Taut flesh undulated beneath micro-mini dresses and silky cascades of perfectly coifed hair glistened beneath the spotlights. Â A mixed-gendered crowd, watching the show, cheered and hooted. The row of performers, all young women, all with perfect smiles, bent over and then slowly slid their hands up toned legs. They eyed the audience and smiled seductively. As the rhythm of the music intensified, so did the womenâ€™s shimmies and hip thrusts. It was tribal. It was raw. And it was meant to provide fantasy material for those who wanted to go there. Was I at a strip joint? Nope. My friend Claudia and I were at a Minnesota Gopherâ€™s menâ€™s basketball game, and we were watching the collegeâ€™s dance line performers during a time out.
Now, hold on. Â Please. Before past, present, and future cheerleaders and dancerâ€™s get all huffy about my following thoughts, I want to say I have genuine respect for the discipline, beauty, and stamina that your chosen activity(s) represent. Iâ€™m all for empowering women, and for having choices. Honest. Â Iâ€™ll even put my hand on the Bible and swear to it.
In my youth, as Iâ€™ve mentioned before, I could select between volleyball (for a short period in the fall), track (in the spring), cheerleading, or dance line (both of the latter in support of the boys basketball program). That was it for my school and its womenâ€™s sports options. I was told I had the breasts to be a cheerleader by a male student or twoâ€”obviously two good reasons to try outâ€”but somehow that wasnâ€™t enough incentive for me. My breasts and I opted for volleyball.
So now that Iâ€™ve prefaced this blog, let me go back to Claudia and my shenanigans. More to the point, let me share our observations while at the Gopher basketball game. As we watched the dance line routines (And by the way, the Minnesota Gopher dance line has won numerous national titles, so they are exceptional), Claudia would nudge me and say, â€œExplain how this will help these young women down the road. Tell me the purpose.â€ Iâ€™d just smile.
Alternating with the dance line during time outs were the cheerleaders. The women are teeny-tiny little things. Iâ€™d be surprised if any of them reach five feet in height, and would guess they weigh around eighty poundsâ€¦ including tennis shoes and ankle supports. Their outfits are equally tiny. They had on sleeveless tank-style tops and what appeared to be either ruffled belts or perhaps skirts (?) that barely cover their, um, hoo-haâ€™s and booty.
The male cheerleaders, by contrast, wore full length, loose fitting, athletic pants, and loose athletic tops with short sleeves. The male cheerleaders were beefy sorts, and clean cut. No facial hair, no flowing locks. Â I suppose they had muscles, but since very little skin was showing I had to judge strength by their actions and not by their appearance. Hhhhmmmm.
At one point a male cheerleader stood fairly directly in front of our section of seating. He hoisted a petite female cheerleader up over his head and held her in one hand. She waved at the crowd while he turned red as he concentrated on not dropping her. At the other end of the court another set of male and female cheerleaders were performing a similar act, except he had his hand between her legs as he held her over his head in more of a sitting position. That female cheerleader also waved and smiled at the crowd, nonplussed that a guyâ€™s hand was positioned over her naughty bits like the finger holes in a bowling ball.
Claudia again nudged me. â€œSo whatâ€™s the message there? That heâ€™s strong, or sheâ€™s tiny? How is this whipping the crowd into a frenzied cheer for the basketball team?â€ I giggled again. Claudia is so much fun to hang with, and I love the way her mind works.
â€œWell,â€ I said, â€œMaybe theyâ€™re proving how disciplined the male cheerleaders are. Not because they are strong enough to hold these little dolls in the air, but because they are either continually staring up at the womenâ€™s crotches or have their hands in the vicinity of some interesting real estate. Thatâ€™s hormonal discipline at its finest.â€
Claudia responded with a smirk and an eye-roll. I choose to think she finds my deep thinking amusing.
The game resumed, but I began pondering Claudiaâ€™s points. She was right. My husband and I are season ticket holders and I realized Iâ€™ve become callous to the tradition of spirit squads. I see them, but I donâ€™t.
I donâ€™t give a momentâ€™s thought to the outfits the women wear in contrast to the men, nor do I think about their actions. The women expose a lot of flesh and are always, always, always, extremely attractive. The guys are strong, but not necessarily good looking. Why is that? What criteria determine how the cheerleaders and dance line are selected? Are there different â€œrequirementsâ€ based on gender?
I would say the dance line members are the sexier group, and they are all women. Young women. Would a forty-five year old female student make the cut? Probably not. Not the fantasy material a male-based audience is after. While on the subject, Iâ€™m not aware of a college dance line that includes men, or is comprised of all men. Let me know if anybody out there is aware of one, and Iâ€™ll pass it along.
The womenâ€™s dance moves are provocative by design, as are their assortment of dance outfits. All of the Minnesota dancers have long silky tressesâ€”mostly blondâ€”that move with abandon as they flip and snap their heads. The kittenish sexuality among them is not lost on my husband when he attends the games. He stares unapologetically, drools a bit, and then asks if Iâ€™m willing to duplicate any of the moves at home. Yeah, right. And then Iâ€™d spend six months in traction.
The female cheerleaders, on the other hand, are more like adolescent girls. Please forgive me for saying that, but again, they have extremely small bodies and wear gold ribbons in their hair. Whatâ€™s with the ribbons other than to push the idea of innocence and girlishness, or the fantasy of the woman-child held captive in the hand of a strong man?
I nudged Claudia back. â€œHey! What do you think would happen if the male cheerleaders were required to wear speedos and tank tops? You know, show a lot of flesh?â€
Claudia nodded. â€œAnd what do you think would happen,â€ she said, â€œif the male cheerleaders went out on the floor and bent over with their butts waggling at the crowds, or did pelvic thrusts to the music?â€
I mentally mulled over the routine on Saturday Night Live where Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley competed for a spot with the Chippendale dancers. http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=saturday+night+live%2fpatrick+swayze%2fchippendale+dance&mid=72182E0EF13995D8771B72182E0EF13995D8771B&view=detail&FORM=VIRE4
Why does it go unchallenged that female college dancers and cheerleaders are encouraged to present sexual fantasy material while the male cheerleaders get a pass? When was the last time you saw an unattractive female cheerleader? Can you say the same for male cheerleaders? Would you say there remains a double standard?
Until Claudia nudged me physically and intellectually, I was numb to it all. It was both a bit fascinating and a bit disturbing to think about the gender roles Iâ€™ve come to expect and take for granted. Â Thank you, Claudia, for making me take a fresh look at my own apathy. Youâ€™re such a wise woman.