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.

HELLO TO ALL THIS by Caroline Biggs

{To honor the struggle of getting to New York, I reached out to some of the most eccentric, entertaining, and ambitious women I know in this city—all of whom came from elsewhere and all of whom, despite their many differences, came with little more than the will to take on this terrifying but rewarding metropolis.}

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In 1957, as a child of ten, I visited NYC for the first time with my parents and my brother Michael.  (I was so excited I threw up in the train station.) I still remember the Rockettes at Radio City, the huge cigarette ad with real smoke in Times Square, and the view from the top of the Statue of Liberty.

In the mid-60s, my brother Michael studied art at Pratt and I would visit him whenever I could.  As the decades passed, I wandered from my hometown of Richmond, to Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and finally back to Richmond. I had been brought up to believe that if I was a religiously disciplined person I could overcome my creative, free-spirited nature.

At age 32, lost, I bottomed out on alcohol and drugs.  After being sober 9 years, I finally mustered the courage to move to NYC.  When I first arrived, I lived for a while in a women’s residence run by the Volunteers of America. Finding my way here was not easy, but today, over 20 years later, NYC is the home I had always been searching for–it just took me a long time to find it.  During these years, more than half my family has died (including my beloved Michael with whom I first experienced NYC).  As a result, I’ve had to reach out to others to teach me the full meaning of friendship.  Though I’m sure this can be accomplished anywhere, I found the help to become a whole person here.

I wish I could tell you that I have become wildly successful in a career, but that has not been my path. I have a rich, creative (and sober!) life.  What I value most is the people NYC has brought into my life.  My people.  My home.

{Maureen, Artist, from Richmond, Virginia, 20+ years in New York City.}
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 My first reading performance in New York was in the wake of an awful haircut. A terrible memory. His [hairstylist] name was Vincenzo; he had a thick accent I couldn’t quite place, and a nice smile that lit up his face, especially when he said things like, “You are so funny, you know?” Usually I ignore such obvious consumer traps, but I let this stranger have his way with me. Obviously he had great taste.

Unfortunately, good taste meant making me look like the prince from Spaceballs. My writing career, I decided, was over.

But when I arrived to the performance and watched the other readers, I became at ease. New York writers. Many of them had hair even shorter than mine, or should have because clearly they didn’t know how to manage it.  But their hairstyles or lack thereof didn’t really matter, I decided. Their stories were really good. I gave them a pass, and myself as well.

{Nedda, Writer, from Parsippany, New Jersey, 15+ years in New York}

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This is one instance in which I have been thankful for the oblivious naiveté of youth. The truth is: if I had known what I was in for, I’m not sure I would have made the same decision.

My first year of college at Barnard, all I seemed to hear about was the blissfully exciting time all of my fellow Berkeley High alums were having, scattered around the various universities of California. Except for those of us who, in the name of broadening horizons and getting as far away from family as possible (no, mom, the fact that I could do my laundry at home is not an incentive for me to go to Cal), decided to move to the east coast.

We were all miserable.

I had dreamed of going to school Back East ever since I was aware of higher education, heavily steeped as I was in romanticized tales of my parents’ ten-year period in Cambridge (before my time). I pictured myself at the top of a brick turret, curled up in a wingback chair with a cup of tea and Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy as a snowstorm raged outside. I failed to realize that just because San Francisco and New York are both liberal, urban, ocean-adjacent cultural centers didn’t mean that my new environment would be the Bay Area with weather.

I was wholly unprepared for the degree of culture shock. I felt like there was no one in the entire school who could ever understand me and no one had told me that snow in New York stops being charming after 3 hours when you’re trying to avoid lakes of brown sludge wearing beat-up converse.

But the benefit of being 3,000 miles from home was that I couldn’t run away. Separated from the default opinions absorbed from the environment in which I grew up, I was forced to establish and redefine those values for myself. Then it was possible to find people I could connect with and discover the indefinable moments of sublime experience that only a city like New York seems to conjure.

Also, it helps to buy snow boots.

{Elisa, Graphic Designer, from Berkeley, California, 7+ years in New York}

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My first attempt to move to New York was naive. After less than a month in the city, I found myself back in Kansas and living with my parents. Depressed but determined, I vowed to get whatever dismal job I could, spend nothing, and count the days until I could return to what I’d come to believe was the best place anyone might go.

While job searching, I saw an ad in the paper looking for anyone available for travel and willing to ride an ostrich. Out of curiosity, I called the number. Less than a week later, I found myself in California, working for a traveling animal show. Three times a day, my task was to jump on to the back of an ostrich and try to hold on while it tore around a race-track. I stayed on the bird only once and crashed into the dirt every other time. While painful, I thought this was only fair, as the ostrich likely wasn’t interested in the race to begin with.

A month in, I landed wrong (elbow-first) and broke my arm. I hung up my racing silks and happily retired. By that time I’d saved enough money to rent a room in Bed-Stuy [Brooklyn]. Arm in a sling with a suitcase of clothes and books, I went to Brooklyn, where I remain. It seems appropriate to have done such a strange thing in order to live in such a strange place.

{Jodi, 25, Writer, from Wichita, Kansas, 5+ years in New York}

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In high school, I felt incredibly compelled to study in New York and explore my then recreational interest in fashion. Unbeknownst to my parents (and without a visit to neither New York nor the campus), I sent out my early decision application to NYU.

After being accepted to NYU’s Stern Business School program and courses began, I immediately picked up an internship with Marie Claire magazine’s fashion department and a part time job with a small boutique in the Meatpacking District. It was important for me to balance out the business curriculum with fashion-related outlets that motivated me to move to New York in the first place.

Come graduation, I had interned at Marie Claire, AEFFE USA and COSMOGirl! while holding onto my retail job. I also volunteered for NYU’s Fashion Business Association during school.

When I was referred by an editor to join the start-up fashion website StyleCaster in 2008, I seized the opportunity and over the next three years moved up the ladder from fashion assistant to style and market editor. Recently, I joined the BULLETT Media team as their fashion market editor contributing to both their print and online outlets.

{Janice, 25, Fashion Market Editor, from Wilmette, Illinois, 5+ years in New York}

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Although I’d been to New York City at least once a year for my entire life, I guess I’d have to say that the first time I really came to the City was when I was 17 and moving into my freshman year dorm at Barnard College.  I was torn because I had left a boy and countless friends behind in Ohio and had those feelings of despair and certain doom that only a 17-year-old can muster – that feeling that the world is completely and utterly over, when in reality, it was only just beginning.

On that first move-in day I arrived early with my aunt (a Barnard alumna herself) and painstakingly unpacked my things.  At about 3:30 in the afternoon she left and I tried to pretend that I was calm, even though I was utterly terrified and alone.  My roommate still hadn’t shown up, so on top of everything else, I was nervous to meet her.  All of a sudden this amazing ball of energy burst into the room and introduced herself as Neeti, gave me a huge hug, and said how excited she was that we were going to be roommates.  I breathed a sigh of relief until about 10 more Indian people showed up at the door, all talking to and over each other at about a mile a minute.  Neeti’s mother insisted on calling me Sarah and asked me repeatedly to take photographs of the family as they moved Neeti in (just shy of missing the deadline, which I came to learn was typical).

Then, as if by magic, Neeti’s family members disappeared and we were left alone in that little room we shared on the 4th floor of Sulzberger.  Little did we know that that day would commence the start of a friendship that is still as integral to our lives as it was that first year when we were staying up all night studying, not cleaning our room, and chasing after boys in Butler Library.  To me, New York City is nothing without the people there with you, and my experience certainly got started on the right foot. 

{Amanda, 25, Co-Editor [ReVisionist], from Westerville, Ohio, 8+ years in New York}

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I got to New York with 2 suitcases, an almost dead cell-phone, and $11.  The first suitcase— “hot pink with polka-dots!!” as my roommate (and ride from La Guardia) always emphasizes when recalling our first meeting—was filled with my archives; my archives being the pieces in my wardrobe (i.e. bags, shoes, dresses, tights) that I would NEVER entrust to FedEx when shipping the rest of my closet.  The second contained a twin-sized air mattress, an air pump, a pillow, and a blanket—the items that would comprise my entire “bedroom” for my first month in the city. Technically, I had $25 to my name when I got off of the plane, but after realizing I had left my charger in Chicago mid-flight, I was forced to pay the ridiculously inflated airport-markup for a universal charger (from that budget-Sharper Image store, no less) and was left with just over ten bucks to last me the week.

I remember pulling up to my apartment in Harlem the first time.  Let me tell you–I don’t care where you come from—even with the Hudson River as your backyard, seeing Harlem the first time will scare the shit out of you. Despite having visited the city countless times before—you never really look at it how you would when you know it’s home. How on earth was I in Manhattan without a Sephora within walking distance? I hate Starbucks but I at least like knowing it’s around the corner, which at 141st and Broadway, it is not. What the f— is a bodega?

I thought living in Chicago, without a car or a central grocery store, was more than ample preparation for New York. It wasn’t. And the truth is, going on two years later, everyday is a manifestation of that first day here: me, broke, with my archives, and New York. And unlike Chicago, I was finally in the city I had always dreamed of—and part of learning the ropes in this city is discerning that almost everyone here struggles in some form or the other. The bodega on the corner, where I do all of my grocery shopping, considers me a fixture—they worry and ask around the block when I’ve been gone too long. $5 morning coffees have been replaced with Café Bustelo and a stovetop percolator that is so embedded in my morning routine—I often forget to the put the espresso in it. Sephora is reserved for trips downtown, which I take almost daily, and can afford to because I live in Harlem. [Which is still Manhattan proper, mind you—and really, all I’ve ever dreamed of.]

{Yours Truly, 28, Editor [ReVisionist], from Derby, Kansas, 1+ years in New York}

{ xx }

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