Every night I take four hours out of my time and head over to a gym for collegiate competitive cheerleading practice. I meet my team that consists of 10 males and 10 females and we start our warm-up. We jog around the track until we run for a half of a mile. Afterwards we stretch, warm up and then for the next 45 minutes we tumble. We do flip after flip and that’s not even the hard part. Next, we stunt. Stunting consists of throwing girls 20 feet into the air. I being one of the fliers know how difficult and dangerous it is for us girls to flip, twist and stretch in the air. All of this stunting wouldn’t be possible without the strong male athletes on my team. After three hours of practice and conditioning, my team leaves but my stunting partner Steven and I stay after for another hour to work on difficult new stunts. It takes Steven a huge amount of strength to hold me, a 105 pound, 5’1 cheerleader in the air with one hand. So why do we get hounded by society with such corrupted stereotypes after all of the hard work, strength and difficulty that we put up with daily at practice, games and competitions? If cheerleading is something that we are passionate about and spend a good chunk of time out of every day doing it, why does society label female cheerleaders as non-athletic, feminine, ditzy and as sex objects and why does society label male cheerleaders as weak, non-masculine and homosexual? The more thought I put into it, the more I wanted to know. It irritates me that my team and I work so hard for a sport that we love and all we get out of our hard work is incorrect stereotypes. Why does society think that because I am a cheerleader, I have these characteristics? But even worse, why does my male stunting partner, a muscular, athletic and heterosexual athlete have even worse stereotypes? For this paper, I am going to mainly focus on male cheerleading stereotypes. With this in mind, do male cheerleaders really live up to these labels that have been given to them or does society have the wrong idea?
I started my research by getting some background information on the history of cheerleading. I came across a short article that had some information about how cheerleading began. This article called, Male cheerleading is a Sport, seemed like a good starting point.
In Male Cheerleading is a Sport, published in 2002, the author Stefani Bluestein writes in her blog towards cheerleaders and her returning readers about how cheerleading began and argues the changes that it has made over time along with the stereotypes that have been formed since then. One constraint that she faces while writing is that her blog doesn't reach out to a large population of people. Besides the fact, Bluestein offered some interesting facts about cheerleading to fill the reader in with some helpful information. In the 1890’s, the first pep club was organized by and consisted of all males. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that females joined cheerleading and in the 1950’s is when cheerleading became a female dominated activity. Bluestein continues on to prove her point that male cheerleaders work against negative stereotypes and are real athletes. Bluestein states the stereotypes that society has for male cheerleaders are feminine, gay and non-athletic. Some examples that she uses to prove those stereotypes wrong are ones like, “The guys on these teams can perform back springs, hand tucks, towering pyramids etc. while being 6’0 tall and weighing more than two hundred pounds”, (Bluestein). This proves that male cheerleaders are masculine and athletic because they can perform these activities that require such strength and talent. Bluestein is proving to the readers who have the wrong stereotypes of male cheerleaders that male cheerleaders are really athletes. Because of the need for male cheerleaders to improve cheerleading teams, the female cheerleaders are recruiting more guys therefore, there are more male cheerleaders today than there have ever been before and along with more male cheerleaders come more stereotypes. Bluestein argues in her blog that male cheerleaders are opposite of their stereotypes and are in high demand because they are strong, masculine athletes that cheerleaders want on their teams to increase difficulty and improve their cheerleading routines.
Every example and fact that Bluestein offers in her article reinforces my thinking because I agree with her, through experience of working with male cheerleaders, that society's stereotypes are corrupted. I also agree that the majority of male cheerleaders are completely opposite of the stereotypes that they are given. Bluestein effectively appeals to logos throughout her article because of the multiple facts and examples that she offers to the reader. The main points that Bluestein made about male cheerleaders and their stereotypes in her article urged me into a direction of wanting to learn about how these stereotypes even started in society. I started to look into how these stereotypes developed and realized through my research that the media does an excessive amount of portraying male cheerleaders to be feminine, gay and non-athletic in television shows and movies such as Fired UP!
Fired Up, a Sony Pictures movie produced by Matthew Gross, Peter Jaysen and Charles Weinstockin in 2009 is about two straight high school football players go to cheerleading camp because they want to be around girls all summer. As they attend camp, they come across multiple encounters of people accusing them of being gay just because they wanted to cheer. One example is when Nick, one of the football players says, "Let's go to cheer camp, let’s be cheerleaders" (Fired Up) and his friend Shawn responds by saying, "Cheerleaders? Oh my god, are you coming out to me? I am so proud of you, man! And you know what, on some level I kinda always knew" (Fired Up). This shows that in the media, male cheerleaders are suspected to be gay and that is how some of these corrupted stereotypes are started in society. Along with that, in the movie there is a male cheerleader named Jack at the cheer camp who fits the stereotypes that society has given him such as being gay, feminine and non-athletic. Throughout the movie, Fired Up portrays Jack as being gay because Jack jokes that men are supposed to kiss women. They also show a scene with Jack being excited to room with the two handsome football players. The movie portrays Jack as feminine and non-athletic through his body language, the way he talks and by showing a scene where he is not able to keep up with other girls on their daily jog. The purpose of these scenes are to show that male cheerleaders fit the stereotypes that ironically, the media creates. A lot of the audience for this movie consists of cheerleaders who know that these stereotypes are not correct, but the people who watch this movie because they like comedies although they don't know a lot about cheerleading, will assume that male cheerleaders really live up to those stereotypes. One constraint that the producers face is that not everybody enjoys the genre of comedy so it doesn't reach out to everyone that watches movies. Besides that fact, the media portrays male cheerleaders as being feminine, gay and non-athletic and that is part of the reason why society has those stereotypes as well.
- The comedy Fired Up challenges my thinking because it offers examples on how male cheerleaders live up to their stereotypes and I don't personally agree that all male cheerleaders have a lot of the stereotypes that this movie is portraying. The movie gives society ideas on what male cheerleaders are like when in reality, they can be the exact opposite. Nevertheless, Fired Up helps me understand where some of society's stereotypes come from. The movie appeals to pathos by using humor to joke around about male cheerleaders. The movie especially makes a lot of jokes questioning the sexuality of the male cheerleaders. Although the jokes seem funny to the audience, they are actually reinforcing corrupted stereotypes. In my next source, the authors study these corrupted stereotypes and argues how male cheerleaders try to prove society's stereotypes wrong.
While searching through the McIntyre library, I came across the academic article Cheerleading and the Gendered Politics of Sport written by Laura Grindstaff, University of California and Emily West, University of Massachusetts, published in 2006. Grindstaff and West have been studying collegiate cheer teams for six years by doing research, interviews and observations in the field to gather insight on the sport. One problem they face is that they don't reach out to a large population of people because this article wasn't published on a popular sight so it was hard to come across. For the people who have stereotypes about cheerleaders, they argue in their article that "cheerleading, particularly coed college cheerleading, provides a powerful lens through which to examine the relational construction of a gender and sexuality in both sport and society at large" (Grindstaff and West). Grindstaff and West argue the double standards that cheerleaders face and to support their argument, they explain how gay men are an acknowledged part of cheerleading but lesbians are rarely mentioned. They also state that homophobia creates tension for straight and gay men who are invested in maintaining a straight image. "To the degree that cheerleading is coded as feminine, and to the degree that femininity (for men) is conflated with homosexuality, male cheerleaders are concerned about managing their gender image" (Grindstaff and West). Defending male cheerleaders and their corrupted stereotypes, the rhetors offer examples on how they win world champions, are able to throw women 20 feet into the air, lift weights on the same schedule that football players do and on how male cheerleaders are masculine because they use more muscle than other athletes in any other sport. An interviewee who compares baseball, football and hockey says, "After practices, you are sore for a bit; [but] after an intense cheer workout, your body is sore for two to three days. Every muscle in your body is used" (Grindstaff and West). The authors continue to fight the stereotypes and gender roles that society has by doing research, studies and by offering valid evidence on how male cheerleaders are athletes.
- Up until reading this article, I never would have thought that someone would do actual studies on the stereotypes and gender roles that cheerleaders face. The fact that this article adds a research point of view with factual evidence to help prove their points reinforces my thinking. Actual evidence and facts from their studies helps me to understand the concept in a more academic perspective instead of an opinion perspective. The authors did a successful job appealing to logos by offering many facts, examples and research information. This source did a great job addressing how society's stereotypes and gender roles affect male cheerleaders, but I still had questions on why participants in such a difficult and dangerous sport aren't viewed as athletes. This question brought me to my next source.
- Defying Stereotypes, written by Brian Turner and published in 2003, argues how male cheerleaders are defying their stereotypes of being weak, uncoordinated and non-athletic and they are proving that they are talented athletes to people who have these stereotypes. Turner emphasized his point by using examples on how male cheerleaders are incredible athletes. He uses evidence like, "when you're throwing a girl 25 feet into the air, you are literally holding her life in your hands" (Turner). Once the spectators gain more knowledge about the danger and skill it takes to be a cheerleader through witnessing it in real life, they begin to gain respect for the sport because they are seeing it in action instead of judging the sport by what they see in the media. Turner quotes, "Stereotypes or no stereotypes, the following is true: the guys are strong enough to support several hundred pounds of spirit, glitter and pom poms, they are highly respected by the football and basketball teams and they get to hang out with women who can do standing back flips" (Turner). Turner is suggesting that when male cheerleaders can prove to the crowd how talented and strong they are, they are able to defy their stereotypes. Because male cheerleaders work hard to defy their stereotypes and keep a positive image of themselves, a lot of the collegiate teams practice three times a week and weight lift two times a week. To keep a muscular body shape and to hit difficult stunts consistently, it takes just as much, if not more, training and athleticism as in any other sport. Turner uses these examples to support his point that male cheerleaders are talented, dedicated athletes who work hard to defy stereotypes.
- Turner introduced me to the idea that people who don't know much about cheerleading are becoming more accepting to the sport and forgetting its stereotypes as they gain more knowledge and witness the sport. This article really reinforces my thinking because I personally work with male cheerleaders every day so I witness the hard work that they go through and I understand that it takes skill, strength and courage to hold a girl above your head knowing that her life is in your hands. The video below is one of my partner Steven and me at cheer practice. This is an example of how strong and coordinated you have to be in able to stunt. This being said, I was relieved to find out that their hard work is paying off and that they are defying society's stereotypes of being weak, uncoordinated and non-athletic by showing off their talent. Turner effectively appeals to logos by using multiple examples to support his intentions on proving that male cheerleaders defy society's stereotypes. So with this in mind, do male cheerleaders really live up to the stereotypes that society has given them, or do they prove society's stereotypes wrong?
- My research has led me to the conclusion that society and the media has corrupted stereotypes of male cheerleaders. Because of that, male cheerleaders work hard to prove those stereotypes wrong. With the research that I found, I think that society's image of a male cheerleader is incorrect in a lot of aspects. For a high majority of male cheerleaders, the labels are wrong. The image of being homosexual, feminine, non-athletic, uncoordinated and weak are founded by the media and continued on by society. For the most part, one of the only things stopping these stereotypes are the cheerleaders themselves, trying to prove them wrong. Until society experiences cheerleading by participating in it or possibly witnessing the dangerous and difficult stunts that cheerleaders execute, they will continue to believe the stereotypes that the media portrays. From this research, I believe that male cheerleaders don't fit the labels that society has given them. So I am left with the questions of what does that say about society and the media? Along with that, what stereotypes do female cheerleaders face from society? I look forward to expanding my research to find out about the gender roles in cheerleading and what society has to say about female cheerleaders.