Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gaps in the progress narrative, or Why I hate the "posts"

There are some among us who dislike the term post-feminist. For some it is because the term suggests that our feminist work here is done. Even when "here" is the US, that statement remains untrue. For some, post-feminist means a new brand of "we've brought the sexy back" feminism. Also, problematic. As are the other posts: post-racial and, for our purposes here, post-Title IX.
I have tried, when possible, to point out to users of the term that the work of Title IX is ongoing and certainly not "post." Post suggests that we reached a place of contentment, even if we may not have equity yet. Things are going along and will continue to do so and that change comes slowly and this is a process, etc., etc.
The problem with this is that progress is not self-perpetuating. It continues to require work. Also, progress is difficult to measure, and even the measurement tools we do employ often leave gaps in the progress narrative. Around the time of the 40th anniversary, I noted to a reporter that while there are many more opportunities for girls and women now than 40 years ago, that is only one marker of progress. In other words, what about equal treatment measures? It is fine to celebrate progress in one area, but not to forget about other areas in which we have not witnessed such growth.
Progress along a single axis is a problem when we discuss Title IX. The above example (opportunities versus treatment) is one that we have focused on. But there are others. Progress for whom? Progress for African-American girs? For Latinas? For girls from working class backgrounds? For queer athletes?

So what's this diatribe about? Well it appears that the dominant progress narrative in Title IX discourse (ever-growing opportunities) has encountered some resistance. The Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls (SHARP) at University of Michigan released a report this week, along with the Women's Sports Foundation, noting that opportunities for high school girls might not be growing as fast as we thought and offered the possibility that they might decline in coming years. Tracking the data from high schools has always been a challenge, as the report notes, because of the lack of mandatory reporting (which is required of colleges). But it appears that the economy is taking a disproportionate toll on girls' sports. Less growth, the cutting of sports programs in schools with greater numbers of female students, and the ongoing disparity in opportunities are all issues.
It shouldn't be surprising that the economy would affect sports at the high school levels. What's surprising is that we haven't really talked about the potential disproportionate effects things like cutting high school sports or implementing fees for sports has on girls. There seems to be a general failure to truly embrace intersectional thinking around Title IX. We know Title IX has benefited more white girls than any other race. We must suspect that it benefits more middle and upper class girls as well. But these issues don't seem to get raised enough--also, I believe, an effect of the proliferation of the "posts." With the threat of a "backward" trend on the horizon, will this change?