Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Movie review: License to Thrive

The people at Women Makes Movies very kindly sent us a copy of License to Thrive: Title IX at 35. Despite our best intentions, we had not been able to catch a viewing of it when the documentary was making the rounds in New England last year.
A lot of interesting stories and facts within the 48-minute movie by Harvard alum Theresa Moore. I was particularly struck by the story of the creation of Yale University's endowment for women's athletics that was started by former Yale athletes who attended Yale in the 70s. The fascinating part of the story is that over 50 percent of the donors--all women--had never given to Yale before. Alumnae usually give because they value and remember fondly their college experience. The first-time donor status seems to suggest that many of these women may have a certain ambivalence about their time as female students at the historically male university (Yale began admitting women to the undergraduate colleges in 1969). But their athletic experience must have been one of the most positive ones because the endowment organizers met their initial fundraising goal of $100,000 in a matter of minutes. And it continues to thrive.
The movie, overall, had two major strengths. The first was its attention to areas other than athletics. And related to this was the history of the legislation provided by Bernice Sandler "the godmother of Title IX," Senator Birch Bayh, and the daughter of Hawaii Congressperson Patsy Mink who spoke about her mother's history and her role in Title IX.
The former is an important point to make, especially as the debate over access to science and technology fields grows more heated. But the way in which the movie made this point was confusing. In a segment that was rather abruptly introduced about a program that introduces girls to filmmaking and in another about a local Massachusetts program that encourages girls in science and math, we see the value of exposing girls to these fields. But these programs are not run by the schools (though some do use school facilities). So while they are about education, they are not directly related to Title IX. They do, hopefully, engender social change. So when some of these girls go to high school and college and if they find their access to these programs is limited, they can use Title IX to remedy any gender-based disparities.
The same is true of the White House Project featured in the movie. A great program; certainly one that educates about civic engagement and our government--but not really related to Title IX. We applaud these programs and the attention being given to them. But we worry that they further confuse people about what exactly Title IX does.
Also potentially confusing was the explanation of the ever-controversial 3-prong test (which was given a lot of attention from both sides of the debate). First, the film reversed prongs 1 and 3. And the movie suggested that compliance with Title IX is met when one of the prongs is satisfied. This is a mistake we see all the time, including in the introduction to historian Susan Ware's recent primer Title IX, which otherwise does a good job pulling together historical documents related to the legislation.
The reason we keep pointing out this confusion is because to believe that Title IX is only about opportunities impedes thorough examinations of the quality of the opportunity; from access to quality coaching and facilities to the amount of per diem and travel conditions. The complaints and lawsuits about softball fields and practice gyms are only viable because Title IX is about more than numbers of female versus male athletes--it is about treatment of said athletes.
One final point about License to Thrive. We were pleased to see many representations of women and girls of color; to see programs targeted at these girls. But we were disappointed that there was no discussion of the different experiences these girls have. One of the problems we have seen with Title IX's implementation is that it is has largely benefited--or disproportionately benefited white, middle-class girls.
We realize that there is a lot to cover--especially in less than hour. And we truly appreciated the efforts of the filmmaker to fill in the gaps and raise awareness of often overlooked facets of the legislation.