Girls in Sports No Longer 'Tomboys'
Athletic competition builds character in our boys.
We do not need that kind of character in our girls.
~ Connecticut judge, 1971
Last month the Women's Sports Foundation held its annual Salute to Women in Sports at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended, as did actor Holly Hunter and dozens of athletes, including figure skater Michelle Kwan, softball star Jennie Finch, and New York Jets kicker Nick Folk.
Founded by tennis legend Billie Jean King 31 years ago, the foundation seeks to "advance the lives of girls and women through sport and physical activity." It's well known that girls who play sports reap many off-the-field benefits, including better grades and higher self-esteem. "Eighty percent of the female executives at Fortune 500 companies identified themselves as former 'tomboys' and having played sports," the foundation's website states.
When I was a girl, organized sports belonged to the boys. If a girl played, she was without question a tomboy. At my brothers' baseball games, I sat in the grass, picked at the scabs on my knees, made dandelion chains, and ran into the woods to retrieve foul balls. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in the 1970s, I knew only one girl who played baseball. Katie was quiet and tough and came from a large Roman Catholic family. Like her bevy of siblings, she had straight brown hair, dark blue eyes, and a scattering of freckles over her nose. I could spot her coming down the sidewalk just by her swagger.
Sometimes during recess, the whole class would play kickball. I secretly coveted Katie's approval and, sure enough, when I'd make a good play—catch the red playground ball on the fly, for instance—she'd turn and nod at me, her eyes narrowed. She was a pocket Clint Eastwood on the school grounds. People said Katie was a tomboy. The first time I heard the word was when a boy used it to insult her: "Tomboy. Weirdo."
Meanwhile, across the country from our blacktop kickball game, members of Congress, led by the late Patsy T. Mink, were at work getting Title IX passed. In 1972, they succeeded. The law states that no one in the U.S. may be excluded from participation in any federally funded educational program or activity on the basis of sex. The Women's Sports Foundation reports that since the enactment of Title IX, "Female high school athletic participation has increased by 904% and female collegiate athletic participation has increased by 456%." In other words, Title IX, now officially the "Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act," worked.