Marcia Federbush

“This isn’t the time to get even; it’s the time to get equity.”

Veteran Feminists of America honors Midwest Feminists, August 2004

Hi, I’m Marcia Federbush. In 1970–71, I wrote what turned out to be the first published study in the country of sex discrimination in the school system. The thing that got me started, and this is part of what I wanted to talk about – things that I’m afraid may be going backwards. What got me started was a double page centerfold in the Ann Arbor News showing the home that the homebuilding program for boys had built in the Ann Arbor school system.

And the director said, “Maybe someday girls can do the interior design,” and I hit the ceiling. I always wanted to build a house. So, we worked and worked on it, and we were told, “What if a girl fell off a roof? Why should we train girls for jobs they won’t be able to get?” Things like that.

Finally got a couple of girls in, one or two at a time, and one of them who ended up being able to take the architectural drawing class – they couldn’t at the beginning, I’ll tell you about that in a second – designed a house that the kids built. Well, last June, the end of the school year, there was a picture in the paper of the newest home building house that the kids had built. And guess what? Two classes, 19 kids, all boys.

I’m afraid we’re going backwards there. Women certainly build in Habitat for Humanity.

The next thing that I’m so disturbed about; Rod Page, who’s Bush’s secretary of education, has said that starting in the fall, classes and I guess he said facilities, can be sex separated. But that’s what got Title IX started in the first place, because people were complaining that in sex separate high schools, girls couldn’t have the same kind of training in science and math and vocational subjects and athletics.

And now we’re going back there, and unfortunately, Hillary Clinton is a chief advocate of this. What is it about the Brown decision that they don’t understand? In the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place, and they say separate facilities are inherently unequal.

Another thing that disturbs me a lot: in 1994, I went before the regents of the University of Michigan, and the Board and Control of Intercollegiate Athletics, to try to save men’s gymnastics and I was successful at that. They kept women’s, and I can’t understand for the life of me, under Title IX, how you can cut something for one sex and not for the other, when both sexes love it.

It kills me that colleges are stopping men in track and swimming, and tennis, soccer, all kinds of things that they keep for women. How can you have a track team in a co-ed university that has no males? Now, schools are cutting wrestling left and right, but in the Olympics this year, they’ve had women’s wrestling for the first time. Girls are going to learn how to take care of themselves. Pretty soon they’ll have wrestling for women, but not for men at the rate they’re going.

In this first study that I did of sex discrimination in the school system, girls couldn’t take woodwork, metalwork, auto mechanics, home building, drafting, architectural drawing, things like that. Boys couldn’t take cooking or sewing, except only boys could take the chef’s course. Well, we got that changed. And this was in ’70, ’71. Reading texts only showed mothers wearing aprons, doing housework. No matter what the kids were telling them [about] how important it was. They were washing dishes or ironing.

Joe Jacobs of Kalamazoo really has to be featured – she has to join the organization because she led a group. I rewrote the handbook of the High School Athletic Association to include females. They had no internal scholastic sports. I wrote the first Title IX complaint against the university on grounds of gross discrimination in athletics, and I gave the speech to the University of Michigan regents that started the first athletic scholarships for women.

You won’t believe it, but at that time, women were in Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, and if a young woman had an athletic scholarship and the athletic director knew about it, she’d be kicked out of sports for her whole college career.

Anyway, I know I have to end. I just wanted to say, as I said last night, I’m sort of thankful that my father was such a sexist and favored my older brother so much. The rules were so different for us that I learned how to tell the difference between what the sexes were offered, and I’m thankful for that.