Feminists Balk At NCAA’s “Competitive Cheering”

You might recall that a few months ago, the University of Connecticut banned its cheerleaders from doing physically strenuous gymnastic activities, trying to avoid the specter of serious injury or any other calamity that may befall one of the young ladies or men. You’d think, in this increasingly litigious society, that such a move would be adopted by more and more NCAA schools. And you’d be wrong.

Bring It On
(This is totally what they mean, right?)

As a natter of fact, the exact opposite is true; as the TITLE IX BLOG notes, there are now six schools with competitive cheerleading - well, five, actually; Oregon decided to get cute and call it “stunt and gymnastics,” but c’mon - and NCAA recognition isn’t far away.

From the Title XI Blog:

The NCAA does not currently offer a championship in competitive cheer, but cheer proponents hope to change that. If four more institutions create varsity programs, then NCAA could recognize it as an emerging sport as early as August 2011. As an emerging sport, it would then have 10 years add 40 varsity programs at NCAA member institutions for the NCAA to stage a championship.

The “emergence” of competitive cheer is supported by those who note the sport’s popularity. Obstacles, however, include the fact that many universities are not in the economic position to add new teams, and AB also notes expressed concern about the sport’s high injury rate.

So we’re still about a decade away from the NCAA handing out championships and trophies for the stuff as a sport rather than as an exhibition.

The blog’s take, though, takes a curious turn after that (edited for paragraph breaks):

The article does not delve into another concern that competitive cheer programs raise, which is that athletic departments are adding them not to respond to interest and ability of their female student population, but as a cheap and easy way to achieve compliance with Title IX’s proportionality prong.

For one thing, cheer enjoys popularity as a co-ed sport. Kate Torgovnick’s Cheer makes the point that in some non-varsity cheer programs (competitive-sideline hybrids) the co-ed squads are at the top of the cheer hierarchy. If the sport was truly being added in response to interest among the student body, it would include opportunities for men. Limiting the sport to women, on the other hand, suggests that adding cheer so they don’t have to add other women’s sports.

Another reason for concern is that some schools (I’m thinking of Quinnipiac) propose cheer squads that have both larger rosters and smaller budgets than any other women’s teams. That too suggests the possibility that a school’s primary motive is to pad their numbers rather than offer meaningful athletic opportunities.

This seems a little backwards and closed-minded. After all, it’s not as if these people would be coerced into cheerleading; there aren’t freshman queuing up in a “WOMEN’S SPORTS” line and then finding out that it’s just a sign-up for cheerleading (all while the male AD clutches handfuls of $100 bills and cackles, of course). If there’s interest, they’ll fill the rosters; if there isn’t, they won’t.

Moreover, suggesting that this isn’t a “meaningful athletic opportunity” seems more than a little disrespectful to cheerleaders who actually enjoy cheerleading. They do exist. No, it’s not softball or anything, but the conceit appears to be that it can’t be valid because it doesn’t fit into what your pre-definition of what a woman ought to be doing. And while we’re sure that the author has women’s best interests in mind, that “Women can’t be doing that, they ought to be doing this!preconception just so happens to be the exact same mindset that informed the early-to-mid 20th century opposition to feminism.

As for the notion that only adding it for women reveals an ulterior motive about number-padding, this is hardly news. Every single NCAA school has multiple co-ed sports that are varsity for women and club-level for men. Every one of them. We don’t remember seeing feminists in a froth over a men’s golf team or baseball losing its scholarships in pursuit of Title IX compliance, after all; is it supposed to be evidence of foul play - against women’s athletics - when the men don’t get the cheerleading scholarships in the first place?

No, this appears to be another insistence that the author’s gender norms be more closely hewed to by athletic society, practicality be damned. We say “another” because the author is one Erin Buzuvis; remember her? She’s the one that raised the public stink about the University of Iowa’s pink locker rooms a few years ago. So this is not new or unexpected behavior; it’s just too bad that someone who runs a blog named after (and devoted to) Title IX opposes a fix to the problem at hand, for no evident reason other than pre-existing biases.