I’m not a bad feminist just because I’m also a cheerleader

It’s not like it is in cheesy movies

As a feminist, there are a few key things I want to see achieved sooner rather than later: ensuring that women have the opportunity to pursue absolutely any path we want to, that we have an equal playing field on which to do so and that we can enjoy this freedom without judgement, regardless of the choice we make.

While I ordinarily think of achieving these in much larger terms, on a global scale, I truly believe it is just as important to practice such beliefs in every aspect of my life, right down to the seemingly most menial of activities. For me, that’s cheerleading – something which many people seem to think paints me as ditzy and uninformed.

As a cheerleader, I’ve heard multiple variations of the following sentence far too many times:“No offence, but is that not a bit hypocritical? Being a cheerleader and a feminist I mean”.

One of cheerleading’s main criticisms is that it perpetuates inequality; girls cheer for boys but boys don’t cheer for girls. The aspect of cheerleading most commonly recognised owing to its representation in popular culture. You know the idea, the one you’ve seen in countless cheesy teen movies – women stand at the sidelines of a male-dominated game, shaking pompoms and smiling. For many, that represents much of what feminism rejects: an unhealthy emphasis on female appearance and inferiority.

But it also ignores another huge part of feminism and equality – the idea of women having the right to do what they enjoy not only without judgement, but with the support of both males and females alike. The cheerleaders who support and perform at various matches week in, week out are there because they enjoy it and have chosen to do so. At my university, Bristol, there have been both female American footballers and male cheerleaders; what you partake in really is a matter of choice.

Women supporting one another is a crucial component in feminism. Unfortunately, a common expectation is that cheerleaders are are mean to other girls, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In pretty much every TV show or film that portrays a cheerleader and a mean girl they are one and the same, roaming the school just to make the lives of other girls miserable. Obviously if this were true, being a cheerleader and feminist would be very difficult.

But it has no basis in reality. I have experienced so much support, encouragement and loyalty from other cheerleaders and as a result feel more confident and self-assured than ever before. I am currently on my year abroad and coincidentally met a cheerleader from another university- we had only good things to say about other teams. At competitions, our routines are always cheered for and complimented by others and wishes of good luck are distributed without even a second thought.

Rather than the catty, bitchy display so many seem to think it is, the cheerleading world is really one dripping in encouragement and empowerment which I have no doubt extends far beyond the mat and permeates the everyday lives of the girls who experience it. Feminism seeks independence, empowerment and respect. Taking part in cheerleading does not deny these traits to any woman; if anything, it promotes them.

Ultimately,though, it’s just not OK to make girls feel guilty or ashamed of something as subjective as the sport they enjoy, and it’s really as simple as that. While feminism often requires us to challenge the status quo, we achieve nothing by making women feel guilty about something which genuinely makes us happy in the first place in order to do so.

Being a cheerleader and a feminist is not like flipping a coin. You don’t have to be either heads or tails; you can beboth and, after two years of doing exactly that, I can confirm that it’s actually worked out pretty well.