Thursday, June 11, 2009

But I'm a Cheerleader!

In class today we began talking about the high school sports camps going on around campus, which led to a discussion on gender roles and expected gender participation in certain sports.

Boys are to play baseball, football, basketball and soccer. Girls, on the other hand, do gymnastics, cheerleading and dance. These are your assigned gender norms and if you step outside of them, we will scoff and mock you. Right? Okay, we'll give the girls basketball, soccer and softball, but the boys will get any other rough and tumble sport that comes along, like hockey.

Why is it socially acceptable to place such strong connotations on sports that when a member of the opposite gender wants to take part, that they are labeled as being outside their gender norms? Or as the chapter "Gender in Pink and Blue and Vivid Color" states, we categorize girls who take interest in expected boy roles a tomboys, and boys who take interest in expected girl roles are sissies.

I don't really remember ever being told, "You can't be a cheerleader, you can't do dance, you can't do gymanstics. You must play baseball, basketball, soccer and wrestling." Two of my sisters were cheerleaders, and one of my sisters played basektball. All of these seem to fall within the "proper" gender norms.

But why do we continue to accept such ignorant categories?

In the words of one classmate today, wrestling is the manliest of men's sports. According to the New York Times, there were over 5,000 girls wrestling at the high school level as of 2006. And some boys would still rather forfeit than wrestle a girl. Why is that? Is it really that embarrassing to lose to a girl? Or is it not proper for a boy to beat a girl at such a physical sport? I wrestled for a year in high school. It's one of the most physically demanding things I've ever done, and I was terrible at it! If a girl had beat me in a match, I don't think I would have been ashamed. She would have obviously been better than me (though to be fair, maybe I shouldn't use myself in this example; did I mention I sucked at it?).

I think, as a society, we tend to have a fear that the activities our children are in will make them into tomboys and sissies. And that if our children are too influenced by these activities, they will remain tomboys and sissies into adulthood. But let's lay down the code words at age 18. Society has told us somewhere along the way that females who do things that are typical for males are lesbians, and males who do things that are typical for females are gay.

Male cheerleaders are not by default gay. I know it's what some people in the class think, because this was said in not so many, and certainly not as appropriate, words. Yes, it was agreed upon that, there are some straight guys who do cheerleading too. Strong men who can throw girls around like a stuffed animal. "And there are also the flamboyant ones." (Another code word!). And it is such a shame that we place such a stigma on being a male cheerleader. I knew one guy who refused to admit to anyone that he was gay, because he was on the cheerleading team and he didn't want that stigma attached to him. Stigma because... he's a gay cheerleader? In the 2000s?

I ended up not playing sports after my sophomore year of high school. I wasn't very good at most things athletic, and somewhere around 8th grade I started throwing like a... well like someone who can't throw very well. (You thought I was going to say girl, admit it. Have you seen the softball team throw??? No way I could ever throw a quarter as well!) My electives became band and theatre, which strangely enough was one of the most popular classes offered at my high school. My dad just couldn't understand why I would give up sports for theatre. Let's just say he finally realized I'm a better singer than I ever was at sports.


  1. To add to you, I find it interesting that girls are always inferior to guys. Girls may not be as physically built, or strong as the ideal man, but why do we as females have to lose respect for what we have no control over? I'm sure, if I practiced for hours and hours a day, I would be able to perform on the same level as a man, meaning, in my sport have stats that are worth praising just like men do. I feel like women are punished for not being physically the same, when if we were, there would probably be a shortage of people in the world (because of the stigma that a woman can't outdo a man, in anything not domestic related). And, if a woman could do a male sport at the same level as a man could, all kind of negative connotations and accusations would be attached to that woman.

  2. Kevin, I enjoyed your post as well as the "That's So Gay" post. The public service announcements are hilarious. I think you are exactly right; those words that were used in class to describe male cheerleaders are a shortcut to thinking, much like a curse word. Growing up we didn't use the "N-word" in our house but I can remember times when relatives or friends of the family did, and nothing was made of it. Today, I would probably put the number at between zero and one the amount of times I've heard that word used in a negative connotation. I don't listen to the kind of music that apparently still uses this word or maybe that number would be higher. And if I were sitting around my white friends and one of them chose to use this word, I think I would speak up and let them know that this makes me uncomfortable.
    As the next generation grows up they become more educated and I think come to the realization that the generation before them got some things wrong.
    I think homosexuals are in the middle of the battle that blacks in America were in just a few decades ago. I have quite a few gay friends and colleagues and I've personally made an effort to eliminate "that's so gay" or “flamer” from my vocabulary and I think I have won the battle. And I'm hopeful my daughter grows up knowing from the beginning that it can be a hurtful thing to say.

  3. I understand your argument, but you must face the facts: Men in general are better at certain sports than women. It's simple genetics. Men are more athletic. It's just the way we're built. And despite what the first commentor said, no matter how much a women practices, she will never be better than the majority of men in that sport. Sure, there are some circumstances, but overall its not even close.

    And to reply to your wrestling comment, how many girls have won state or national titles? Sure, they might be able to win a few matches here or there, but overall men will beat women, hands down.

    People get too mad when guys like me say that men are more athletic and are better. Its not an opinion, its simply the facts of life. I am not opposed to women playing male dominated sports, but those women need to realize they will be looked at differently because of how our society views people who act differently from the norm.

    Men and women can do whatever they want. Men can be cheerleaders if they want, and women can play basketball. I don't care. It is their decision. But people need to stop criticizing people like me for saying that men are better athletes. It is the way it has always been, and it will continue despite what people think.

    This might anger some people, but it should provide some good conversation if anyone can prove me wrong.