girls, self esteem & title ix

“but tell yourself it’s nothing new

cause everybody feels it too

they feel it too

And there’s just no getting ’round

the fact that you’re thirteen right now” – Natalie Merchant


I began this with some Natalie Merchant lyrics, which I will get back to, but this is about Title IX and a new tv ad I saw.

First.  I couldn’t wait for someone to finally do this ad.

Second. I could have waited for someone to do it right.

Let me begin with the television commercial “Keep her in the Game”:

The message to young girls? The first half is awesome.

Second half? I admit. I scratched my head a little.

I get that some research must point out that young girls are more likely to drop out of competitive sports at 14. And I get that the same research most likely <I am guessing but it’s not a stretch> suggested “desire to becoming a young woman”, and all the societal trappings that come along with it, as primary reasons they dropped out.

But actually blaming society? Whew. Not sure I am buying what they are selling.

Regardless. We ask our young people to grow up very fast these days. Or let’s say “act like adults”. And we do it before they are capable of thinking like an adult.

Clarification: Capable translating into maturity not brain power (although, when I look at some of the role models I question whether they, as adults in age, are capable of thinking like an adult).

Anyway. What young girl doesn’t want to look sophisticated and mature and …well…beautiful?

Its just that today’s role models are not typically Audrey Hepburn anymore. Even if their role model is Piper Perabo (who I have always liked) that means here is her role model:


Keeping them playing sports? Yikes. That is a little bit of a stretch for me. I think all the female athlete photo shoots/calendars floating around and Maria Sharapova and Mia Hamm and … well … there are a slew of athletic examples which suggest a young girl can be beautiful … and feminine <if that is important> and still play sports.

Look. I know role models are challenging. Personally, thinking back, I don’t remember ever wanting to emulate someone <a celebrity> as I grew up. Did I admire some? Sure. Were they role models? Nope. They …well … lived in a different world and I knew it. Did I want to copy my favorite baseball player’s swing? Or someone’s jump shot? Sure.

Did I care how he dressed or wore sweatbands? Not really. And I certainly never thought about emulating anything about their lifestyle.

Role models, too many in my generation, were not celebrities but close family and friends. People we could see and touch and sense. Not someone mysterious created by media where I had to guess on true character. Were some of them flawed? Of course. But I am not foolish enough to suggest that is the same for this generation.

Anyway. The television ad, “Keep her in the Game”, which prompted this post.

Me? After I saw the beginning of the ad I wanted a “self esteem” message and a “tell yourself you are 13” message … not a “so they stop playing sports” message.

I do not begrudge women’s athletics reminding girls they don’t have to stop playing sports to be feminine. They just chose the wrong foil <in my eyes>.

I will get back to Title IX … but for a moment let me tell you what I would have done.

Nobody will be surprised but I would use music (probably because I had a song stored away in one of my “if I had an opportunity to use” folder) to drive home the message they were trying to communicate. While I would make some changes visually I guess it would be relatively easy to envision using the following song, Tell Yourself by Natalie Merchant, over the same visuals in the “Keep her” TV execution and get a sense for what could be a powerful message <by the way … I also like the fact that Natalie is a also a strong female role model>.

Tell Yourself:

I do believe it is unrealistic to suggest tween women ignore society … you can only manage societal issues & pressures.

I do believe it is realistic to suggest tween women understand they are only a tween … and that there time will come.

In the end <on this topic> I really wouldn’t give a shit whether my daughter played sports or not (even though I am a sports guy & proponent for the life lessons it teaches) but I do give a shit about how they respond to many of the message society seems to bombard them with <and the ensuing self-esteem issues it seems to burden them with>.

Anyway. That was the TV ad.


Back to Title IX.

Now this, my friends, is an empowering ad for young girls <figures Nike would know how to do it>:

Beyond any television commercials … I am a fan of Title 9.

And I wish if they had done an ad about title IX regardless of whether they wanted to leverage a topical issue facing girls or not they had reminded people it wasn’t about playing sports … it’s about providing the opportunity that sports has to offer with regard to life lessons and learning.

Because while we may think title 9 is just about “sports” … the women, just as men, who play sports are not likely to go on and play at a college level let alone a professional level. That is in the smallest of percentages. The majority gain the lessons sports provides.

Sports is really good in preparing girls for the adult competitive business world. I believe there is a direct result from understanding the competitive mindset and the discipline/work ethic necessary to balancing the demands of sports and all academic demands. You have to believe if a person can perform at a high level going 70 hours per week in school/sports, they can probably handle the stress/time in the business world.  Simplistically it seems like just changing one uniform for another.

Title IX is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Participation numbers for women in college and high school athletics are at an all-time high. I believe the greatest legacy of Title 9 is that there is a generation of young women growing up strong and self assured because of their participation in sports.

A generation for whom sports is so ingrained in their lives, they cannot even envision simply standing on the sidelines. And as far as life lessons go … a legacy of a generation of young women who don’t believe they should be on the sidelines … for anything.

Here is an interesting factoid.

Nowhere in Title IX will you see the word ‘sports.’ It is an education initiative … in which sports benefited.

“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” – Title IX

Title 9 was initiated at a time when women earned 9 percent of all medical degrees and just 7 percent of law degrees. Supporters were simply hoping to provide more opportunities for women in higher education, give them a better shot at higher-paying jobs … an attempt to balance out the inequality in higher education. Therefore, just as academics and financial aid fell under the broad definition of “education program” so did athletics. A truth? “You learn about yourself and the world through sport.” (Angela Ruggiero)


Once given the opportunity women’s sports began thriving.

Before Title IX, fewer than 300,000 high school girls – one in 27 – played sports; there were less than 32,000 female athletes at the collegiate level. By 1974, just two years after the passage of Title IX, the number of high schoolers participating in sports had skyrocketed to 1.3 million.

Now more than 3 million high school girls – one in two – play sports. More than 191,000 females played NCAA sports in 2010-11. And unlike their mothers or grandmothers, who were often limited to basketball and softball if they did get a chance to play, women are now participating in everything from squash to skiing, rugby to wrestling.

Some research facts:

–          female athletes do better in school and have higher graduation rates. White female athletes had a 74 percent graduation rate compared with 68 percent for the overall student body, according to the most recent federal government calculations. The graduation rate for black female athletes was 66 percent, compared with just 46 percent in the overall student population.

–          A 2002 study found that 82 percent of female business executives had played organized sports after elementary school.

–          Female athletes are also less likely to smoke, use drugs or be suicidal.

Beyond numbers I believe there are some massive intangible benefits.

Self confidence.

Time management.

Self esteem.


(insert your own here)


And beyond women, girls, how about the affect on the male population?

Boys have grown up watching sisters, friends, classmates, even their mothers play sports. They aren’t female athletes anymore but rather just athletes. There is a mutual respect and understanding and … well … sense of equality. In simplistic terms boys don’t really care she’s a girl … they just know she can play … she’s ‘got game’.

Ok. In the end?

It is all about equal opportunity … on the field and off the field.

It is about the lessons and attitudes that are learned on the field … and applied off the field.

The fact that the life lessons apply everywhere to everyone.

It’s about educating our children to the best of their abilities.

To finish this post here are the lyrics to the song I would have used … which would be nice for any tween young woman to remind herself with.

Tell Yourself Lyrics:

Tell yourself that you’re not pretty

look at you, you’re beautiful.

tell yourself that no one sees

Plain Jane invisible me, just tell yourself

Tell yourself you’ll never be

like the anorexic beauties in the magazines

just a bargain basement Barbie Doll

no belle du jour, no femme fatale

just tell yourself

Tell yourself there’s nothing worse

than the pain inside and the way it hurts

but tell yourself it’s nothing new

cause everybody feels it too

they feel it too

And there’s just no getting ’round

the fact that you’re thirteen right now

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Written by Bruce