We competed in gymnastics as a child. We had medals, trophies, the works. But did we practice hour after hour, spraining our ankles and jamming our thumbs instead of playing Cabbage Patch and My Little Pony in order to learn about victory and defeat, experience the payoff of practice and routine and develop self-confidence and the ethics of teamwork? Nah, we just really wanted the Mary Lou Retton brand red, white and blue Olympics leotard with the matching warm-up pants and jacket. So it's probably no surprise we traded in team sports for helping Billy Blanks beat up imaginary opponents in our living room during Tae Bo tapes.
Our only regret--besides missing out on tons of toys we could now be hawking on eBay--is that, when the Women's Museum announced the opening of Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?, we had no idea what Title IX was. Perhaps the most important marker on the timeline of women in sports, Title IX prohibited gender discrimination in any school that received federal funding. Having been born after it was enacted, we took it for granted that we could play, too. We bet we're not alone. Out of the one in three girls who participate in sports these days, we wonder how many know either.
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Showing the evolution of women in sports from before and after Title IX is one aspect of Game Face, a collection of photographs and facts based on the book of the same title by Jane Gottesman and Geoffrey Biddle. It goes from women wearing woolen swimsuits with skirts to swim in Olympic competitions to Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey when the U.S. women's soccer team won the World Cup. Along with token celebrities (Martina Navratilova, Picabo Street, Jackie Joyner-Kersee), Game Face also shows girls playing pickup games in their neighborhoods and competing in school sports, sometimes the lone girl on the football field in shoulder pads instead of on the sidelines with pompoms. But, most important, it shows that sports are essential to women's lives no matter the motivation.