High Schoolers Need to Know Their IX

This post was written by ERA summer intern Yasmina Malouf.

June 23 marked the 45th birthday of Title IX, a federal law that requires gender equity in schools. Title IX states that “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.”

To many, Title IX means justice for victims of harassment in the classroom and equal treatment on the playing field; however, the majority of students who may need it the most, high schoolers, have no idea what Title IX is or what their rights are under the law.

My name is Yasmina Malouf and I am a rising junior at a public school in the Bay Area. Ever since middle school, I have been interested in women’s rights and equality, whether it be at school, work, or home. From a young age, I knew it wasn’t right that a woman has to work twice as hard to garner the same respect as a man, that my friends and I were chastised for not being “ladylike,” or that when a boy in my class stole my idea and took all the credit for it, I didn’t feel like I could speak up because I was a girl. I knew that all of these seemingly small realities added up to create one giant inequality that pervades our society today. I continued to point out what I observed as unfair to my peers, but always got the same response: “There’s nothing you can do about it,” or, “That’s just the way it is.” Disheartened, I began to believe that no matter how much I talked about it, there was nothing that I could do to change the norm of belittling women. Until I learned about Title IX.

One day, my mom came home and asked me if I had heard that some nearby schools were being sued for Title IX violations. I had absolutely no idea what Title IX was. I had no idea that there was a law that protected me and my fellow female students from having to tolerate the everyday things that have frustrated me since middle school. Before I knew it, I was identifying possible Title IX cases at my school.

For teens, coming forward about interactions that make them uncomfortable is increasingly difficult, as our society tells young girls to remain silent. Girls need to know that it is a big deal when a boy won’t stop texting them creepy messages. They need to know that they don’t need to “chill” about the boy who keeps touching their butt in the hallway. They need to know that they have the right to demand a safe and comfortable learning environment and to speak up about anything that serves as an obstacle to their education.

Title IX violations aren’t just the obvious cases many know about, like rape or denial on a sports team. They include everyday instances that girls have been taught to put up with because they “aren’t a big deal” and girls need to “stop being so dramatic.”

So many girls tolerate this behavior because they are criticized from boys and girls alike if they speak up. Boys continue to harass girls who speak up by making a power play to send a message about their dominance. On the other hand, girls judge others who speak up because, “If I can put up with it, why can’t you?” Little do victims know that it is their right to speak up without this retaliation from peers. Girls have the right to demand respect without any judgment or questioning. Too much harassment goes unspoken about because girls have the misconception that there is nothing that can be done.

If all girls know their Title IX, they will feel empowered to speak out knowing that the law is on their side. They will be able to shut down boys who harm them time and time again. These same boys that later turn into men who repeat the same destructive behavior in college, and later still in the workplace. If these boys learn their lesson early on, we can begin to combat the trend of abuse against women for years to come.

All that needs to happen to get the ball rolling is to spread the word about Title IX. The fact that we are celebrating this law’s 45th birthday, and so many girls and boys in school still don’t have any idea that this law exists, is a major problem. What good is a concrete protection of rights if the girls who need it have no idea it exists?

Title IX needs to be prevalent in every school, and just as accessible as the bell schedule or evacuation procedures. We have a responsibility to our girls to inform them of their federal rights and give them the tools to combat any uncomfortable or harmful situation that comes their way. As we spread the word on Title IX, we empower girls to stand up and get justice.

Let’s continue raising a generation of bad-ass girls, who also know their nine!