And if we love them, why do we only love them if they're fine?
Since the whole cheerleading incident went down several weeks ago with a divided Warriors nation caring and not-caring about cheerleaders, it made me wonder why do cheerleaders even matter to sports? We take cheerleaders performing at sporting events as a natural phenomenon as white on rice (though the white on rice hegemony is being destabilized with the emergence of the ‘healthier’ brown rice). Then I thought, why are there no cheerleaders in baseball? It wasn’t until a few years ago that the Boston Celtics dance team arrived on the scene. Why was that? Based on the varied responses on this blog alone, dancers provide (or are supposed to provide) top-notch dancing, sexual desires of men and maybe even some support for the team. If we juxtapose these three demands (and anymore that I might have left out), you can begin to ask yourself 1) why are cheerleaders always women? and 2) why does cheerleading necessitate being eye candy for men? A few folks that commented on GSoM recently accused cheerleaders of looking like prostitutes. Are the Warrior girls necessarily to blame for their outfits? Who provides the costumes and why? We have had some intriguing dialogues here on GSoM about the significance of race to sports, but we rarely interrogate how sports is active in producing ideas, not just reflecting, ideas about gender--specifically of femininity. More specifically, why is it that cheerleaders end up looking the way they do? And is it necessarily fair that we blame them for those particular representations?
The general stereotype goes that cheerleaders are expected to be attractive. Heck, my standards of "attractiveness" are often more a priority in how I judge cheerleaders than dance skills. Sometimes I could careless about dancing skill, but that’s probably because I’m not a great judge of great dancing (I’ll leave that to my girl, Laurie Ann Gibson). But my discussion is not whether it’s an either/or or both, but rather why cheerleaders exist in the first place and if they do, why are they represented the way they are. I commented on the contradictory expectations of women in sports to be both (hetero)sexual but also somewhat "virginal" at the same time. Cheerleaders are expected to arouse our senses. Yet, if the coverage of the Carolina Panther cheerleaders a while back was any indication, it was more of a crime that two women were making out in the bathroom of the restaurant than their actual crime of disorderly, intoxicated conduct at a restaurant. If we trace the origins of cheerleading in sports, these contradictions get even messier.
As it turns out, cheerleading in American culture started as a male thing. In Go! Fight! Win! Cheerleading in American Culture, Mary Ellen Hanson archival work suggests that it actually was an elite male activity in the late 19th century. Once an informal practice gradually became "feminized" in the 1920s. With the development of professional sports in addition to the conditions of spectatorship being taken out of the hands of fans and into the control of culture industries, gender roles and expectations became reinforced. Hanson basically makes the argument that the voyeuristic gaze is also masculine as the women are expected to look and act a specific way.
Apparently, the sexualization of cheerleaders has become quite a controversy that even Russell Crowe has something to say about it. Crowe, who owns a professional rugby team in Australia, dismissed the current squad of cheerleaders for their scantily clad wardrobes in favor of a male and female marching band. As the story goes, fans of the team, his wife included, were disturbed by what the cheerleading wardrobes might suggest to young girls about how women should look like. But further, that what they represented was no longer what he thought cheerleading was about.
Interestingly, the problem with the cheerleaders and whether they are necessary is actual a larger discussion of the behavior of male rugby fans at games and the disrespectful attitudes they have experienced from some fans.
But does this example with Russell Crowe suggest that the dancer’s outfits are partially dependent on the audience, largely male? If, as in the case of rugby, sports fans are beer guzzling making testosterone overflowing men watching social practices that define what we perceive to be the conduct of "hyper-manly men," then don’t women, in essence, have to embody the opposite to be considered "feminine?" In the diary, "Old and New,"Bojangles responds to some stereotypical representations of cheerleaders:
So, despite these cheerleaders going on TV telling us that they’re school teachers or having their bios posted describing their status as full-time students, why do some of us (myself included) continue to think of cheerleading and cheerleaders as irrelevant? If they are as irrelevant as several people here claim them to be (during the whole Warrior girl debacle of a few weeks past), then why are cheerleaders ubiquitous in basketball, football, college sports, and even high school sports? Why do we continually devalue cheerleading but find it everywhere? Why do we continually see cheerleaders as, what Bojangles describes, "a fake-breasted, bleached blonde, player-chasing ditz" stereotype?
Though I don’t have any answers, I am curious to see what people think about these contradictions. There’s no homogenous answer, as the Warrior girl issue was any indication of the varied positions we have on the subject. But, why do we make of these cheerleading dilemmas?