The Department of Education released new Title IX regulations. Title IX is the ban on sex discrimination in education. A refresher: On the federal level, Congress passes laws; the application and enforcement of many laws is often handled by administrative agencies — in the case of Title IX, the Department of Education.
Administrative agencies are part of the executive branch. The agencies issue regulations and guidance to ensure people understand how the laws will be enforced.
The Republican Party has a platform of de-regulation. This effectively means eliminating the enforcement of the laws passed by Congress to protect citizens and our lands/environment.
Regardless of the political party in power, addressing sexual harassment and assault in education have long been controversial. In 1990, Antioch College pioneered the first affirmative consent policy. The backlash was intense. The prevalent view was affirmative consent would destroy the romance of sexual interaction (because apparently rape is romantic).
Opponents of Title IX believe that schools are unequipped to investigate sexual harassment and assault. Their solutions, embodied in the new regulations is to create a presumption that harassment and assault have not occurred, to make it harder for victims to report and harder for schools to be held accountable for not addressing harassment and sexual violence. They often couch their position in terms of protecting boys and men.
This framing is intentional. Patriarchy, sexism, sexual violence, discrimination, racism, and all the isms weave together and reinforce each other so that no lives matter. The more oppressed categories you are in, the less your life matters. But theories of superiority obscure the reality that systems of oppression create no good choices.
For example, patriarchy demands the sacrifice of male bodies in differently dehumanizing ways. Male bodies are disproportionately the victims of war, industry and non-sexual violence. Which is one reason why affirmative consent and bodily autonomy is so dangerous. Because if women’s bodies (and all gender nonconforming bodies) should be free from violence, why shouldn’t men’s bodies?
The weakening of Title IX is another sign of the times that we must not overlook. Similar to the failure to enforce the ban on sex discrimination, failure to employ the Defense Production Act to produce personal protective equipment and testing for COVID-19 is a failure to use the laws Congress passed to resolve foreseeable concerns. We have lost close to 100,000 lives unnecessarily. Systemic inequality and the weakening of non-discrimination laws (and other equal access laws, like those related to voting) have meant that a disproportionate number of the lives lost are communities of color, particularly Native Americans, which is intensified by our lack of honoring our treaty obligations and tribal sovereignty.
Read more in the May 20-26, 2020 issue.