Cheerleading has long divided opinions on whether it is empowering or degrading for women. A recent incident in Christchurch, New Zealand has once again thrown the issue into the limelight as a cheer squad made up of girls as young as 9 were used to promote Calendar Girls, a local strip club, at an ice-hockey match.
Opponents of cheerleading denounce the pursuit as being sexist as it objectifies women by presenting them in a highly sexualised manner for the benefit of men who watch sports. But those that champion the pursuit refer to the high levels of skill and fitness required by cheerleaders (as it combines dance and gymnastics), as well as the camaraderie and team spirit at its heart.
The cheerleading squad were announced as "The All-Star Cheerleaders, brought to you by Calendar Girls." Imagine how the audience must have felt. Can I hear an I-C-K? Surely by announcing the squad in connection with a strip club any positive sporting and team spirit connotations were lost and any sexualisation that could have been inferred from the routine, uniforms and chants would have been automatically highlighted.
So whose responsibility was it to protect the girls in this situation? Jacquie Le Prou, the owner of Calendar Girls, states in the article that she specifically asked for older girls to take part. Yet the squad sent was predominantly made up of girls aged 15 and 16 year olds and even included a 9 year old. The cheer squad's coach ignored this request, failed to inform parents as to where the sponsorship for the event was coming from, and was not even present when the event took place. Clearly she must take some of the blame. But parents, even when they were informed at the eleventh hour that a strip club were sponsoring the squad did not pull their daughters from the event. Realistically, parents should not have been forced into this difficult position in the first place. Le Prou herself could have reiterated her requests and made and approved the squad in advance. And event organisers, fully aware of both the strip club's involvement and the cheer squad's could have enquired about the performers' ages in advance and made concrete specifications on a minimum age which would have been acceptable given the circumstances. It makes me wonder whether they even considered the implications of their chosen sponsor for what was otherwise presumably a family friendly event.
I'm not suggesting that strip clubs should not be able to advertise in any capacity. However, as an organisation dedicated to adult entertainment and gratification common sense must come into play their marketing presence. Connecting a 9 year'old to such a brand is just plain gross.
Girl Museum Inc.