Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Grungy Mother's Reservations About Cheerleading

Brynna wants to be a cheerleader. She has wanted to be a cheerleader since she was three years old and she went to her first high school football game. I blame myself. If I hadn't taken her to football games, I wouldn't be in this predicament. I do love my baby brother, though. And I spent every spare moment pointing out how cool the band was. *sigh*

In any case, she has asked me if she could be a cheerleader approximately every week for the past two years. I went through everything from "you're not old enough," to "okay, let's try gymnastics," and even the ever popular, "I'll see what I can do," followed by abject rejection of the idea.

I finally gave in. Because she's almost seven and she should have some say in her own life. Because I am hoping that she won't like it and we'll be done as soon as we get through the season. Because I don't want to keep telling her no forever. And mostly because my desire to keep her from cheering has little to do with her and a lot to do with me. And I know that's not fair.

I'm going to be brutally honest, here. Forgive me if you are a former cheerleader, a current cheerleader or a cheermom (*gulp). There's a lot I don't like about cheerleading. In the first place, and just about my only intellectual argument - I think it's misogynistic. I think the idea that girls should "cheer" for the boys while they do something athletic is ridiculous. It all comes back to the antiquated idea that girls can't play sports, so they should support those who can. It's all about putting girls in their place. And their place, apparently, is in too short skirts, jumping up and down.

I think over the years, girls' sports have gained a lot of traction and cheerleading has become a lot more about athletic prowess, which should help the situation, but instead, it has become (in some school districts) a great way to "follow" Title IX dictates, while not even coming close to the spirit of providing more opportunities for girls to play sports.

I hate those things. But I'm going to be honest about something else. College cheerleading competitions? I'm all about them. Despite the fact that I take great pride in having as my Alma Mater a school which had three cheerleaders, I will watch the competitions on ESPN all night long. I'm pretty sure that's the only reason why I need ESPN, in fact. It is impressive and athletic and amazing to watch and I hate to admit it, but it's a lot more interesting than college gymnastics. I don't know why, it just is.

And so, I'm sort of at an impasse. I can't blame a bunch of seven year olds for the history of the "sport" or for a particular school district's habit of hiding behind pompoms, and I can enjoy some good cheering. But there's something else. Something more insidious.

Cheerleaders. They were always the mean girls when I was in school. They were better than me, and never failed to tell me all about it, when they deigned to speak to me at all. This started in third or fourth grade. By the time high school came around, I could clearly understand the caste system, because I was on the bottom and they were on the top.

I was a flannel shirt wearing, Nirvana listening, book reading drama geek and academic team nerd. I hung out with the band geeks and they improved my social standing. They were the golden girls who tossed their curls and giggled too much and gossiped and told lies about lowly old me and my lowly old friends.

I don't want Brynna to live my life. I want her to make her own choices; I want her to follow her heart and know that she owns her life and she can be anything she wants. But I don't want her to live their lives either. I don't want her to be a mean girl. I don't want her to toss her hair and look down her nose. I want her to have a kind heart and an amazing voice. I want her to stand up for the downtrodden, not kick them when they're down.

Brynna is a good kid. She's smart and funny and amazing and creative. She's going to be an artist and she wants to learn to play banjo. She does take up for people and try to right wrongs. I am fiercely proud of her every day and I guess I'm going to have to trust that her spirit and goodness and kindness will win out. That her desire to be her own independent person will always trump her desire to be "one of the girls."

In the meantime, I'm going to be a cheermom. Wish me well. I wasn't cut out for this.


Joni said...

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I have tears in my eyes after reading this! Partly because I SO relate to where you're coming from (as you well know, I was also one of the less-than girls!), but also because I'm so proud of you for moving beyond your own experience to give Brynna complete freedom to choose her own path. You can do this!!!

Suze said...

When I was Brynna's age I LOOOOOOVED watching the cheerleaders at the college games we would occasionally attend. I would go home and imitate their routines. Obviously, I grew out of it. Maybe she will, too. Or maybe not, and if she doesn't she sure has a good mama behind her to show her right and wrong and how to be, regardless of her choice in extra-curricular activities.

Anonymous said...

Some of my favorite people used to be cheerleaders. (I found out after they were already some of my favorite people.) Here is what I have noticed about them: they are good leaders and good encouragers. Hmmm... leaders and cheerers. Those are two good things. :) I've also known some super cool boys who were cheerleaders. My very favorite water exercise teacher was a cheerleader, and he went back to teaching cheerleading and left my water exercise class. :( Anyway, I think cheerleaders sometimes turn out to be the cool kids, by anyone's standards. Brynna is an overwhelmingly cool kid (from what I've read...and how could she not be, with the family she has), so she will be fine. (But I recommend rugby.)


Jessi said...

You all rock!!

Joni - Thank you. Last night was the first practice and it wasn't quite as bad as I expected. Still pretty rough, but survivable.

Suze - I'm gonna keep hoping for growing out of it. If not, well, I guess I'll just deal a little at a time.

Ann - I know, there are of course nice cheerleaders and sometimes even people who were evil in high school grow up to be lovely. It's just a thing.