By Skylar Samuelson
Our weight cards were headed with BTL in bold letters: Bitches That Lift. Although none of us ever said anything, many of us were not entirely comfortable with the nomenclature. Our coach, whose card certainly did not say BTL, liked to gather us together before we started picking up heavy things and putting them down to share words of inspiration. On this particular day, he started talking about female biology. He explained that, due to lack of testosterone, women have a harder time putting on muscle (and keeping it there) than men do. Therefore, he explained, in order to become strong, we had to “fight our womanly natures.”
What he was saying about biology is true. How he chose to say it was unfortunate, yet unsurprising. He rode a Harley Davidson, and liked to bejewel his junk with belt buckles as large as his hands. We often joked that his overt displays of masculinity must have been somewhat compensatory: he must have felt that managing 45 college-aged women and their emotions rendered him slightly impotent and he needed to make up for this loss in testosterone.
Without a doubt, leading young women through a physically and mentally demanding sport in one of the most competitive leagues for DI women’s rowing in the country is by no means an easy task. There were moments when he did it wonderfully, and there were many moments when he failed to do, and be, what we needed. Why was he there? Why was a man with bejeweled junk sitting in the driver’s seat of a women’s sports program? It occurred to me that I have never been on a sports team, or have ever known anyone on a sports team, for which the entire coaching staff was female. If you’ve heard anything about women’s athletics, you’ve no doubt heard “Title IX” at least thrown around a conversation.
Title IX is a federal law that was passed in 1972 as part of the Education Amendments Act. It states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Following this legislation schools were forced to devote equal resources to women’s sports teams as to men’s sports teams, which skyrocketed women’s opportunities in scholastic athletics. Today, almost half of all college athletes are women. But unforeseen consequences accompanied the radical improvements. In 1972 when Title IX was first passed, 90% of women’s sports teams were coached by women. By 2014, that number had dropped to 43%, according to a study produced by Brooklyn College professors Linda Carpenter and R. Vivian Acosta. There are the usual suspects to blame for this inequality: sexism, unequal demands on women’s work-life balance and discrimination against lesbian women. But another factor that is directly correlated to Title IX is, perhaps, less obvious: since Title IX forced schools to allocate equal funds to women’s programs, they could now afford to pay women’s coaches more.
In the 1960s the only people who could be bothered to coach a women’s program were retired female athletes. After 1972, women’s coaching jobs were well compensated, and became worthy of men’s time. Today more than half of all women’s programs are coached by men, whereas less than 3% of men’s programs are coached by women.
Before my first race at Stanford, my coach shared some inspirational words. She told us that now is an important moment to be a young woman (hell yeah it is). And she explained that, in rowing, racing is painful (it is), and it takes a lot of courage (it does). Racing with other women is an opportunity to practice being courageous for yourself and for the other women in your boat: an opportunity to practice skills my coach considers worthwhile for women when they leave practice.
Both my head coach and my assistant coach at Stanford are women. I didn’t know how important that was until I was living it, and, as an athlete, let me tell you how important it is. Every athlete brings an identity to practice, and to have a coach understand that identity, and how to coach that identity, can completely revolutionize the role sports play in a young woman’s life. The research is overwhelming: there are unlimited advantages to having female coaches, not only coaching women’s programs but also coaching men’s programs. But the plain and simple fact is that putting women in leadership roles helps everyone understand that leadership roles are not just for gents. Power is also for women.
Flanagan, L. (2017) The Field Where Men Still Call the Shots. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/07/the-field-where-men-still-call-the-shots/535167/
Stark, R. Where Are the Women? NCAA. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/static/champion/where-are-the-women/
Longman, J. (2017). Number of Women Coaching in College Has Plummeted in Title IX Era. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/30/sports/ncaabasketball/coaches-women-title-ix.html