Originally Published in 2016
I have recently been doing some work-related research about Title IX and its surrounding controversies. Part of this research includes keeping up-to-date with new articles and videos. Here are a few brief thoughts on what I found:
Title IX, since its establishment in 1972, has broadly sought to bring equality to schools and universities. It is an anti-discrimination act that strives to eliminate sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct. Its impact has been felt in all areas of the school systems, most notably athletics. Recently, there have been a flurry of high-level accusations, such as those against the University of Tennessee, University of Maryland, and Baylor University.
Cases such as these have prompted a “crackdown” on potential Title IX violations by the U.S. Department of Education. However, there has also been some backlash against what many see to be ambiguous policy statements and “suggestions.” An article published on Inside Higher Ed details this controversy, writing that “Colleges say the Department of Education’s guidance on campus sexual assault is vague and inconsistent.” Another article at The College Fix recounts Republican Senator James Lankford’s harsh words against Secretary of Education John King. Lankford accuses King’s enforcement of Title IX as “unilaterally issuing broad new regulations … with no public rulemaking.” Complaints such as these point to an increasing dissatisfaction by many institutions over Title IX’s broad policies and ambiguous terminology. As of 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights defined Title IX sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”
In the past few years, those advocating for transgender rights have been staking their claims within the Title IX policy. A vote by Texas superintendents to require athletes to show birth certificates for athletic competition was harshly condemned by media outlets such as Think Progress. In response to instances such as these, the Obama Administration made a recent ruling on Civil Rights law that would force all public schools in the United States to allow bathroom and locker room usage based on gender identity. Interestingly, an article in the Washington Times points out that this new interpretation would actually “pit Title IX against itself.” Here is an excerpt:
Joseph Backolm, director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, said the statute’s competing readings are on a collision course with one another.
“The idea that harassment could come in the form of a proposal for a date, but not in the form of being exposed to someone’s genitalia against their will, is a hard thing to reconcile,” Mr. Backholm said. “Most people that you ask would certainly say they are more troubled by someone of the opposite gender undressing next to them in a locker room, than being asked out, even aggressively, in public.”
Hypothetically, he said, a female college student could file a Title IX complaint against her university, should it comply with the Obama administration’s new interpretation of Title IX. In other words, universities would be violating Title IX by enforcing Title IX, he said.
American Culture and Sexual Ethic
My initial reaction to Backolm’s statement in the Washington Times is to not take him seriously. His suggestion that someone could claim sexual harassment by being asked out on a date seems to be exaggerated and somewhat discrediting. However, I am not so quick to discount the potential increase in sexual harassment cases due to the new ruling on transgender bathrooms and locker rooms. In this regard, I think Backholm is rightfully highlighting some key issues within Title IX as a whole – issues that should concern both sides of the political spectrum. How these are easily resolved at this point is unclear.
The larger narrative taking place also points to significant changes in America’s general sexual ethic. We are a people trying to find sexual morality in the midst of a hypersexualized culture that creates its own definitions of sexuality.
We will soon be bearing the fruits of this ethic.