Getting knocked down everywhere I turn these days. My friends mockingly call me Rick Reilly. Pull yourselves up by my bootstraps, fellas. Professor Dudley tells me that my columns “are usually better” than my papers. Coach Paulsen informs me that my writing is esoteric (read: nonsensical). Joseph Charles Shapiro’s father thinks I am “impassioned yet inarticulate.” So the way I see it, my only recourse is to defend the one group of people on this campus who also find themselves under siege: the cheerleaders.
There is nothing degrading in modern competitive cheerleading. There is a traditional stigma attached to cheerleading, based in some pre-Title IX phenomenon whereby sisters were not encouraged to play sports like their brothers. Based also on the notion that women should stand on the sideline engaged in hero worship as their boyfriends compete on the fields of play. These notions are gone from the minds of those who are going to join us in our pancakes and the age of enlightenment.
I have never been on a sports team that had cheerleaders (unless you count forty of my inebriated friends making complete fools of themselves in the stands). I went to an all-boys private school and have thus never attended a school that had cheerleaders at all. I have not seen “Bring It On.” I do, however, like Will Farrell. I do have friends who were seriously involved in cheerleading in high school, and I do have access to ESPN 2. So I am not ignorant of what’s out there.
I do know that many people take cheerleading seriously. They take it seriously because it involves as much athleticism as many sports. They enjoy the opportunity to express their athletic ability in this way. You cannot go to gymnastics classes forever. It does encourage the audience to get more involved in supporting their team. If you’re going to say that the uniforms themselves are degrading, them you are going to have to change what women wear to play numerous other sports. At least they are not dressed up like Catholic schoolgirls and forced to run around bent over the whole time as in field hockey (a sport I will forever claim was invented by a male pervert). Cheerleading as an activity might have been rooted in ideas that are sexist and degrading, but today this is not true. The point is that many women find cheerleading, as a competitive sport or an activity, to be fulfilling for reasons that are not remotely related to anything degrading. And you cannot leave the people who truly believe this behind.
I am trying to understand the criticisms that are voiced on this campus. I am very open to the possibility that I am not someone who has any authority to say whether something is degrading to women or not, because I, as someone who has not yet been a woman, would never be the degradee in this situation. I have thought about it, read all of the commentary in this newspaper and asked many people here their opinions on the issue. Some think that there is no place for it at a school like Williams. Some say that they came to Williams, at least in part, because it was somewhere that did not have things like cheerleading. Because it was the kind of place where things like this were not supported. These criticisms lead me to one conclusion, and not for the first time: many at this school take themselves way too seriously.
There lies in my foreseeable future a place where I feel differently about cheerleading coming to Williams. It will be during a basketball game. I should be concentrating on the topics of discussion in our huddle, yet instead I am wondering where Dan Phillips got a purple and yellow wig.