Rethinking How We Think about Cheerleaders
My 8-year-old keeps saying she wants to be a cheerleader, something The Mr. keeps routinely saying no to. And when he says no, you can hear it – there is an edge of disgust to his voice. The truth is, we have a lot of animosity towards cheerleaders, thanks in no small part to the ongoing media depiction of them as vapid, social climbing mean girls who just want to shake their booties in a short skirt and attract the attention of the star quarterback. And so many of us buy into it.
The Bestie is a cheerleader and I have watched her work hard to perfect her craft. She just spent months taking extra gymnastics classes to learn how to stick stunning acrobatic flips that could harm her body if she doesn’t perfect her technique. She has put in as much blood, sweat and tears as that star quarterback everyone lauds in the bleachers. And the truth is, many girls start their pursuit of cheerleading in the local gym long before their male counterparts ever think about walking onto that field. Gymnastics, dance lessons, running, stretching, conditioning – these are all a part of the behind the scenes life of a cheerleader.
Are some cheerleaders vapid social climbers? Yes. And some football players are dumb jocks and some band geeks are, well, geeks. But the truth is, that like any group of people, stereotypes are harmful and counterproductive. Cheerleaders are cheerleaders, but they are also sons and daughters and friends and siblings and cousins and students and and and. . . They are multidimensional people and it’s time we stopped perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Yes, even about cheerleaders.
So here are 2 must read books that help break down those harmful stereotypes about cheerleaders, both of which I am making sure The Bestie reads because we love and support her and think she’s awesome. I’m proud every day of who she is and all that she has accomplished, both as a cheerleader and as an amazingly complex young woman. And when they 8-year-old is old enough, she’ll be reading them too as we support her pursuit of her passion. If you have more books you would like to recommend, please add them in the comments.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston
This is one of my favorite books from last year. It presents a strong female friendship and a look at how we should respond when a girl is raped (as opposed to the awful ways people often actually respond). And it happens to feature an entire group of cheerleaders as strong, hard working, multi-dimensional people. This depiction of cheerleaders is one of my favorites because it highlights the sportsmanship and teamwork that goes into this sport.
Publisher’s Book Description
Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.
In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.
Moxie by Jennifer Matheiu
This book doesn’t come out until September of this year, but I have already read it and it is one of the best books 0f 2017 in my opinion. Moxie highlights a social revolution at a high school as the girls (and some boys) begin to realize how much toxic power certain groups of guys have at their school. They begin to stage a revolution calling out toxic masculinity, dress codes, and sexual harassment in their hallways. One of the characters is a cheerleader who becomes an important part of the movement and is presented as a fully fleshed out, complex and interesting character. Her peers eventually realize that the stereotypes they may hold about her are just that, harmful stereotypes.
Publisher’s Book Description:
An unlikely teenager starts a feminist revolution at a small-town Texan high school in the new novel from Jennifer Matheiu, author of The Truth About Alice.
MOXIE GIRLS FIGHT BACK!
Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.
Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.
Moxie is a book about high school life that will make you wanna riot!
Filed under: YALit
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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