Cheerleading Discussion (Feb 1998)


Query From Rhonda L. Hinther rho@earthling.net 10 Feb 1998

I am in the midst of researching a paper on the history of cheerleading in American culture and am having a terrible time finding sources that explore the topic in a critical, academic manner. So, far, the best source I have been able to find is _Go!Fight!Win!_ by Mary Ellen Hanson, which appears to be the only comprehensive examination of cheerleading in the U.S. but contains little analysis regarding race and gender. It looks as though my paper will be focusing on how cheerleading is portrayed in juvenile fiction geared toward girls as there seems to be a great number of novels dealing with the topic. If anyone has any ideas on secondary sources on cheerleading that I may have overlooked, I'd appreciate the input.

Responses:

From Debra Michals dam3385@is.nyu.edu 11 Feb 1998

"Friday Night Lights," which looks at the importance of football (and its centrality) to a Texas community has some interesting discussions about the cheerleaders. Seems to me you would have to use books that talk about football to find secondary materials on cheerleaders. Another reference, which i'm sure you are using, is women's magazine articles, and I think there is a trade magazine just for cheerleaders. Don't know how far back that goes.

One other idea: I've been told that many successful women are former cheerleaders -- that includes top women's magazine editors, (and I'll bet even Martha Stewart). You might want to look in Who's Who or other encyclopedic biographies to do some digging.

From Val Johnson vmj@escape.com 11 Feb 1998

In response to your query, a friend has suggested looking for something by Cathy Schwictenberg, who wrote about women's beauty bonding rituals.

From Darlene Wilson dgwils0@pop.uky.edu 11 Feb 1998

I don't have any leads to help in Rhonda Hinther's quest for sources re: cheerleading but I'd be interested in reading whatever she comes up with. Seems to me that, if the 'timing' allowed for it, it would be interesting to do a 'survey' designed to elicit comments from former cheerleaders. Though I am loathe to admit it now, I had a brief 'cheerleading' experience in high school that left me only mildly 'marked' and I recovered nicely. I mention this because of the 'era'-- the mid-to-late 1960s were, in Appalachia where I grew up, a time when high-school cheerleaders were making a 'transition' from decorous 'styles' in both physical activity and 'uniforms' to a new 'phase' in which costumes were more exhibitionist and the 'routines' were more vigorous and athletic (gymnastics-oriented). Our cheerleading sponsors were very strict-- when I and four others on the squad noticed one night that the 'opposing' squad had new uniforms that were mid-thigh, we rolled our skirts over at the waist to bring them just a 'whisper' above the knee. The next day, we were all called into the principal's office and threatened with expulsion from school for exposing our knee-caps. It strikes me that even a simple photo-essay on such style- and attitude-changes could be both 'enlightening' and amusing but I would indeed welcome a more nuanced study of the gendered 'rules' of that era-- i.e., boys 'play' sports while girls cavort on the sidelines, showing a bit of thigh now and then to 'inspire' the boys on to higher glory.

From Nancy Marie Robertson nmrobertson@erols.com 11 Feb 1998

For the person who inquired about analysis of cheerleading:

The H-NET Discussion List for African American Studies <H-AFRO-AM@h-net.msu.edu> currently has a thread on research on cheerleading and the Black community. It may be worth consulting.

[Later post from Nancy]: X-Post from H-Afro-Am From Mitch A. Kachun makachun@sccm.cc.ne.us 11 Feb 1998

>Question: Is anyone on the list aware of any sources that >deconstruct cheerleading or examine it critically, >particularly its place in the African-American community?

Not exactly scholarship, but there is an interesting play for young audiences written by Belinda Acosta, _Three Girls and Clorox_, which explores the travails of an adolescent African American teen at an exclusive girls' prep school. She longs to be a cheerleader in order to "fit in" and must come to terms with her racial identity (hair, clorox...) in that process. The play hardly "deconstructs" cheerleading and could provide a more trenchant critique of racism and "lookism" in the adolescent female world, but you might want to take a look.

From Tim Hodgdon Tim.Hodgdon@asu.edu 12 Feb 1998

The Raza Unida Party grew out of a local dispute in Crystal City, Texas, over the exclusion of Mexican Americans from the cheerleading squad of the local high school. I'd suggest following the footnotes in Vicki L. Ruiz' recently published _From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth Century America_ (New York: Oxford, 1998) to primary and secondary sources.

From Genevieve G McBride gmcbride@csd.uwm.edu 12 Feb 1998

I've seen studies and even a book on beauty pageants which, as I recall, indicates a high correlation between contestants and cheerleaders, not surprisingly, so they may be useful to you.

Also, although this is hardly historical as yet, you might want to look up coverage (in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and even more so in the Waukesha Freeman) of a weird situation two years ago(I think...) at Kettle Moraine High School in Wales (Waukesha County), Wisconsin, where cheerleaders were harassed, had things thrown at them, etc., at several games. Their classmates had to be publicly punished, but some parents then protested and had the cheerleaders chastised, and on and on. It seems there was serious class warfare involved, in a district which had to evolve from rural(a mix of families,(overwhelmingly of Welsh descent and amazingly intermarried), who had been there for more than a century, as well as a sizeable contingent of Mexican-origin migrant farm workers, to suburban...in record time....

From Julie A. Landweber jlandweb@compuserve.com 12 Feb 1998

While not exactly a "critical, academic" source, you might try the Time-Life series _The Fabulous Century_ for some different primary-source references and excerpts about American cheerleading in different parts of the century. The series is a lively cultural history of America in multiple volumes, which run 1870-1900, 1900-1910,1910-1920,etc., stopping at 1970. As I recall, the 1900-1910 volume has a section on boy's life and sports, and, if memory serves, contains cheerleading references. The later volumes would be equally worth looking into. The books should be available in libraries, and I see them quite often in used bookstores in the States, usually in the History section.

Another passing memory--I think that the Marx Brother's movie "Horsefeathers" features a college football game and cheerleaders...for a dip into the comic side of things.

From Maria Elena Raymond M_Raymond@compuserve.com 25 Feb 1998

There is a passing reference to cheerleading in _Where the Girls Are: Growing up Female with the Mass Media_ by Susan J. Douglas (Random House, 1994). There also are some recollections of days as a cheerleader in the book _When I Was Sixteen_ by Mary Brannum, et al.(NY, Platt & Munk, 1967).