Cheerleading, at least in the USA, has for some time been a means by which females can acquire what sociologists sometimes refer to as ‘cultural capital,’ more simply, status. Of course, the female in question generally has to conform to a very narrow definition of femininity (i.e. Barbie); one which feminist scholars have argued is a (hetero-) patriarchal construction of ‘ideal’ femininity (see Grindstaff and West, 2006) used to subjugate and exploit women, not least sexually.
Simultaneously, the ‘cheerleader’ has been popularly constructed as both dim-witted and sexually promiscuous, thus somewhat synonymous with the plethora of derogatory terms we have at our disposal to represent those females that dare to express themselves sexually in ways more akin to the ideal man. The notion that cheerleaders are simply ‘air-heads,’ ‘bimbos’ and suchlike is of course (rightly) challenged by those doing the cheering.
However, the place and status of the cheerleader has now been legally ruled upon in a remarkable case in the States whereby a cheerleader (HS) refused to cheer for a player who had recently received a two year probationary sentence for a serious sexual attack on her several months earlier (involving two other men- the original charge was rape). “I didn’t want to have to say his name and I didn’t want to cheer for him,” she later told reporters. ‘Fair enough,’ you might think? You’d be wrong. The school superintendent, Richard Bain, told her to leave the gymnasium and ordered her to cheer for her attacker (Rakheem Bolton). When she stood her ground he threw her off the cheerleading team. ‘Outrageous!’ you may think – again, you’d be wrong. When the girl (16) and her parents challenged Bain in court the appeal judge ruled:
“As a cheerleader, HS served as a mouthpiece through which [the school district] could disseminate speech – namely, support for its athletic teams,” the appeals court decision says. “This act constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, HS was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily.”
So there you have it! Cheerleaders are legally not entitled to act in ways which might ‘interfere with the work of the school,’ even when this ‘work’ demands that you publically applaud a fellow student convicted of a serious sexual crime (against you!). Don’t think, don’t criticise, don’t act independently – just do as we tell you, just cheer! Interesting values for a ‘school’ to promote. HS now has to pay £27,300 in legal costs and compensation.
For further follow-up to this story see Womens News report.
Mike Hartill – Sport Studies