Interest Paradox"

Professor Dionne Koller from the University of Baltimore School of Law has recently published an article, "Not Just One of the Boys: A Post-Feminist Critique of Title IX's Vision for Gender Equity in Sports" in the current issue of the Connecticut Law Review. In it, she examines why women and girls are relatively less interested than their male counterparts in pursuing and remaining involved in athletics. Rejecting both the explanation that women are inherently less interested in sports, as well as the theory that the absence of opportunity alone diminishes interest, Koller posits that disparity stems from Title IX itself. By requiring that schools provide opportunities for female athletes with an "interest and ability" to compete in varsity sports, the law operates to only provide opportunities for those interested in "assimilating" to a particular, male-driven brand of sport. She argues that, in this way, the law creates an “interest paradox” -- on the one hand, creating opportunities believed to be the foundation for building interest (the "if you build it they will come" theory) while on the other hand, "extinguishing the interest of those girls and women who would engage in sport, but are not willing to assimilate into the current model." To be competitive, athletes have to adopt the values of the existing model of sport: specialize early, risk injury from overtraining, prioritize winning over academics and other values, and strive for commercial success. While many women are interested in this model of sport, a different sports paradigm might have generate a better balanced interest among male and female participants. To this end, Koller proposes a more inclusive policy that requires education-based athletics to adhere to values and priorities like encouraging participation and fitness, inclusion, and increase of participation opportunities and choices for younger students. At the very least, Koller urges us to acknowledge the interest paradox, "so that discussions of gender equity in sport can move from polarizing, and ultimately unproductive debates about whether women are, or are not, inherently interested in athletics, to a more nuanced discussion of exactly what models of athletics a greater population of women might be interested in. Thus, it is only when women have an equal opportunity to participate in creating and defining the social construct that is athletics will we have realized gender equity in sport."

Citation: 43 Conn. L. Rev. 401 (2010).