Americans, Zebras and What I Learned From Sweet Valley High

I was going to write a flippant (hopefully funny) post about the IPL’s imported cheerleaders, and about cheerleading in general. But I’ve read far too many Funny Posts (and articles) about them now, and pretty much everyone who wrote one has come off sounding like an asshat.

U. Roy illustrates this in a Hindustan Times column about how cheerleaders should expect lewd remarks from crowds because of what they do (of course, he’s not “going down that dodgy route of ‘If you wear a mini-skirt in a dark alley expect the worst’ logic. He’s said he isn’t, so obviously he isn’t), how if the lewd remarks were in English the cheerleaders would feel complimented, and how amazing it is that a woman from Uzbekistan has actually been able to communicate her discomfort with said remarks.


As a youngling, one of my first moments-of-great-realization was had while reading Sweet Valley High # 70, Ms. Quarterback. In which Claire, who aspires to be on the football team, offers her opinion of cheerleading (unasked) to a cheerleader.

The disdain on Claire’s face was obvious. “Don’t you think being a cheerleader
is just a little bit sexist?” she blurted out. “After all, it’s just a bunch of
girls prancing around in cute little costumes….I think you’d do yourselves and
everyone else a lot more good if you played a sport instead of jumping around
and screaming.”

As awful as it is to base ones politics on bad teenage literature, this actually brought a lot of things together for me. I’ve always been a sports fan, and while this has meant occasionally being patronized by males who kindly attempted to educate me about sports (since I couldn’t possibly be as informed as them), it’s also meant that I’ve been taken more seriously for being interested in Important, Serious things. You know, sweaty men chasing a ball. Not frivolous things. Why does Claire wish the cheerleaders to play sports? Is it because sports will give them a better workout and be good for their health? I doubt this. My cultural references for what cheerleaders do are limited, but I’ve always had the impression fitness and decent gymnastic skills were a part of it. No, sports is serious business because it’s associated with boys. Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about this, and it’s why Project:Objectify exists. Men’s sports need to be taken less seriously and knocked off that pedestal, and I say this as someone who cries at great moments in sport.

(It amuses me that men’s sports tend to have far more frivolous, spectator-friendly add ons than women’s sports, simply because there are more spectators. Women’s sport is thus closer to pure sport than men’s.)

But. Cheerleaders are basically supposed to up the enthusiasm of the crowd, yes? Why on earth do we need them then? This is India and cricket – our problem isn’t a lack of crowd interest, it’s an excess of it. If any sport needed cheerleaders it was our national football league. A couple of years ago they obtained a troupe of Shiamak Davar trained cheerleaders called the ZeBras. Sadly, even the addition of scantily clad women couldn’t raise interest in the league, and the ZeBras don’t even merit a mention in the numerous articles about this new! American! feature in Indian sports.

And as a connoisseur of all that is Shiny in sport, and a caster of stern glances upon the patriarchy, all I can really do is demand glittery-thonged male cheerleaders for women’s cricket. It’s the least we can do.

(People who watch televised US sports, answer this because I don’t know – when cheerleaders are televised are there usually this many up-skirt/crotch shots? They’re all I seem to be seeing on a lot of the sports and news channels.)

12 Comments to “Americans, Zebras and What I Learned From Sweet Valley High”

  1. I can never understand the need for cheerleaders either. I don’t know why we need them in the US or in India, why they have to be almost all female, and always scantily clad? What is the connection between raising the crowd’s spirit and performing a high kick?

    To me, it’s just another example of the insidious objectification of women.

  2. I’ve been to a basketball match, and the cheerleaders did get the crowd excited NOT because they were sexy or anything, but because of their enthusiasm.

    Somehow, I don’t enthusiasm is a problem with cricket spectators.

    Also, and maybe I am being a pig, but women in umrika like to show skin. And its not viewed as being sexist or anything really.

    Of course importing another sub-culture is bound to create some clashes; but what is the freakin’ need to import in the first place?

  3. I knew a girl – a friend’s roommate – who tried to join the cheerleading team at university. She was told that irrespective of her fitness & flexibility levels, she was too fat and had to lose weight. Meanwhile, she saw the reediest, blondest would-be cheerleaders fawned over. Said person responded to this by organising Radical Cheerleading nights, where boys, girls and gq folk got together, waved our arms about and made human pyramids, and shouted about stuff that made us mad.

    But! I was kinda hoping you’d blog the IPL! I was even wondering about linking the Beeb’s stuff about the cheerleading myself, but I realised I’d be pretty clueless about it. Isn’t someone trying to sue the IPL for indecency? So many issues, it’s almost overshadowing the cricket!

    *far too excited about all this*

  4. I confess I have always been anti-cheerleader. I think the concept demeans sport. I mean, its the GAME that should get you excited…not dancing men or women, not stupid tarot sessions, NOT specially hired pretty boys and pretty girls.

    All these additions are because of selling out to capitalism. Gimmicks to get more (formerly-and currently- uninterested) viewers in, TRPs, gate money, whatever.

    What began with Set Max and Mandira Bedi promises to not let up.

    (Oh yeah, I am also extremely anti-Twenty20, and anti-masala cricket :) Test cricket’s the real cricket and all that :D )

  5. I don’t even like cricket, but lecherous men really are the pits. And irrespective of what they’re wearing, women (no matter what they’e wearing) get stared at anyway- to then be told it’s effectively your fault is just bloody stupid, IMO. Idiot testosterone-poisoned…idiots.

  6. Cheerleading seems to me to be one of the most visible pieces of evidence of how women compromise with the patriarchy to reap something close to rewards equivalent with men. If teen flicks are to be believed, the girls in high school who achieve the social prominence of the male jock are not the women on the hockey or football teams, but the cheerleaders. Female athletes are at best ignored, at worst derided for their unwomanliness [although I am led to believe America is light years ahead of the rest of the world, Europe included, in its advocacy and acceptance of women's sport]. Cheerleaders, on the other hand, are athletes who can be co-opted into every oppressive position the patriarchy requires of them, with respect to pulchritude, social status, and best of all, centrality to the Real, Important Proceedings.

    And so like you, I find the Sweet Valley girl’s patronization of the cheerleaders, “In other words, why can’t you all be like ME?” sexist in itself. Why *are* cheerleaders a near-universally reviled stereotype in high school fiction/film? Is it that we hate them ‘cuz they’re beautiful, or do we just feel betrayed by their superior ability to cut a break with TPTB?

  7. Lekhni – I don’t think cheerleading in and of itself is sexist. I’ve never been at a match where cheerleaders were present and so I don’t know how they raise a crowd’s spirits, but I’m willing to believe that they do. But in a society that is already deeply sexist (i.e most societies) it just plays out in a sexist way – thus scantily clad females cheering on males from the sidelines.

    And obviously that sexism within society permeates even the terms in which we discuss things like cheerleading. Why is the media focusing so much on them? why did I choose to post on them? why are you (and I, and possibly most of the commentors) questioning the need for cheerleading and not the need for the sport itself (which, lets face it, is a bunch of men competing at a game, not some hugely productive activity. And I still love it)? And so on.

    I should add, if I haven’t made it clear in my post, that I don’t think cheerleading is necessarily a sexist activity or that any woman who does it is necessarily anti-feminist.

    Anonymous – “women in umrika like to show skin” Er. Why do you think this is? Is it perhaps genetic?

    Thene – That is brilliant. I want to be a Radical Cheerleader!
    And there’s been a lot of fuss over the indecency thing (plus the cheerleaders themselves are getting harrassed by crowds and so on). I think there was a story today about how if they were “indecent” (by some subjective standard I don’t understand) in Mumbai the sponsors would be held responsible since the women themselves are mere tools in the hands of Capitalists.

    Koyel – Sure, but is love-of-the-game a worthier motive for watching sport than love-of-Teh-Shiney? Really? Based on what?
    I love test cricket because I find it interesting in a quite cerebral way. I like masala cricket because I enjoy masala generally. Masala’s good. It’s okay to like masala.

    I’m sure you know what my feelings on the Mandira Bedi issue are, so I won’t rehash them here.

    BFH – Heh. I’ve found that lecherous men can mostly be avoided if I shroud myself in large clothes, stay in my room and lock the door. Mostly.

  8. “Male cheerleaders” – South Africa seems to have already heard the siren cry of Project Objectify. Remember the svelte girls and buffed men cheerleading at the 20-20 championship?

    And no, in the US, there aren’t too many revealing shots of cheerleaders, at least for the major sports. (I don’t know about wrestling). I think the reason is that the US is a prudish society in a lot of ways, and advertisers would be concerned about coming across as supporting sleazy programming.

  9. What’s masala cricket? *confused*

  10. Ros – Yes, that. I find it interesting that even though cheerleading has developed into a competitive sport in itself, it’s still built around the assumption that there’s something to be cheering for, namely men playing sports.

    BP&SK – Grin. I barely remember the cheerleaders at the 20-20 cup, sadly.
    So do you think the upskirt shots on Indian TV now are a sign that we’re less prudish or more sleazy?

    Thene – masala => spice => all the extras that add to entertainment value. It’s normally used in the context of Bollywood. :) In this case, forms of cricket that are made more fun for the Unwashed Masses with scantily clad women, shorter innings, brightly coloured uniforms, and perhaps in the future choreographed dances by sportsmen.

  11. I think I would have less of a problem with cheerleaders if they actually truly had anything to do with raising the spirits(or whatever it is that they so)of the crowd. Because crowd spirits can surely be raised by little children, ugly (so to speak) men and women, etc etc, just as well as women with certain proportions.

    It’s the fact that cheerleading has so much to do with GENDER and exploitation of aesthetic stereotypes, that bothers me, and very much so.

    I like my masala, but a bit of general-ness in masala-rity would be good 8)

    (I read about some sporting club that had pot-bellied men in business suits as cheerleaders. It was obviously a statement, and conforming to yet another sterotype, but atleast it was a statment.)

    Informal, impromptu cheerleading is great…organised cheerleading has always seemed to me to be about displaying objects of entertainment (and entertainment defined by gender stereotyping).

    I can’t help thinking about the creating a sport out of strip teasing to make it more acceptable by French men for themselves to enjoy it, parallel. (I know. Terrible sentence construction.)

  12. Even i think so lekhni. there was no need of cheer leaders in IPl. its a total nusance

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