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Cheer up

By India ’20

We see it time and again–girls in short skirts, done up in eye-catching makeup and hair, cheering on their male counterparts. Modern-day cheerleading is considered a “girls’ sport” and the physical beauty of the girls who participate is inextricably linked with how the sport is perceived. The sport’s undeniable emphasis on feminine beauty implies that a girl’s role in life is to stand on the sideline, both literally and figuratively, and cheer on men. Modern schools either wholeheartedly embrace or reject this sexist model of cheerleading, rather than reclaiming it as positive and uplifting for both girls and boys. As an all-girls school, Marlborough has chosen not to participate in the sport, originally because of the lack of boys’ sports to cheer on and later because of the sexism associated with this sport and a lack of interest from the student body. No matter the reason, Marlborough doesn’t have a cheerleading team, and its absence sparks the question: why can’t girls cheer on girls’ teams and reclaim cheerleading?

Marlborough lacks a cheerleading team, and its absence sparks the question:  Why can’t girls cheer on girls’ teams and reclaim cheerleading?

While many professional sports franchises are beginning to reckon with the sexism inherent in all-female cheerleading, most high schools have not dealt with the issue. In fact, many high school cheer teams still support only male athletics. Private schools in Los Angeles like Viewpoint and Campbell Hall have cheerleading teams composed solely of girls who cheer on boys in sports such as football and basketball. However, the cheerleaders don’t root for the female teams. The absence of cheerleaders at girls’ sports events brings into question how important girls sports are to these schools’ communities. Take a Friday night football game, for example. Hundreds of people sit in the bleachers with signs and posters, yelling, screaming and following the cheerleaders’ chants. In contrast, few parents and friends come to girls’ games.    

The lack of importance attached to all-girls sports is even more obvious in single-sex schools. The majority of all-girls schools in L.A. do not have cheerleaders, while the all-boys schools do. For example, Loyola has an all-female cheerleading team that travels to their school to cheer for its teams. Meanwhile, Marlborough, Archer, Marymount and Immaculate Heart don’t have any cheerleaders at all, let alone a squad of students from an all-boys school. Why don’t Loyola’s boys commute to us to cheer us on? Why don’t girls from Marlborough or Archer cheer each other on? By neglecting to have cheer squads at all-girls schools, these institutions are perpetuating the idea that boys’ sports are vastly more important and worthy of our time than girls’ sports, and that girls’ value comes not from the sports they play but from the way they support boys who play sports.

Marlborough and other all-girls schools’ choice not to take part in cheerleading reinforces these sexist, patriarchal ideas. However, Director of Upper School Laura Hotchkiss ‘86 said Marlborough’s lack of a cheerleading team is not a reflection of sexism, but rather points to the fact that its students express their school spirit in other ways.

“Our girls are really supportive of one another…You see girls going to find Sally the Mustang mask and dressing up like Sally the Mustang, so I certainly think there is that school spirit,” Hotchkiss said.

It is certainly true that Marlborough students support one another and foster a community of sisterhood, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also have a squad of cheerleaders rooting for our girls’ sports teams.

Cheerleading is a classic American pastime that likely isn’t going to die out; however, this moment in time, with the #MeToo movement and Dr. Blasey Ford’s brave testimony, seems ripe for reimagining the sport. Women need to reclaim cheerleading so that it doesn’t hold the same limited connotations that it does today and to show that girls’ sports deserve to be cheered on, too. Girls should be encouraged to cheer on each other in whatever shape or form that might take. Marlborough prides itself on encouraging girls to support each other, and establishing a cheerleading squad at Marlborough would only enhance our ability to empower each other.

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