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New Article on Gender and Cheerleading by Laura Grindstaff and Emily West

Laura Grindstaff's article titled "Cheerleading and the Gendered Politics of Sport" has recently been published in the November 2006 issue of Social Problems.

Cheerleading occupies a contested space in American culture and a key point of controversy is whether it ought to be considered a sport. Drawing on interviews with college cheerleaders on coed squads as well as five years of fieldwork in various cheerleading sites, this paper examines the debate over cheerleading and sport in terms of its gender politics. The bid for sport status on the part of cheerleaders revolves around the desire for respect more than official recognition by athletic organizations; cheerleaders recognize the prestige associated with sport, a function of its historic association with hegemonic masculinity, and they claim that prestige for cheerleading by highlighting its recent transformation into a more athletic, competitive activity that is no longer “just for girls.” However, the support function of college cheerleading, combined with its “feminine” performance-demands, make the bid for sport status controversial. Male cheerleaders in particular distance themselves from the feminine elements of cheerleading because they want to avoid being perceived as gay. The gender politics at work here illustrate both the elasticity of gender categories in contemporary society and the limits of that elasticity, as gendered boundaries are drawn and redrawn between what gets to count as sport and what does not, and as cheerleading simultaneously challenges and reinforces the notion of sport as a male preserve. Because masculinity and femininity are performed side-by-side in coed cheerleading, this research underscores the importance of relational analyses for examining and critiquing the construction of gender and sexuality.


The article is available online.