I was Captain of my high school cheerleading team. I say that with a spoonful of humility, an ounce of humor and a dash of pride. Yesterday, I was trying to find music videos on the TV for my big girl to see positive female role models of musicians who can play guitar, violin or piano. I was thinking the Dixie Chicks, Alicia Keys, maybe a little Taylor Swift? Instead we found Kidz Bop!
This band of teeny-boppers (seriously, they can be described as nothing else) performs group versions of hot songs with kid friendly faces and dance moves. In one of these videos, the kids were singing Sean Kingston’s “Fire Burning” (which begged the question from my 4 year old, “Why is the dance floor on fire? That’s dangerous!”). These youngsters were pretending to be high school archetypes: the jocks, the cheerleaders, the band members, etc. Of course, my daughter sees the head cheerleader and immediately says, “I want to be that girl.” Instinctively, I cringed.
But why? Am I that ashamed that I was a cheerleader? No. Do I see value in being a cheerleader? Yes. Then why is my reaction so negative when it comes to my hopes for her? Competitive cheerleading is a big deal in some parts of the country. Girls (and guys, alike) are in near Olympic shape and doing stunts and tumbling passes that you’d only see on your TV every 4 years, being broadcast from a country we used to be at war with. As a team sport, you learn to rely on your teammates for your safety, you learn to control the timing of your voice and your body to be in sync with theirs, and you lift the spirits of all of those around you. In the same vein, just like doing ballet, you learn respect for your body and what it’s capable of, musicality, rhythm, and the colors and mascots of all the other high schools in your county. Ok, so that’s not that important, but it’s exercising the mind and memory, right?
I suppose I don’t want my little girl pigeon-holed into the vision that our society has of a cheerleader. People think they’re all just blonde, bouncy-boobed, and dumb as a doorknob. Like so many other stereotypes, in my experience, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. My fellow cheerleaders have gone on to be doctors, lawyers, engineers (toot toot: my own horn or a train’s, whichever you prefer), entrepreneurs, executives, and the list goes on and on. For the majority, we were scholar athletes, but seldom felt that respect as we were also baking goodies for the football players on game days, hanging sparkly signs around the school with their names on them, and shouting “Go, Fight, Win!” from the sidelines. The five steps backward we took in the women’s lib movement are the parts I’d like to erase from the job we had as cheerleaders. I hope it’s not still like that today. And if my girls want to be cheerleaders, I’m going to encourage them to fight the good fight and resist doing all of those things for the boys and instead, once in a while, ask those boys to cheer them on when they get benched during the game. Instead of shouting to the defense, “Push ’em back, push ’em back, waaaaay back!” I want those boys shouting to the cheerleaders: the sturdy bases to the high flying stunts and the school’s spirit, “Push ’em up, push ’em up, waaaaay up!” Ugh, crap, of course that’ll just make them think about boobs again!
(For the record: my mom wanted me to fight the good fight too, but I just loved baking too much!)