By India Grant, Legal Momentum Intern Summer 2012
Title IX is 40 this year, and Legal Momentum is but a couple years its senior. As we celebrate the accomplishments and step up to finish the undone work of Title IX, it is important to realize that this law and this organization were both conceived within the same era of social revolution in advocating for gender equality.
Today, 40 years later, Legal Momentum’s Title IX work entails securing a discrimination and harassment-free environment for young women in career and technical high schools. CTE curriculum provides students with skill sets that are transferable and high in demand, making way for stable employment as an adult.
The problem that we face in these classrooms is deeply entrenched in American culture and social norms that have yet to be enlightened. From the moment a girl steps foot into a kindergarten classroom, she is socialized to be a woman, to like pink, to wear make-up and heels, to play with Barbies. She is sit-behind-a desk-in-an-air-conditioned-room-groomed. And while arguably there is nothing wrong with this, the problem is that she is most likely not encouraged to pursue math, science or architecture. When it’s time for her to go to high school she is most likely not steered towards the CTE high schools which could lead her to a job where she will receive great pay for her high skill set and where she will get health insurance and a pension. She is steered towards childcare, information clerking, cosmetology—jobs that do not guarantee the high pay or the fringe benefits. She is gridlocked into a system where the female-dominated jobs pay and offer less.
And then when a few girls do attend CTE high schools, they face discrimination from their teachers and guidance counselors and sexual harassment from their peers and staff members. This is yet another way women are detoured away from these occupations. It is really scary that a woman’s economic security is snatched from her –penny by penny—from the time that she’s wrapped in a pink blanket as a newborn in the hospital.
This is why Legal Momentum’s work is so important. If we can make these high schools safer for girls, they can obtain technical skills that are in high demand, especially here in NYC—a place that is constantly being rebuilt and reinvented. These technical skills will land them jobs in the construction trades where they can be plumbers, electricians, carpenters, boiler-makers, engineers, architects, computer programmers, etc. These occupations pay nearly twice as much as those under the umbrella of cosmetology or clerking or child care. These jobs offer benefits. These jobs do not have a debt prerequisite; they do not require a college degree. These jobs are the gateway to a middle-class income. See the cycle?
We as a society cannot continue to channel the few degree-free, high-paying jobs with benefits that do exist to men. When women do secure these jobs we have to make sure they are retained and not discouraged because of daily harassment or discrimination. We have to make sure that women who want to pursue STEM as undergraduates have the resources to do so and in fact we need more women studying STEM subjects on college campuses. If we do not do our part to engrain Title IX (and Title VII) into the personal ideologies of Americans, we will push women to the economic margins. And so a new revolution is here and the reform starts in the classroom. It starts with Title IX. This education amendment and Legal Momentum have aged together. They were born of the same revolution and have created a new one we must fight today. Here at Legal Momentum we are fighting to educate our administrators, principals, teachers, parents and students about Title IX so that girls in schools today can have economic security as women tomorrow. Long live the revolution.
When I was in high school I was enrolled in the engineering academy at my high school. While female representation in this program at my school did not equal that of males, it was much better than the statistics of the NYC CTE schools. Furthermore, the first and second directors of the program were women and they were responsible for recruiting students out of middle schools. It is just hitting me now, three years later as a college student and intern, how important Title IX is in CTE schools. I want girls in NYC CTE schools to have a positive and beneficial exposure to STEM with a supportive staff of teachers and counselors like I did in high school.