Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rah - Rah

Cheerleading - yes, that the topic today, cheerleading.

I must admit that I've never given cheerleaders much thought (aside from the hours I spent fantasizing about them during puberty, but I wouldn't actually characterize that activity as thought). I was on the track team, I was a swimmer, and played water polo, and at either polo matches or track meets there are no cheerleaders. To me they were an elite and remote group that I had little day to day contact with who went to football games and spend time decorating the lockers of my friends, and thus, for the most part, they were out of sight and out of mind. My only real relationship with a cheerleader was a short lived romantic one in college. The cheerleader, apparently, was on the rebound and only dated me long enough to reestablish her self-esteem after being dumped by the guy who she was certain she was going to marry. (I actually became good friends with the guy [who is M.D. now] who dumped her, I actually like him much better than her, but thatÂ’s a different story). Thus I havenÂ’t given the "sport" of cheerleading nor it's participants more than a passing thought in the past decade or so.

Today, however, I saw a documentary on cheerleading and it started out by asking if cheerleading was an empowering activity that teaches young women how to be athletic, participate in teams, compete, and become social (popular?); or is merely an activity that sexualizes them early, teaches them that they exist in order to be supportive of men engaged in real activity (football, basketball, etc...), and is damaging to there future self image.

As I was watching, I started asking myself if I had a daughter would I want her to be a cheerleader. My niece is entering those fragile teen years and is going to bjoiningng her jr. high squad and is all bubbly about the notion of it. Her mom, who was in drill team herself, is excited too and is happily scurrying about trying to get her to practice and to all the related social events the girls throw for themselves. She is apparently happy, and if I had a daughter who wanted to do this, to gain this happiness, what would I say?

I don't think I would flat out deny her, but I think I would do everything to dissuade her from joining. Although the documentary seemed to come down on the positive aspects of cheerleading, I don't think it's the healthiest thing a young woman can do. I would encourage my daughter to play on the basketball team, to play lacrosse, to swim, to do anything other than cheer. There are many activities that would teach her to be strong, athletic, and social aside from cheering on the football team.

The main reason that I wouldn't want my daughter engaged is that cheering is an activity that starts with the premise of putting women into a subservient, supportive role. Despite all the talk of competition and trying to win at certain cheerleading events, the primary job of the squad is to support other teams (mostly men - I don't remember how many time the cheerleading squad shows up at the women's basketball games, do you?) doing the primary sport. They spend hours devising way to encourage other, this manifest itself in action like decorating the football players lockers, baking cookies for the basketball team, painting there bodies with the number of there favorite players, all very actions of someone subservient and committed to anotherÂ’s success at winning some event. I want my daughter to be engaged in that actual objective, playing in the game, trying to win, not supporting others from the sidelines.

It is also over sexualized. While I acknowledge that women are sexual beings that should have power over how others view them and who should be able to use this power to their advantage, I don't really think that is they type of sexual empowerment that cheerleaders learn. Instead, they are given short skirt and tight tops then told to go out and prance around, all in order to give the males encouragement on the field of battle. They might learn that their mere physicality is valuable, that it is their prime asset. I don't think this is the type of sexuality I want my daughter to have, a womenÂ’s sexuality isnÂ’t her prime asset; it just isnÂ’t a true message.

This is somewhat moot, given that I don't have a daughter, but the documentary did give me something to think about when, as I type this, thousands of girls are returning to school and a few might just be asking their dads this very question, "Dad, can I join the cheerleading squad?"


Anonymous said...

Interesting POV. I've never heard of anyone refer to cheer that way. I don't mean that defensively either. Just honest observation.

My daughter is 4 and she is joining a cheer squad. ;)

Matt said...

Thanks for the comment. As you can tell, I'm not really opposed to the activity per se. I just think that in when you put cheer into context of all the possible activites that a young girl can choose to participate in these days, that cheeing is probably the least beneficial to a girl. Then again, judging by the growth of the sport(?), I'm in the minority with my opinion. Best of luck to your daughter.