Saturday, April 26, 2014

Own It or Abolish It

The recent lawsuit brought by some former Buffalo Jills Cheerleaders has awakened a long standing anger inside of me.   "Anger" might be too strong.  Disgust?  Derision?  Whatever.  I am  more convinced than ever that this is, at its core, a women's' issue.  One that is bred in us at a very early age.

A few year ago I attended the Canal Fest parade.  They should have called it the "Cheerleader Parade", because it was essentially one cheerleader float after another - little girls, teenage girls, town groups, high schools, on and on and on.  And you know - on the surface, that's ok.  With all of the disturbing reports about childhood obesity and childhood diabetes being circulated, why not get your daughter involved in a physical activity?  I doubt that any of those girls I saw in that parade are plagued by type II diabetes.   Rigorous physical training, commitment to doing something that they presumably love.  What's not to approve of?  Nothing, until you take it to the next level.   What are they doing with all of this training?   Competing in teams at prestigious competitions?  Fine.   Parading around the sidelines at boys/men's sporting events?   Not fine.   Once they descend into this sexist and objectifying tradition, they have effectively removed themselves from the ranks of "athlete".

I was on a dance team in high school.  We danced with the marching band in the halftime show at football games.  Was it physically demanding?  Yes.   Did we consider ourselves to be athletes?  No way.  We knew what we were and why we were in existence.    This didn't stop us from wanting our moment in the spotlight at pep rallies, however.  On one occasion, we choreographed a dance for the season-opening pep rally and found out at the last minute that it went a minute over the time limit (time limit?  The team members knew nothing about a time limit.  It was ONE SONG, for God's sake).  Well - we performed it anyway, and the cheerleaders flipped (no pun intended) because they had to cut one of their FIVE or SIX cheer routines from the program.  Boo freakin' hoo.   This demonstrated an overinflated sense of importance embedded in high school cheerleaders that stays with some of them into their adult lives, as showcased so superbly by this Buffalo Jills lawsuit.

Lets's say it - plainly and bluntly.  If you are engaging in an activity that involves wearing short skirts and chanting and dancing in support of a male sporting event.......  you are window-dressing, you are entertainment, for some people you are a distraction, you are (to quote the Oakland Raiders) "seasonal amusement", and depending on your level of talent, you may be glorified pageant queens.  You are NOT athletes.  If you think you're an athlete, go try out for a girl's sport.   Think you're great gymnasts?   Why aren't you on a gymnastics team?  And if you think for one moment that you're not there as a symbol of male objectification, ask yourself this - why aren't you cheering at girl's sporting events?

If we take nothing else from this Buffalo Jills lawsuit, let's get to the bottom of what cheerleading really is.   Ladies of the cheerleading world - you are not the center of the sporting universe, yours is a HOBBY, not a career - not a profession.  And if you are wearing skimpy or extremely form-fitting uniforms while cheering on a men's sports team, you are part of a tradition of objectifying activities including but not limited to beauty pageants, sororities, and maybe even escort services.    Know this.  Accept this.  Own this.  Because, as women, we really make ourselves look dumb when we pretend that this type of cheerleading is anything other than this.   Let's own it or abolish it.

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