Sport Or Sex: Why Cheerleading Is Condescending

A life 2023

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Sport Or Sex: Why Cheerleading Is Condescending
Sport Or Sex: Why Cheerleading Is Condescending

Video: Sport Or Sex: Why Cheerleading Is Condescending

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Video: The Dark Reality Of NFL Cheerleading | Shady | Refinery29 2023, January

Cheerleader, a popular student of the school, who does not take off her uniform even outside of training, is probably one of the most replicated images in pop culture. The reality, however, is more complicated than Bring It On and Riverdale show: while some insist that support groups made up of young girls are a mossy sexist practice, others remind that this is a serious sport, close in spirit gymnastics and acrobatics. We decided to figure out what cheerleading is today - and what problems the industry is usually silent about due to how prestigious it is to be a cheerleader.


Alexandra Savina


From men's to women's sports

Cheerleading, as you might guess, originated in the United States - it is with American culture and American football that it is primarily associated. True, before he looked completely different from today - for example, the first cheerleaders were exclusively men. Cheerleading began to develop in the middle of the nineteenth century, in parallel with the growing popularity of American football - at first, the task of cheerleaders was not only to support the teams, but also to be another tool for controlling fans. By the twenties of the last century, cheerleading had grown into formalities and began to resemble other school activities indirectly related to sports, such as orchestras playing at matches.

Women came to cheerleading only in the twenties and thirties, and sports became "women's" only after the Second World War: due to the widespread mobilization, it became easier for them to get into the team. In the sixties and seventies, cheerleading finally turned into a woman's occupation, the way we are used to seeing it - it was criticized for excessive sexualization by feminists of the second wave. In the nineties, from the "support groups" dancing on the field, cheerleading began to turn into a serious sport with elements of gymnastics and acrobatics, jumping, pyramids, throwing athletes into the air and other complex tricks appeared in it. At the same time, men began to return to it - they do not dance, but often perform strength elements and supports. Around the same time, cheerleading began to spread around the world, at the end of the century, corresponding federations began to appear in Europe. The largest international organizations emerged in the 2000s: in 2001, on the initiative of Japan, they founded the International Cheerleading Federation (IFC), and in 2008 the United States registered the International Cheerleading Union (ICU) - both are still competing with each other.

Cheerleading came to Russia in the mid-nineties, the first cheerleading team appeared in Moscow at the Children's League of American Football. The first competitions in our country began to be held in the 2000s, and in 2007 cheerleading was officially recognized as a sport - for example, here, as in other sports disciplines, you can get a category.

A significant part of the fees of members of support groups goes to maintaining the appearance: cosmetics, self-tanning, manicure, haircuts

At the same time, in Russia there is a clear border between support groups and the so-called cheer-sport: the former concentrate on dance elements and perform at matches, the latter is closer to artistic gymnastics and acrobatics. In the American industry, the informal division also exists, but the names are the same - except that cheer sports can be called "competitive cheerleading." There are different disciplines in Russian cheer-sport, for example cheer-mix (acrobatic elements, they are performed by mixed teams, in which there are both women and men), cheer-freestyle (energetic gymnastic exercises with dancing), cheer-jazz or cheer-hip hop, which has a lot of dance elements.

In sports disciplines, competitions are held that require many hours of training.Nastya, cheerleader of the Jetix team and product at ABBYY, says that she wanted to do cheerleading because of American teen films: “When I entered MIPT, I knew that each department had its own support group and that I would go there. At first we danced the usual dances at football matches. Then the Cheerleading Federation appeared, followed by the AlphaDance University team. After graduation, I qualified for Jetix (they became bronze medalists of the 2018 student world championship, but without me)."

Nastya says that her team's training takes at least nine hours a week. Her previous team was going to train every day for at least an hour. “Session, work, diploma - you go to train. But the brain is unloaded, - she says. "The sport is not as popular as football or basketball, so universities often fail to knock out a good hall, where there is enough room for sixteen people swinging their legs."

True, despite the serious sports loads and the return that cheerleading requires, not everyone succeeds in devoting themselves only to it. In the United States, with one of the most developed cheerleading industries in the world, many admit that living solely on cheerleading fees will not work. Of course, cheerleaders' fees are incomparable to the amounts that athletes earn (given their star status, it is difficult to draw parallels). Nevertheless, according to rough estimates, cheerleaders earn several times less than, for example, mascots of teams performing on the field or hot dog vendors in a stadium - despite long training sessions and hours of rehearsals. In addition, a significant part of the fees of the members of the support groups goes to maintaining the appearance: cosmetics, self-tanning, manicure, haircuts and coloring, as well as the services of cosmetologists.


Short skirts

Despite serious training and hard work, cheerleading is still treated with doubt, if not even completely dismissive. The main complaints, of course, relate to the appearance: most often, athletes are dressed in short skirts, with bows in their hair, often with a bare belly; The "reference" cheerleader always smiles with a snow-white smile, is cheerful and affable - and many consider these standards to be sexist.

Briton Emily Jupp, who has given cheerleading for over a decade and has advocated for its recognition as a "serious" sport, says that open cheerleaders have a practical explanation in the first place: “When you get thrown into the air, you need to be caught, and best of all not a two-piece suit, a baggy jumpsuit or even an unpainted sheet with holes for the eyes is not suitable for this. Bare skin is best suited for this. Nobody says to an Olympic gymnast, “Look at her and her tiny swimsuit. God, she humiliates all women in the world. " But when the same athletes perform in cheerleading, they are told exactly that."

In Russia, the situation is a little different: until recently, the regulations of cheerleading competitions, especially junior ones, on the contrary, implied a certain "chastity". For example, girls had to wear skirts no shorter than a certain length, it was impossible to perform with an open belly and loose hair. Today, the issue is more relaxed, but the outfits still should not look "vulgar" and "defiant", and the skirt should cover the underwear.

Members of the Buffalo Bills support team reported that they were forced to jump to check

does the body shake in the process

“In our sport, teams are free to choose any form for themselves. Moreover, the restrictions are even "highly moral": for the underwear sticking out from under the suit can be fined, - confirms Nastya from Jetix. According to her, piercings, jewelry or glasses are prohibited at performances - but these are safety requirements. She says most teams in her discipline wear short dresses, shorts and tight gymnastic tights, but there are also teams in trousers.There is also a guy in her team performing in trousers.

At the same time, to say that appearance does not matter at all in cheerleading would be sly - at least when it comes to the "big" American industry. American and former gymnast Natalie (this is a pseudonym), who visited the support group of the American football team Baltimore Ravens, says that the selection process for the team was one of the scariest impressions of her life, largely because her appearance was also evaluated. “In gymnastics, it was all about my abilities and physical capabilities. But here I had to be tanned, style my hair in a certain way, do manicure and make-up and lift my breasts higher, '' she says. - A significant part of the samples had to just stand silently in the room and smile until the face was numb - and at this time a dozen judges take notes, evaluate your appearance on a scale and whisper about how you look. My ability only affected half of the final grade."

Most often, members of the support groups of football teams speak about strict requirements for appearance - those where it is more likely not about complex acrobatic elements, but about dancing and "spectacular" accompaniment of the match. For example, members of the Buffalo Jills, the Buffalo Bills support team, reported that they were forced to jump to check for body shaking in the process. In other teams, girls may be forced to weigh themselves and have a contract that prohibits them from gaining weight. True, the US National Football League denies such practices.

“In my nomination, there are no restrictions on appearance at all,” says Nastya from Jetix. - You can be tall, short, thin or fat, the main thing is to complete the elements. Well, the hair is preferably long, so that everyone can do the same hairstyle without any problems. In the cheer and cheer mix, flyers (girls on the tops of the pyramids) try to "dry" and lose weight so that it is easier to lift them. And the base (bottom) - to become stronger without regard to weight."


Against harassment

Another common problem that American cheerleaders complain about is the harsh restrictions that team membership imposes. For example, cheerleading group members are often prohibited from communicating with the players of the team for which they are playing, while only girls, but not players, are subject to sanctions for a violated ban. Restrictions can reach the point of absurdity: some former American cheerleaders recall that they were required to immediately leave the restaurant, cafe or party where they were, if the player entered there. True, according to their testimony, not everyone follows the rules and some meet with the players despite the prohibitions.

The New Orleans Saints cheerleader was fired last spring after being sued for discrimination. According to rumors, Bailey Davis repeatedly violated the ban on communication - for example, she was at the same party with the team's players (she herself denies this). But the reason for the dismissal was the fact that Davis posted a photo in a bodysuit on a private instagram: the team's policy prohibits girls from posting nude, half-naked photos and pictures in lingerie. Some girls are required to completely abandon any social networks, others are allowed to maintain pages officially associated with the team, and strictly control their content. It also happens that for the sake of a ban on communication, cheerleaders are required to block football league players on social networks - not only from the team to which they belong, but also from others.

Such measures are supposed to protect cheerleaders from harassment from players and spectators. Some consider these measures to be justified and go for it in the name of their own safety; others say it's absurd - especially when you consider how openly cheerleaders are often.

Security measures are often redundant

to the fact that women are in principle isolated from spectators and players

Former cheerleaders really often talk about dangerous incidents (for example, stalking or simply persistent fans), emphasizing that the clubs care about their safety. True, security measures often boil down to the fact that women are, in principle, isolated from spectators and players, there is security at trainings and performances. The question of how such measures do not shift responsibility to the victims of harassment remains open.

In addition, cheerleaders can face harassment within the club system. For example, last year, members of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders complained that in 2013 they were forced to pose topless on a shoot in Costa Rica (no breasts are visible in the final shots), as well as go to a club with male sponsors of the team. According to the girls, there was no question of sex, but for them the experience was still humiliating, and they felt that they were being exploited. Club president Bruce Allen denies this and says that the testimonies of other cheerleaders differ from these accusations, although the club has promised to investigate the incident.

While cheerleading is still torn apart by contradictions: on the one hand, serious sports loads, on the other, a sexualized image, inappropriate wages and harassment. So far, there is only one thing that can be said without any doubt: any woman performing in cheerleading deserves respect and safety - on stage, at competitions and outside them.

Photos: 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Netflix, wikipedia


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