Cheerleading in a Post Feminist Era


In America 3.8 million people currently involved in cheerleading; with that number rapidly growing by the day it’s a fair question to ask why? What are the reasons that there is a positive cultural impression of cheerleaders as “American icons” while it is at odds with the way they may present negative examples of woman’s social role. The latent positive view of cheerleaders: they’re fun, sexy, and add to the atmosphere at “The Game”. But they’re enforcing the “boys do thing, girls sit on the sidelines” sexist cultural subtext.
America, one of the poster-child’s for post-feminism, would seem to be unfit to hold an activity that intentionally plays the side role. In a society that allows women to be doctors instead of nurses, and to be between the sidelines and the court or field, leaving the question of why is it that women’s most recognized ‘athletic event’ is one that places them on the sidelines, instead of the rest of women's sports that place the athlete on the field/court. As a post-feminist country it feels as if hard work is being thrown away, so it’s important to figure out what appeals women to cheerleading; a sport that has become the pun of many of jokes in today’s culture.
Cheerleading films also have become a recent craze in Hollywood with “Bring It On” grossing in over 60 million dollars in the first year. As the leader in gross income of all of the cheerleading movies, it is an important piece to be studied as it can be used as a loose reflection of the society’s feelings at the time on the subject (Adams 2005). The movie portrays the cheerleaders, as cocky sexy objects, that don’t mind being viewed that way, in fact they enjoy it. At times throughout the movie the cheerleaders fight of feelings that they are pathetic for living there live throughout their activity, but quickly deny that feeling with a corky cheer. The cheerleading squad in the movie chants the following cheer in one of the movies most popular scenes:
“I'm sexy, I'm cute! I'm popular to boot!
I'm bitchin', great hair! The boys all love to stare!
I'm wanted, I'm hot! I'm everything your not!
I'm pretty, I'm cool! I dominate this school!

Who am I? Just guess! Guys want to touch my chest!
I'm rockin'! I smile! And many think I'm vile.
I'm flyin', I jump! You can look but don't you hump! Whoo!
I'm major, I roar! I swear I'm not a whore!

We cheer and we lead! We act like we're on speed!
Don't hate us cause we're beautiful well we don't like you either!
We're cheerleaders! We are cheerleaders! ROLL CALL! (Universal 2000)”

With appearance and sexuality held at such a high level of importance, yet still an activity that takes the role of being on the side-lines of an other activity is concerning due to a large majority of the athletic ability that is done in cheerleading can be found in gymnastics, where they’re not forced to be a side show attraction and do not have to promote sexuality for attention.
Robert Thompson, professor at Syracuse University suggests that the recent resurgence of cheerleading back into popular culture goes back to that in history the quarterback of the football team and the head cheerleader were the most popular in an American high school. They adhered to the perfect model of American life as it was envisioned in shows like “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best” (Chronicle 2000). Author Stephanie Coontz of “The Way We Never Were” argues that this is an incorrect perception; that American families used to be happier and didn’t suffer any of the same problems that we have today is a cause of concern because it has turned America into a country making decisions reflectively based on a history that is badly misunderstand (Coontz 2000).
Cheerleaders today are made up of over 90% females by a majority of studies presently; however, cheerleading was originally an activity that was performed exclusively by males. The trend of males in cheerleading began to reverse in 1911 when the President of Harvard University attacked the men verbally stating that cheerleading is simply a deplorable avenue for college men to express emotion, and contended that this new college tradition offered nothing of value to respectable educated men (Adams 2005).
Research has shown that in societies all around the world, men tend to want women who show signs of youth, beauty, and vitality. Anthropologist now think that men have developed a psychological mechanism in the brain to be attracted to signs of youth and beauty. Darwinian theoriost would accept this because men are looking for women with the freshest of eggs, to bear him healthy babies. Cheerleaders fit the description of what anthropologist believe to be men’s physical desires, with that knowledge cheerleaders display themselves during their near peak of reproductive years to crowds of men, while doing this men are behind them doing the same thing but through power, strength, and high status; rather then sexuality (Chronicle 2000).
The eroticism of cheerleading was the fact that it allowed women to wear short skirts that showed off their bloomers every time they were to jump up and down with glorification rather then being frowned upon. In 1969 sexuality was used for the sack of serving men at it’s largest through cheerleading. At the University of Cal-Berkeley the female cheerleaders were told to be extra sexual in their cheers when their team is losing, to take focus off the loss. It was during halftime at a football game where Cal-Berkeley was losing and the fans were distraught over the score, the female cheerleaders in the unit to take focus of the game as were instructed to by their male cheer leader, chanted “Give me an S. Give me an E. Give me an X. What do we want? SEX!” followed by a female cheerleader taking off her top to expose her breasts to the formerly depressed crowd (Adams 2005). Feminists movements have worked hard to strive for equality, something that cheerleading does not promote in most instances as it is an example of being exploited while at the bottom of the hierarchical chart.
There are over seven million websites on the internet devoted strictly to cheerleading pornography. This places cheerleading as one of the most sought after fetishes in an online ring of sexuality. With sites requiring that viewers be of 18 years of age to be viewing cheerleaders, often perceived as a high school activity which would suggest potentially the fantasy of women under the age of legality, it is an alarming amount of viewers. The most common theme throughout pornography is that women are weak and men’s servants. Whether it is the activity of cheerleading that is at fault, or simply the way society has portrayed cheerleaders into being is a debatable issue, although with it being the case it is striking that it is the fast growing sport in America.
Michael Porte, a professor at, University of Cincinnati reports that women have returned to the resurging activity because women are seeking relationships and once again feel the need to be trained into a good mother due to increasing divorce rates and unmarried females. Porte suggest that men are threatened today by women who are earning larger salaries than they’re earning and seeking females with a youthful innocence that reverts back to the old system, such a system that cheerleading falls under. The feeling of being desired, and raising a family in the youth of today is becoming increasingly valued by men in the society, making it an easier path for girls to seek, placing an importance at serving their man higher then economic independence. Porte feels that if men were to adjust and not be threatened by high salaried females that the resurgence would have likely not accorded (Chronicle 2000). If such a conclusion is correct, it is a concerning state of condition when women in society feel the need to accommodate to men’s concerns by lowering their life’s potential by going back to strictly serving the man and family, rather then an entire society.
Cheerleading can also be seen as taking a side role to men from a capitalistic stand point. The fact that cheerleading is a multi-million dollar business could be viewed as a positive thing from a women’s point of view. This is not the case through feminists groups striving for equality knowing that cheerleaders enhance the atmosphere for other activities, for no salary (Adams 2005). A since of pride can easily be viewed as a good thing, however, the fact that the top three business owners in revenue in-take are men should be of concern to women who receive little to none of the financial benefits instead work at volunteer salary for public gratification for their slave-like efforts to profit male athletics and business’s in an otherwise female dominated activity.
The concern regarding funds should also come into play considering the high injury rates that are associated with cheerleading. Cheerleaders are not only working to help others for in most cases no profit; they are putting their lives in danger. The number of high school and grade school cheerleaders suffering from fractures, concussions and other injuries more than doubled between 1990 and 2002. More than 16,000 cheerleaders aged 5-18 go to hospital emergency rooms with an injury, according to a study conducted by Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. That statistic is supported by a recent NCAA survey, which found that 25% of the claims filed by college student athletes in the Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program since 1998 have resulted from cheerleading (Barry 2006).
Lastly, a reason for such a recent resurgence in cheerleading would be the country’s increasing desire for instant gratification. While women have the opportunity to be the main attraction through athletics, not many people are watching. The feeling throughout the country is often to look for a quick fix, and in this what is happening with cheerleading. “It is better to be looked over than overlooked” is a famous quote by Mae West that seems to apply very directly to cheerleading. With many of the females that partake in cheerleading either kept ignorant of some of its consequences or they are simply hoping that things can change, but that it would be dumb to not grab the spotlight while it is available for their own personal interest (Glock 1998).
The cheerleading movement is a puzzling one that few are able to make predictions on regarding its future. Whether the movement is a current phase or something to stay will be worth watching in the coming years with the strong loyalty that cheerleaders have been shown to carry. Cheerleading often makes a life long special impact on its participants that a result continues to shape society even in the years following participation. The issue in America is the lack of knowing who to blame for this phenomenon. Cheerleaders are ultimately doing nothing wrong by spreading positive cheer, although somewhere in our society the way in which they are perceived has been corrupted. Cheerleading itself isn’t solely to blame, although until more questions can be answered as to why is it that men are gaining a vast majority of the financial profits through a female dominated activity, why they are viewed as sexual objects, and why are they choosing to cheerlead predominately for men’s sports should be addressed if it is to remain the largest female sport in America. Those very questions help contribute that women are always going to be less then men, even the popular women. The cheerleading icon is in danger of digressing much of the equality that women’s rights have worked hard to strive for, although it seems as people are too content to allow these questions go unanswered.

Work Cited

Adams, Natalie & Bettis. (2005). Cheerleader!: An American Icon. Palgrave Macmillian.

Barry, Janoff. (2006). Brandweek: Careful with those pom-pons. Vol. 47: Issue 3.

Bring It On, Universal Studios. Las Angeles, 2000.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Model, Fantasy, or Joke? Vol. 47 Issue 6. (10/6/2000).

Chronicle of Higher Education: Sidelines. (2002). August: A39.

Coontz, Stephanie. (2000). The Way We Never Were. Basic Books Publishing.

Glock Allison. (1998). “Made You Look.” Gentlemen’s Quarterly, 1 June, 236-243.

Kurman, George. “What Does Girls’ Cheerleading Communicate?” Journal of Popular Culture 20: 57-64


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