In this two-part series, Andréa Maria Cecil explores women in sports and what supporters and critics have to say about the contentious Title IX legislation. In Part 1, Cecil investigates the past, present and future of female athletes.
In sixth grade, Jean Stewart hit a boy. And she didn’t just hit him; she “knocked his block off.”
Her father had taught his daughter a little about athletics and boxing. So when young Jean encountered the boy in her Los Angeles neighborhood who said girls didn’t know how to box, it seemed like a good time to teach him a lesson.
Stewart eventually channeled that athleticism and ornery nature into softball and what was then nine-court basketball in junior high school; she played field hockey in her high-school years. But that’s where it ended for most women of that era. Professional female athletes weren’t the norm.
Today, Stewart is widely known in the CrossFit community as “the deadlifting grandma,” able to hoist 153 lb. off the ground.
Certainly women around the globe have gained ground in sports over the years. But to say their struggle is over is missing much of the story.
It wasn’t until the 1984 Summer Olympics that women were allowed to run marathons—18 years after Roberta Gibb hid behind a bush before sneaking onto the course to become the first known woman to run the Boston Marathon. Sixteen years later, women were finally allowed to compete in weightlifting at the Olympic level.
But it was only three years ago that female ski jumpers petitioned the Supreme Court of Canada to be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The court denied their entry. And at the 2012 Olympics, women competed in boxing for the first time—15 years after the British Boxing Board of Control said women’s menstrual cycles made them too unstable to participate in the sport.
All this begs the question: are women really treated equally in sports?
In Part 2, Cecil investigates the effects of Title IX on women and men and explains CrossFit’s approach.