In response to a news item on AOL about proposed ban in Texas on "sexy" high school and college cheerleading:
American athletics are a bizarre mix of Edwardian notions of health and purity, mid-century Dionysian hedonism and postmodern consumer culture. Cheerleading used to be a male province: peppy yet manly young fellows in sweaters with megaphones encouraging otherwise staid crowds to raise their voices in support of the Team. Later, co-eds, in similarly wholesome attire performed in quasi-military excercises for the same purpose: it's remarkable to note that cheerleading squads didn't become a regular feature of American High School life until the 1950's, when female athleticism, with its uncomfortable taint of lesbianism and gender transgression, was downplayed in favor of less threatening and more ornamental pursuits. Since then, the African-American community, the mainstreaming of erotica in American media, queer theory, and feminism have all left their mark. Now that the pendulum has swung back towards restraint, let's take a look at what we're dealing with.
At base, we have young women whose bodies are at the ideal age to reproduce, packaged and displayed in such a way as to evoke both sexual readiness and erotic innocence. (A cheerleader, in the popular mind, might neck and pet with her affianced, but she would never be a sexually frigid divorced single mother of two, a happily mated lesbian, or lustily turning tricks at a massage parlor, Debbie Does Dallas notwithstanding.) There's a certain suspension of belief operating here: although they may be displaying large amounts of leg, breast, and buttock, high-kicking, turning cartwheels, doing splits, piling in pyramids, and posing provocatively, the assumption is that the girls really don't know what's happening under their true love's jockstrap (or in Daddy's shorts), what those pelvic gyrations are really used for (other than horseback riding), or what that funny feeling really is that they're getting where they get their period. (Indeed, since many classic cheerleading moves would not have been out of place at a 'parlor show' in a bordello, the only reason why girls of good report can do this is because this is in public as part of a 'family' spectacle.) Since, at that age, their erotic responsiveness is not yet fully developed, and part of the whole idea of higher education is to delay childbearing in favor of readying young folk for careers, this has been a fairly equitable agreement, allowing whatever latent homoerotic impulses that have been built up watching well-developed virile young men in quasi-warfare to be safely discharged at halftime in an a wholesomely heterosexual manner.
However, we live in an age where most young people have seen Madonna grab her crotch, heard Britney Spears warble about the joys of sado-masochism, and have been exposed to urban African-American culture, where motherhood often comes before full adulthood, not at its peak, and sexual naivite is often a weakness, not a strength. It is difficult to maintain both the polite fiction that nothing sexual is going on, and that these are merely healthy, intelligent young women putting on an athletic display. Nor would it be easy, when all's said and done, to jam the squirming cat back in the bag.
However, I believe that legislation is pursuing the wrong angle. Given the nature of the beast, it would be next-to-impossible to mandate whether, say, a routine done with Hula-Hoops was not "erotic" or an adaptation of an African dance (originally meant to train the body, not only for battle, but the pleasurable conception of new warriors) was merely intended as an "ethnic" piece. Perhaps it means that the time has come to define cheerleading in terms of a period of lost innocence, the way that barbershop quartet singing is, or Gilbert & Sullivan, or to split the field into two (or more) differing styles. (Clearly, no one expects the women associated with professional teams, such as the Dallas Cowboys, to be virginal.) I cannot say. But I hope I've clarified things.