How Title IX Works

In 1973, tennis star Billie Jean King triumped over Bobby Riggs, (not pictured), in his 'Battle of the Sexes' challenge at the Houston Astrodome. Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

The Houston Astrodome, 1973. More than 30,000 roaring sports fans thronged the tennis court as a 55-year-old retired tennis legend Bobby Riggs emerged in a rickshaw pulled by female models. Riggs, the No. 1 player in the world in his heyday, was an unabashedly sexist athlete who was so convinced of the innate superiority of men that he had challenged the great Billie Jean King to a "Battle of the Sexes."

Billie Jean King, mind you, had also been ranked No. 1 in the world and won 12 career Grand Slam singles titles, including five at Wimbledon by 1973. But feminism was still a fringe movement at the time; most women couldn't even get their own credit card without a man cosigning and Title IX, the legislation that outlaws gender discrimination in education had only been around for a year [source: Chapin].

Before Title IX became law in 1972, women faced inequity at every turn in the world of education. School athletics epitomized that inequity. When Billie Jean King went to university, she couldn't get a sports scholarship because there simply were none for women back then. And the problems started much earlier. Female tennis players at one high school, for instance, had to buy their own uniforms and equipment, and were expected to keep quiet about their success as a team even though they had a phenomenal winning record [source: Winslow].

Gender equality needed a champion and it got one when King took Riggs up on his challenge. Riggs had been provocatively declaring that women weren't emotionally equipped for athletics and that they were better off in the kitchen and the bedroom where they belonged. King later said she knew that if she had lost, it would have been a blow to feminism, women's tennis and Title IX. In other words, she had to win [source: Winslow].

That day at The Astrodome, King emerged on a golden throne held aloft by bare-chested male lackeys. Then she got down the business of demolishing Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 [source: Chapin]. The "Battle of the Sexes" was Title IX's first big win.