I Love That You Hate Me for Being a Cheerleader by Brianna Leone

{Brianna Leone is a 2nd year graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College. Her favorite method of procrastination is to find new television obsessions in which she invests too much of herself. She is hoping that someone will enable her television addiction with related employment after her graduation in May.}

  

{Yes, I stole my uniform and used it as a last minute Halloween costume my first year of college. No, my face does not normally do this.}

Confession: I was a high school cheerleader. This is not how I imagined introducing myself to the readers of Re/Visionist but there it is. Don’t misunderstand me; I loved being a cheerleader and (mostly) enjoyed my time with my teammates but “Cheerleading Captain”, a title I held for four years, was not one that ever matched up with my personality. I think most people who learn this factoid about my past wonder if my affinity for sarcasm has reached new heights and this revelation is part of some elaborate prank. (Actually, I think most of my high school peers thought the same thing but it was more believable when I was standing in front of them in a skimpy blue and gold cheerleading uniform with TIGERS printed across my chest and ass.)

It is a part of my life which is now basically nonexistent. Considering the seriousness with which I approached the sport over six seasons and four years, I dropped it with more swiftness and eagerness than I anticipated I would once I began my first year of college. With no regular contact with my former teammates or coaches, other than the occasional Facebook message or – I’ll admit – nostalgia-induced intoxicated SMS, it is sometimes difficult for even me to remember the zeal I once had for cheerleading (or that I participated in the sport at all). But when tasked to write a piece for R/V’s Sports issue this month I was remembering more and more the marginalization I witnessed and experienced in relation to the female-aligned sport.

I will note here that cheerleading was a solely male sport from its creation in 1898 until 1923. But it was not until World War II, with the absence of men, that women’s squad presence began to dominate the sport. It was women who brought athleticism to cheerleading with tumbling and stunting; their inclusion, however, was contingent upon classmate votes rather than ability, thereby establishing a foundational correlation between female cheerleaders and popularity. The impression of cheerleading as key to entry into the upper echelon of high school social hierarchy was not indicative of my time as a participant of the sport. It was just the opposite, in fact. At my small rural/suburban hybrid school in Northern Westchester County, New York, football did not exist and neither did cheerleading. It was announced that if there was enough interest a winter squad would be formed to support the men’s basketball team. One of my best friends thought it would be fun and I was a gymnast when I was young and spry so I figured, why not? That friend is actually the only reason I committed to stay on for the entire season; after two weeks I thought I could not possibly last an entire season at this but she pleaded and I caved. One week later she and I were both named Captains and I begrudgingly fell in love. If I had not, I would have been forced to give up on it much sooner than I did.

To state the obvious, starting a new sports team is hard. It becomes even harder when cultural preconceptions regarding its participants paint them as airheaded and loose girls who are so desperate for attention that they have found a school-sanctioned excuse to parade around varsity boys in too-short skirts and are so self-involved that they could never comprehend what it means to be a team member. Convincing the community that we were legitimate athletes proved to be an uphill battle, one that I would fight for four years.

{During our Junior year my co-captain and I joined a neighboring school’s squad during the Fall season to cheer for the football team with which our high school was joined. She usually looked much happier than this and I typically did not have such crazy eyes.}

What time, distance and a sprinkling of maturity have helped me realize is that the constant judgments our team suffered (more frequently from faculty than from fellow students) was that we were subjected to ridicule not because of a lack of ability, but because of what we represented. Cheerleading was something to be mocked and although at its core the sport represents community and support, we were instead pushed to the fringes of our local athletic community. We were never given adequate practice space since we were considered to be of lesser value in comparison to other indoor (and some outdoor) sports; with whom we were in competition for the gymnasiums. In the first fifteen minutes of each practice we would reorganize the cafeteria to accommodate our team and drag poorly padded mats from the gym into our newly cleared space. The cafeteria became a hangout as other students waited to meet with teachers or for their clubs and athletics to start. As they loitered we were put on display as they made a game out of distracting and goading us. We were in the middle of a Catch-22: without better resources we could not improve as a team but we had no hope of convincing the Athletic Department that we deserved and needed more support. The distinction that we even needed to fight for the most basic of supplies and space in a district that never wanted for funds did not escape me either.

Most of the teachers and administrators that I came across never put their prejudice against cheerleaders bluntly—that is—all except for one specific physical educator. He seemed to get a certain enjoyment out of taunting my co-captain and I. Eventually it erupted into yelling—one day as we walked away from him—as we were still too fearful to directly challenge his authority as an otherwise respected faculty member at the school. I do not maintain any bitterness over this rivalry between student and teacher if, for no other reason, that little that occurred during my teenage years is worth holding a grudge over. Though, at the time, I found his dismissal of the 18+ hours a week I practiced (in addition to attending games in support of basketball players that he once coached) extremely irritating. Unfortunately I did not possess the rhetoric to properly articulate or discuss why I found his attitude so unacceptable and could not properly argue why he was wrong and I was right – because I was (and am) right.

{With the Fall squad at John Jay, we attended Pine Forest Cheerleading Camp in the Poconos. This is part of the team shortly before we headed home.}

No other girls’ team would have ever been made to suffer for wanting to play as we had. And while we have been unique in that our team was so young, I am certain that we were neither the first nor the only cheerleaders to be marginalized; nor were we the only female athletic team to have to argue their legitimacy. With no dance or gymnastic team we were the only performers that also fell under the umbrella of “athletics.” But that was the crux of the argument. We had not been successful enough in our beginning years for our efforts to be considered real athletics. Especially as our team was not a feminized version of a male-sport, we became the other.

As a testament to the marginalization of cheerleading at my high school, the team was never featured in the yearbook and I am in possession of no team photographs. Essentially, outside of the memories of those involved, the existence of cheerleading in the mid-2000s at that school has been erased. Rampant conservatism in my hometown would most certainly reject my assertion that because our identity was rooted in our gender and we had no brother team to balance our existence in the school’s sports community, we were invalidated as an athletic team. Prejudices in my town are rarely publically proclaimed and so, no, there was never any blatant statement that the cheerleading squad was considered an inferior addition to the Athletic Department because it is deemed a wholly female activity and has no right to align itself with the likes of field hockey, baseball or soccer players. But I have yet to come across a better explanation for the substandard treatment I received in comparison to other student athletes. Although cheerleading does not consume my time or my thoughts the way it once did, I maintain that it gave me confidence and a sense of restless indignation, which, while frustrating at the time, has served me well since then. In fact, I am almost grateful to the close-mindedness that I fought in my own small way everyday growing up. I rarely won any of the small battles I took up but I was also never discouraged by the condescension and yielding to the status quo. After all, what good is a feminist without an internal balance of humor, passion and perseverance?

Screw You, Tim Tebow: Thoughts from a Feminist Sports Fan

{Katy Gehred is a first-year graduate student in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Originally from Dayton, Ohio; she is currently researching gender in early-America.}

Photo courtesy of SI.com

Prior to the Broncos/Steelers game of January 8, one of my friends posted a Facebook status which read something along the lines of: “Well, one of them will rape you and the other won’t let you get an abortion.”

I’m sure that dark comedy like that was floating all over the internet before the Tim Tebow/Ben Roethlesberger showdown. I noticed because usually the sports smack-talk that shows up on my feed is humorous at best, and at worst annoying; rarely does it touch upon topics that I actually care about.

Now, as a Packers fan I know a little something about loyalty to a sports team (unlike Brett Favre, OH SNAP!) and so I understand how trivial it is. I mean, I root for the Packers, I get emotionally involved to the point of shouting at my television screen and then I move on with my life. Loyalty to a specific sports team is simultaneously insanely dedicated and astonishingly trivial. Because after the blood, sweat, tears, and emotion of a football game is over, it all comes down to a bunch of guys in weird outfits running around and knocking each other over.

Perhaps I’m revealing myself as a bad fan or something, but I’ve always assumed that the whole point of football was that it didn’t matter. It’s a cathartic way to have some silly regional pride—or vent some pent up emotions—while eating Buffalo wings with people you like.

And so when a scandal happens, like Ben Roethlisberger or Kobe Bryant being accused of rape—or the horrible Penn State child abuse case—all of a sudden something fun and cathartic gets mixed up with something deeply serious and disturbing. And that can be conflicting for a fan whose parents dressed them in team jerseys before they could even talk; it’s hard to shake that kind of dedication.

Much ink has been spilled about sex scandals in sports. The media loves pitting the stereotypical he-man sports fan—who’s never taken a Women’s Studies course in his life— against the anti rape-culture of women’s rights activism. Rape cases and sex scandals are rarely cut and dry and so a whole lot of hate and victimizing gets spat out before the media finally loses its interest. And by then, usually, the perpetrator goes back to being a role-model for children and making more money than I’ll see in my entire life.

And so life is hard for a feminist sports fan. I certainly don’t have any answers. Is it better to just pack it in and boycott sports? When I think about the beer commercials I’ll have to sit through that sounds pretty tempting. But then I think about that Giants game last week when I could hear everyone in the apartments around mine celebrating simultaneously. I’ll never hate sports, but I just can’t forgive the rape apologists either.

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: All-American Muslim, Victim-Blaming Ad Campaign & “Muscular Empathy”

via feministryangosling.tumblr.com

  • In an attack on women of color’s reproductive freedoms, anti-choice members of Congress have pushed for a bill called the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” which seeks to prevent women of color from attaining abortions in the name of “civil rights.” Clarification: Neither Susan B. Anthony nor Frederick Douglass would have supported this BS.
  • Feministing breaks down the victim-blaming and just downright disturbing “rape prevention” campaign at “ControlTonight.org”, targetting — you guessed it — young women victims. Same old ridiculous narrative: the raped person should control the rapist’s urge to rape by NOT going out and drinking.  The ad’s image itself is a trigger warning, so be prepared to fume with anger.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates responds to the Forbes article, “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.” It’s entitled, “Muscular Empathy,” and explores one of the greatest challenges an historian faces, let alone a human being: empathy with people from very different circumstances than ourselves. Here’s an excerpt:

This basic extension of empathy is one of the great barriers in understanding race in this country. I do not mean a soft, flattering, hand-holding empathy. I mean a muscular empathy rooted in curiosity. If you really want to understand slaves, slave masters, poor black kids, poor white kids, rich people of colors, whoever, it is essential that you first come to grips with the disturbing facts of your own mediocrity. The first rule is this–You are not extraordinary. It’s all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it’s much more interesting to assume that you wouldn’t and then ask “Why?”

Harris-Perry is at her strongest when she breaks down the devastating and unseen culture of shame that is put upon and often internalized by black women; it is fed by a dangerous form of misrecognition that harms both individuals and societies. Harris-Perry is nuanced in her understanding of shame not only manifesting as a sort of shrinking-away, but in the compensating “strong black woman” stereotype that seems positive, but leaves little room for the full scope of human vulnerability. Shame, then, serves as a kind of social control.

  • Robin Lim, an American midwife who has served thousands of Indonesian women in their births, is CNN’s Hero of the Year.

Sebelius claims that her reason is that the FDA didn’t show that 11-year-old girls, some 10 percent of whom are fertile, understand how to follow the EC directions….If a sixth grader can’t understand those elementary, crystal-clear instructions, we should just move back to the caves, because civilization is finished.

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: Remembering the Ms. Revolution, the History of ‘Personhood’, and Umbrellas

The first cover of Ms. magazine, Spring 1972.

  • In honor of its 40th birthday, a fabulous tribute to Ms. magazine at NY Mag. My favorite tid-bit: some of the proposed titles for Ms. included Everywoman, Sisters, Lilith, Sojourner, Female, A Woman’s Place, The First Sex, and The Majority. Plus the article is structured as an oral history, with insights from the pioneers themselves. From Mary Peacock, one of the founding editors:

When Ms. started, you couldn’t pick up the phone and say, “Ms. Magazine,” because what people heard was “Mmzzz” and they’d ask, “What are you saying?” This would happen 25 times a day. So when we picked up the phone, we said each letter separately: “M-S magazine.” But gradually something changed—I could shoot myself that I can’t remember when it changed, because it was a huge watershed: Suddenly you could say “Ms.,” and everybody knew what you were talking about.

  • And also at NY Magthe feminist blogosphere! Holllllaaaa! Emily Nussbaum uses blogs to show how far the movement has come since the days of Ms.:

Subjects recurred from early feminism, including outrage at sexual violence. But there were also striking differences: While seventies feminists had little truck with matrimony, feminist bloggers lobbied for gay marriage. There were deconstructions of modern media sexism, including skeptical responses to the “concern-trolling” of older women who made a living denouncing the “hookup epidemic.” There was new terminology: “slut-shaming,” “body-snarking,” “cisgender.” And there were other cultural shifts as well: an acceptance (and sometimes a celebration) of porn, an interest in fashion, and the rise of the transgendered-rights movement, once seen as a threat, now viewed as a crucial part of sexual diversity.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich on OWS and homelessness–reminding us that the messy conditions faced by protesters are a daily reality for many Americans. She asks, why aren’t our cities legally required to find accomodations for homeless folks? It is a deeply troubling contradiction:

LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

  • Also, Nick Kristof breaks it all down and builds it back up with his defense of birth control and family planning in the NY Times. Here’s something to tattoo on yourself: “Contraceptives no more cause sex than umbrellas cause rain.” BOOM.
  • House Democrats have filed an amicus brief against the anti-LGBT rights Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), arguing that DOMA undermines the stable family structure that children need to thrive by denying married gay and lesbian couples federal marriage benefits. Hell yeah–but it’s not just for the kids’ sake, right Dems?
  • “I’ve been protesting what’s been going on on Wall Street for a long time.” -Elizabeth Warren showing her support for the OWS movement at a speech in Brockton, MA, Wednesday evening. Watch this video and read about how she eloquently handled some Tea Party b.s. during the speech. [Favorite part: As the Tea Party dude is leaving, members of crowd shout, “Thanks for coming!” as others boo.]

Of course men’s liberation is tied up in women’s. Men, particularly those operating within a traditional Western context, have missed out on some of the most exhilarating parts of being human for far too long—authentic expression of emotion, the joys of being a present parent, intimate relationships with other men in which they can show up as their whole, vulnerable selves. Likewise, they have suffered from tremendous pressure to make money, to appear eternally strong, to wedge their diverse interests, passions, and reactions into the narrow box of socially acceptable masculinity.

Ten Questions with Caroline Biggs

{This month features Urban Theorist/Feminist/Fashion Socio-Historian Extraordinaire Elizabeth Wilson. Author of dozens of books and countless articles, she has earned quite the international following for her groundbreaking scholarship on fashion, urbanity, and modernity—and the lifelong devotion of at least one budding academic-fashionist. <3}

Describe yourself in one word.

Energetic

 To date, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Bringing up a daughter. 

What or whom has been your greatest source of inspiration?

My partner.

What quality in others do you find the most admirable?

Kindness. 

What quality in others do you find the most deplorable?

Spiritual Meanness

What are your three favorite texts?

Marcel Proust, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu

Walter Benjamin,  Arcades Project

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights 

If you could spend one day in history, when and where would it be?

A day during the Russian Revolution

Finish the thought: “Feminism is . . .”

The recognition that men and women are equal.  [Discussion of presumed innate or learned psychological and other differences is irrelevant to this truth].

What is something about you others would be surprised to know?

In lots of ways I am quite conservative.

 What are your words to live by?

The stiff upper lip is much underrated.

 

{Endless thanks and admiration for Elizabeth Wilson. xx}

{Photo courtesy of The Idea Store.}

SHOW ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE: A Foreign City Teaches Me Political Dissent

{Emma Staffaroni is a first-year Master’s candidate in SLC’s Women’s History program. A ruthless feminist, she slays haters with her pen and then eats them for dinner, covered in cheese. She also enjoys basset hounds, trains, and red wine.}

Before we left for Manhattan the morning of October 15th, my roommate tossed me a letter from the day’s mail, postmarked from Céline, a good friend I met when I was an English teacher in Besançon, France, last year. In our most recent Facebook exchanges Céline had asked me if I was occupying Wall Street: “Not yet!” I replied, “But I plan to.” It seemed timely that I got her letter just as my roommates and I were preparing to occupy Times Square, my first physical show of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement that has been mobilizing in New York City for over a month and since spread across the nation and globe. Céline’s letter informed me that people on her side of the pond hear about OWS in the news every day: “It reminds us of our beloved May 1968.”

In French collective memory, the revolutionary strikes and occupations during May and June of 1968 are engrained in a way tantamount to our Civil Rights Era marches and sit-ins (or even our women’s liberation movement). Rising up against capitalism and imperialism, Parisian university students and leftists held riotous and destructive protests, iconically tearing up cobblestones from the Boulevard St. Michel and building barricades against the police.

Parisian protesters on the Boulevard St. Michel, May 1968

The difference between May 1968 in Paris and the American Civil Rights Movement lies in their effects on our respective cultures some 40 years later: the French Left has not lost its fire-in-the-belly zeal for a strike or a march. Quite the contrary, our American populace has been more than reticent to repeat the bold and public displays of political dissent that filled the 1960s and 70s.

I’d learned of the May 1968 Paris maniféstations while I was studying in Paris in 2009. I shouldn’t even say that I was studying; most of the time, the entrance to my university was blocked by three or more heavily armed police. Indeed, in the Spring of 2009, the city of Paris was occupied in much of the same fashion as it had been in 1968. Nobody was tearing up cobblestones, but university professors and their students were regularly occupying the Latin Quarter throughout the Winter and Spring in objection to Sarkozy’s privatization of the public university system (and other social service sectors).

Professors in France traditionally held a significant amount of freedom in their decision to teach or to research as enseignant-chercheurs (teacher-researchers). Under the newly privatized system, the university’s administration determines the resources allocated to their faculty. Theoretically, this allows the individual institutions to favor professors and disciplines that will earn the most for the school and improve its reputation.

From our American capitalist perspective, this structure is commonplace and rational but for the French’s tacitly different socialist view, it is an aberration. And so students, in support of their teachers’ freedoms and their beloved traditions, jeopardized their hard-earned diplomas by taking to the streets instead of going to class.

Talk about a cultural experience: I learned more from the young people en grève than I ever would have in a Sorbonne lecture. These politically engaged folks taught me French values, French political history, and French point-of-view on capitalism. To say it was eye-opening would be an understatement.

Of course, I’m not French. Recounting this experience to friends and family back in the States, the punchline of my story would always be: “I mean, would you ever see American students doing something like that for their professors?” Everyone laughed. As much as I respected the French commitment to “l’esprit de mai 68,” it was still preposterous from an American cultural perspective.

Fast forward to my year abroad teaching English. This time, it wasn’t university students protesting, but high school students. The French minister of education had put into effect a reform of the high school structure mass budget slashes to the education system meant teachers were losing their jobs. If the details of the reform are too complicated for this short article, their effect is not: high school students across France organized to blockade the entrances of their schools and protest the changes to their education. One year before I would occupy Times Square, I looked out the window of my apartment to see students pushing huge trash bins and other large materials in front of the entrance to their high school. Unions staged sit-ins and occupations of the major squares in town, shutting down the bus system and parading through the streets.

Needless to say, the spirit of protest has been following me around for a couple of years now. When I first read about Slutwalk this past summer, I was overjoyed—a feminist protest movement—finally! And now: Wall Street. A woman we met on the 15th in Times Square told my friends and I: “I was arrested forty years ago in an anti-war protest. It’s about time for people to wake up! We should’ve been out here in 2004 when Bush stole the presidency.” She was reacting to the sign my friend Jenn (a fellow Women’s History student and my roommate) was holding that exclaimed in big bold letters :“GIVE A SHIT.”

Now that I’m back in an American city, occupying public space feels expected, if not overdue. Up until now my generation has seen a generally apathetic and anti-intellectual culture, which instructs us that political and civil rights have been won by our forebears. Marching and boycotting–that’s for hippies, for folks without rights, for nations without democracy. But my experience in Times Square on Saturday October 15th seemed to transcend history, and at the same time honor it. We shouted “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” or “ALL DAY, ALL WEEK, OCCUPY WALL STREET! NEW YORK, TIMES SQUARE, OCCUPY EVERYWHERE!” and “THE PEOPLE UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED!” These were moments of collective consciousness and political dissent. Flanked by the Hard Rock Café, Sephora, and Times Square’s ostentatious light show flashing all around us—our voices became a part of a new American culture as well as a forgotten one—a culture that actually, and finally, gives a shit.

Welcome to R/V October 2011: The Legal Issue

Welcome to the R/V LEGAL ISSUE! We are beyond thrilled with the response and popularity of last month’s POP CULTURE ISSUE—we’ve been linked, quoted, and shared from NYC to Beirut—and readership has grown to numbers that exceeded even our highest hopes! Most importantly, we are having so much fun conceptualizing and creating a dialogue that appeals to a WIDE RANGE OF FEMINISMS and the issues that affect us both historically and everyday.

At RE/VISIONIST, we strive to encompass feminism in its most complex form and appreciate it for what it truly is: multi-faceted, diverse, frequently political, sometimes superficial, often hostile, at-times humorous, and above all, the good fight.  WE [as feminists] are just as variable and diverse as feminism itself and our readers are no exception. Just as there is no single most-important feminist argument, there is no one-way to write about feminism.

This month brings us to the litigious-side of inequality, or rather, institutionalized racism and sexism. Law is arguably the most powerful vehicle for social change—and that can work both ways. Revisiting monumental Civil Rights cases such as Loving v. Virginia, while celebrating New York’s legalization of gay marriage, can make it even harder to comprehend present-day (yet seemingly archaic) legal battles. Even more upsetting is the actuality that gendered and racial inequality exists WITHIN the legal framework—and that a lot of those serving to preserve “justice” are some of the most bigoted-people out there—making it even harder to know whose side the law is really on.

That being said–R/V is proud to feature a law review from co-Editor, Amanda Seybold! We’re also proud to welcome Brianna Leone and Emma Staffaroni to the R/V family as web-editors and columnists–you can see from the weekly links, this month’s articles, and the gorgeous editorial pics why we’re thrilled to have them!

Sexism, like any inequality, has several faces—from Pat Robertson to Britney Spears. Sometimes, it’s as blatant as pay inequity and other times it is so embedded in our understanding of how things are that we don’t even notice. This is why we have to work to cover as many bases as possible; we have to include—not exclude—to keep fighting the good fight.

 

{. . . and it IS the good fight.}

xx

Caroline

The Legal Issue:

{ENJOY!}