05 November 2010

Science cheerleaders

This is going to be a tough post to write. Nobody likes admitting, “I’m a close-minded bigot.”

But I think that’s how I’ve been about cheerleading.

I despise everything cheerleading represents. I hate how it’s about looking a certain way. I hate its reinforcement of conformity. I hate the encouragement of macho bullshit that makes up so much of sport. I hate the crass sexism of women on the sidelines. I hate the sexualization surrounding cheerleading, with all the creepy “barely legal” overtones. And I hate how much it reminds me and represents the harsh social stratification, and in some cases ostracism, that occurs in schools.

Cheerleading makes me gag.

Yeah. I have issues.

So this article and the video below leave me feeling utterly conflicted.

I’ve written about the need to have science “fans” in the ways that sports has “fans.” We scientists need evangelists, and I don’t doubt for one second that these women are wonderful evangelists.

My head and heart get the video, and what Randy Olson writes about them, like this:

There are A LOT of professional cheerleaders who are seriously interested in science and other STEM stuff. And when you watch this little video we made you see the women aren’t just vaguely connected with science careers — they are the real deal.

In each of the interviews the women also told their personal stories of discrimination, harassment and even abuse for being cheerleaders. We didn’t want to drag this first video down with the heaviness of their stories. But we will, eventually, make use of that material. They have fascinating stories which are not the least bit predictable.

Even though the whole concept of cheerleading still makes my guts churn.

Call me a bigot on this one. I probably deserve it. I’ll try to be better about it in the future.


Nance said...

A genius attempt to turn pre-conception on its head, but I don't think the causes of science or feminism will be advanced one iota. Let's see, how would that go...? "OMG, I want to be a Science Cheerleader when I grow up, Mom!

"Great, honey! Science is fascinating and the world needs more scientists"

"No, Mom, I just want to be a cheerleader and jump around and have long, straight hair and get to be really pretty!"

Science Cheerleader said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don't think you're a bigot in the least bit. I do think it's important to recognize these women are more than just evangelists. They are indeed scientists and engineers. And, right or wrong, as Nance mentioned, many young women aspire to be cheerleaders. Having the most successful cheerleaders (professional cheerleaders) talk to these girls about the importance of science and engineering--and why they are so passionate about their science careers--is incredibly powerful. It's too early to tell but, Nance, I've got to say, this initiative is likely to advance the cause of science.
And, I'll admit, I used the cheerleaders as a means of arousal (borrowing a term from Randy Olson) to "turn people onto science." Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find so many scientists and engineers among them. That's when the focus of this project shifted dramatically to one that enables these women to be more than evangelists--to be role models and to help shatter stereotypes.
Thanks again for your valuable comments.

Zen Faulkes said...

Yes, that they show the real academic chops is one reason why they are such great evangelists.

Anonymous said...

I share your pain. Discrimination for those that are antidiscrimination is never comfortable.

But you are spot on about the negative implications of the sports version of cheerleader. It is not a positive concept and your criticisms are valid. As with any such discussion, the fact that some individuals did cheerleading and came out to have brilliant lives of the mind and are empowered and all that crap is irrelevant. The question is whether on average it is a social force for good or evil and whether the same goals could easily be accomplished by other means. Say, gymnastics teams.

Looking forward to Christian Gheyhating BoyScouts for science....

Unknown said...

Hey, I know there is a lot of controversy recently surrounding this, and I wanted to say your post shows your very straight forward honest feeling about the issue, and I appreciate that.

Mike said...

Cheerleaders are suppose to be a form of entertainment. Science is more factual and is a learning experience. We did have Bill the science guy. He was in a way a poster boy to a cool way of looking at science.