By Katherine Larkin-Wong • June 19, 2012•Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Other Forms of Discrimination
When Ms. JD was asked to contribute to NWLC’s Title IX blog carnival, I considered writing about how Title IX made it more acceptable for women to participate in law. But as I thought more, I realized Title IX’s story is really about two generations who grew up in different worlds because of how the law changed our social constructs. The strong women in my life tell that story best. It explains why my Mom never got to play organized sports and why my sister was an all-state softball player. I called them both on Sunday night and asked them to talk about what Title IX meant to them. I tell Title IX’s story through their eyes.
My sister and I have always been best friends and confidantes. Nevertheless, we had a yin and yang relationship. While I was more likely to be found on stage, Kim was almost always shooting baskets or hitting a ball. My sister attended every Nutcracker I ever performed and I never missed a game. We say we made each other more well-rounded.
While our mother possessed many of these talents she never got the opportunity to exercise them. As she explained, “I was one of eight children and to some extent, there was a sense of scarcity. The boys were the ones who would have to care for a family some day.” For my Mom, there were no school programs to fall back on.
Just how different our society is hit me when I asked my Mom what it was like to grow up pre-Title IX. She said, “It’s hard to answer, Kate, because I didn’t know any different. I didn’t know of any organized sports for girls. My brothers played sports and we’d go watch.” Later she said, “Once I realized that it could have been different, I wondered ‘what if?’” My Mom’s only experience with team sports was basketball in the 7th grade, “It was considered PE but I absolutely loved it.”
My Mom graduated from high school in 1974. “As I was looking at colleges, schools that had been all male were going co-ed including Notre Dame. That’s where I wanted to go but I was told both that it was too far away and that admitting women was a passing fad. I think my Dad meant well; it was a huge social change at that point. Girls went to college for their Mrs. degree. I was frustrated because I wanted to go to school and learn.”
As I talked to my Mom, I recalled one of my most vivid memories of Kim. I see her, a toe headed blonde, three years old in a teal t-shirt and blue jean overalls. She picks up a pinecone and hits it with a stick. Even at that age, she had athletic talent. I try to imagine Kim in a world like the one my Mom grew up in and my heart breaks a little. Sports were always a part of Kim’s life. When I asked Kim about when she started playing sports, she had to stop, “I don’t know, kindergarten, first grade maybe? T-Ball must have been my first sport … I think.” The difference between my Mom’s very clear memory of basketball in the 7th grade and the way the years ran together for Kim was striking. Striking too was Kim’s list: “Soccer, basketball, t-ball which became softball, volleyball … though that wasn’t until middle school.” These were two completely different worlds in part because of Title IX.
I asked my Mom about what it was like when Kim and I went to school: “It was exciting when you girls went to school. I wanted to make sure you were exposed to different things and then let you all chose what you wanted to do. For me, everything had been dictated.” Well choose we did. Kim played basketball and softball in high school. I asked Kim what sports contributed to her life: “Number one is peer bonding. Also a competitive side, both personally and as a team you strive to be your best. Your team becomes your family. You learn to pick people up, deal with struggles and come back from them together.” She pauses and I sense her smile, “There’s no better feeling than the come from behind win.”
I asked Kim about her favorite sports memories. “Well, I think winning State Softball has to be number one, “ she says sarcastically. Although we’re on the phone, I can see her rolling her eyes at me. “There’s a come from behind win!” I retort. “Well, we came into the tournament ceded 13 out 16 teams. No one gave us a shot at winning.“ Even now, Kim’s voice quickens with excitement, “We lost our first game and had to battle back out of the losers’ bracket. Even the championship day, we had to beat our arch-rivals twice to win.”
As Kim and I talk, that day’s memories come to me. I see myself in the first row of a balcony in an old theatre. I look down at my phone to learn that Kim’s team just won their first game of the day meaning they would play that afternoon for the State Championship. I look below to see my Mom in a black gown and graduation cap. As she catches my glance, I give her two thumbs up, our sign that we have to rush out to catch Kimmy’s championship game. She gives me the thumbs up, and the picture I snapped is still my favorite of her. That morning, as my sister’s team battled to play in the state championship, my Mom graduated from law school. It had been a life-long dream she had been told she couldn’t accomplish because women were not lawyers.
That afternoon, as the sun set over the Montana Mountains, my Mom and I watched Kim and her team win the State Championship. So for me, writing about Title IX means writing about a driving force behind social change that made that incredible day possible.
Katie Larkin-Wong is an attorney at Latham & Watkins in San Francisco and the President of Ms. JD (www.ms-jd.org). Her Mom, Eileen A. Larkin, is an appellate public defender in Montana. Her sister, Kim Hayes, now volunteers her time to coach basketball and softball.