Mother's Day is this coming weekend. It is a time set aside for tributes to motherhood, a time when everyone is encouraged to do something special for mothers across America.
But it should also be a time to reflect on motherhood and the wave of change that overtook that hallowed institution in the last century.
By the end of the century, mothers were not your grandmas' mothers any more.
As women took new places alongside men in the workplace, especially during and after World War II, mothers joined fathers as breadwinners for their families. Single mothers became relatively common in American society. The role of motherhood shifted to include providing income to support children, along with all the traditional commitments that made moms special.
Mother love was stretched across that broadened set of responsibilities, but it weathered the change well. Moms are as giving of unconditional love to their offspring as ever, and they do more to prove it.
All the while, these mothers are struggling uphill against the male domination that characterized Western society for aeons and still has its vestiges today. In many households, mothers are expected to shoulder all or most of the homely duties despite working elsewhere to bring home a paycheck. Though women have been punching holes and opening cracks in the glass ceiling in most careers and professions, they are yet to secure equal pay for equal work. Women have made great strides toward gender equality, but weâ"meaning men and womenâ"haven't arrived there yet.
It's shameful that women aren't considered equals along every walk of life and that our Constitution has not been amended to guarantee equal rights to all citizens, regardless of sex, in these supposedly enlightened times.
Do something special for mothers. Think in terms of equality.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which guarantees gender equity in educational opportunities at schools receiving federal money, has been a success in most aspects of its 35 years of application.
The doors have been opened to boys and girls, men and women, on a more nearly equal basis, and one upshot has been that more women and men are in college today, something that was barely thought possible before Title IX.
We hear most about the impact of Title IX in athletics, which are characterized as an educational activity under federal law. And nowhere has that impact seemed more profound than at the University of Tennessee, where the profile of women's athletics has nearly overtaken that raised by men. OK, except football; we have to give that nod to the sport that has been elevated to the status of a religion among the Vols' enormous fan base.
But a look at the achievements of the women's sports programs at UT over the last two or three years alone is pretty demonstrative. While the men's games were merely good, meaning â“rebuilding,â” the Lady Vols have kept the orange flag waving from the highest promontories nationwide in basketball and softball.
When the softball team, ranked No. 1 in the country, was brutalizing former No. 1 Alabama for the Southeastern Conference championship last weekend, half of the double-header was broadcast in its entirety on ESPN. That wasn't ESPN2, it was on the main channel in prime Sunday afternoon sports time. The team play was spectacular, well worthy of its ESPN placement.
The victories also guaranteed the Lady Vols top seed in their region and home field advantage through the regional and quarter-final matchups leading to the Women's College World Series championships in Oklahoma City in the coming weeks.
Not to take away too much from the men's sports programsâ"the basketball Vols made the Sweet 16 and won the SEC Eastern Division, and track & field, swimming and golf teams are ranked in the top 20 nationally this season. The golf team won the SEC title, and it's been a good all-around year for the men.
But the women claimed the national championship for the seventh time in basketball. Coach of the year and player of the year honors were awarded to UT's Pat Summitt and junior Candace Parker. And the softball team heads into the national tournament favored to win it all.
The women's track & field team won the SEC indoor title this year and were national champions in 2005. The women's volleyball team reached the NCAA final four two years ago. The women's soccer team won the SEC title outright in 2005 and went to the NCAA Sweet 16 a year ago. Women's swimmers placed the Lady Vols 10th in the NCAAs this year. The women's cross country runners strung together three SEC titles and four NCAA regional titles in recent years. The women's rowing team was the NCAA regional champ last year.
And the list goes on and on. As UT administrators are quick to point out, the sports that don't attract the crowds are made possible by the money made at the gate and on television by the men's football and basketball and the women's basketball teams.
But they also acknowledge that women's sports in general would not be held in such high regard by the Vol faithful, nor would women's games be gaining in national popularity, were it not for the simple requirements set out in Title IX. Equality pays dividends. Gender equality pays with interest.
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