What Girls On Sports Teams Teach Boys — And DadsS

"I'm very much a Title IX dad," writes Mark Schmitt, and his sweet discussion of his 8-year-old daughter's Little League career encompasses not only girls and sports, but also the state of modern liberalism.

Schmitt writes that because of Title IX and a suit by NOW that prompted the Little League to eliminate mentions of "boys" and "manhood" from its charter, his daughter is able to be her team's Most Valuable Catcher with very little consciousness of the fact that she's also the only girl. He thinks Title IX has had other, more subtle benefits for her generation as well. Schmitt writes,

This generation of children is unfailingly decent to one another, respectful of one another's different personalities, and attentive to and proud of one another's successes. The petty cruelties of childhood are rare. Political scientists have marveled at the distinctive attitudes of "millennials," born roughly between 1982 and 2003. (Thus, a single generation seems to encompass both my daughter and many of my co-workers!) They are characterized above all by tolerance but also by cooperation, liberal political views, and respect for public institutions. They form the basis not just for the Obama Democratic coalition but for the hope of a progressive politics in the future. And the kind of equality promoted by Title IX surely has had something to do with that.

I'm a little skeptical that "millennials" (a generation that apparently includes not only Schmitt's daughter and coworkers, but also my brother, who played Little League baseball through most of the nineties, and me) are actually more "decent" than other people. But I fervently hope Schmitt's right that the drive for fairness for girl athletes has led to an across-the-board rise in progressivism and the respect of differences. There's plenty of evidence that millennials still have some work to do in creating a culture of gender equality, but I do notice that my brother's friends are more comfortable identifying as feminists than even my friends were at their age. And my brother has been, since his teens, more open-minded and quicker to call out prejudice for what it is than most of the boys I grew up with. Some of this is probably because he went to a very progressive high school, but some of it may come from the fact that he played Little League with girls.

Of course, those girls, like Schmitt's daughter, were always outnumbered, and girls' equality, in sports and elsewhere, still has a ways to go. But his experience with his daughter's team makes Schmitt hopeful that social change can happen more quickly than some liberals fear. He writes:

[M]any liberals have become wary of getting too far ahead of the culture. We know that same-sex marriage will eventually be legal everywhere, and we fight efforts to ban it, but many of us are also hesitant about pushing the point too hard in areas of the country that don't seem ready. Sensible liberal legal scholars worry that Roe v. Wade (1973) got ahead of changing attitudes on reproductive rights. If we were transported back to 1972, some of us might worry that schoolchildren and their parents weren't ready for such an abrupt transformation as Title IX. [...] But as I watch my daughter do something that would have been unlikely for a girl of my generation, and see all that goes with it, I'm endlessly thankful to those litigators and legislators of the early 1970s who weren't at all afraid to give the culture and its assumptions a shove in the name of fairness.

Schmitt has a point — liberals can be timid about social change, but sometimes the culture needs a shove. And waiting for people to be "ready" for change can sometimes be an excuse for inaction. I'm not quite as sanguine about the impact of Title IX as Schmitt is — the popularity of girls' sports, for instance, hasn't traveled upward to women's sports. But I am heartened by the obvious pride with which Schmitt views his daughter's athletic achievements, and the importance he places on opportunities for girls like her. Playing alongside girls may make boys more respectful, but having a daughter who's an athlete — or who tries to enter any sphere once reserved for boys — can open dads' minds as well. If Schmitt is representative of other "Title IX dads," the "millennial" generation might be getting a pretty awesome upbringing.

Title IX Dad [The American Prospect]