The Importance of Male Athletes in Cheerleading

by Janelle H.

Long since the days of cheering other athletes to victory, cheerleaders no longer sit on the sidelines. Performing flawless dances, powerful gymnastic passes and creative lifts and tosses, cheerleading has become one of the most exciting up and coming sports. The biggest news in cheerleading is that in December 2016, cheerleading was given provisional status as an Olympic sport. This news has turned the cheerleading world upside down. Normally the largest competition is held in Orlando, Florida every year and now, cheerleaders may finally have a chance to show their talents on the Olympic stage. If the petition to make cheerleading an official Olympic sport is approved, then Canada will be looking for Olympians, and since teams are often comprised of as many as 25 people, we will need a lot of them.

Any cheerleader will be able to tell you that the best teams are the teams that have an even mix of male and female participants. Although central Canada is doing fairly well at finding male athletes, more rural areas are having a hard time. Unfortunately New Brunswick is one the places in Canada struggling the hardest, with the majority of teams being all girl, and if the team is considered co-ed, it generally means there is one to two boys on the team.

This stereotype that cheerleading is a feminine sport develops early. Arguably, as early as the gender reveal. At baby showers, people tend to give male babies gifts oriented towards sports that are stereotypically male like hockey or football, whereas females receive the ballet slippers or in this case, the pom poms. Since it is more socially acceptable to encourage females to join cheerleading, they get the advantage of starting training much earlier than the male athletes that generally start in their late teenage years. Although women train longer, male athletes are almost always guaranteed a spot on a team because there is such a high demand, and so few athletes.

It is often thought that male cheerleaders are extremely feminine; however, recent research indicates that because of this stereotype, male cheerleaders generally feel, “the need to project a heterosexual image” ¹, and therefore act extra masculine. Therefore, to dispel the stereotype that male cheerleaders are overly feminine, many male cheerleaders are now some of the most masculine acting athletes. To prove themselves as masculine many male cheerleaders work hard to prove that they are the strongest or most reckless members of the team, making them assets for not only lifts but also gymnastics pass sections.

In conclusion, this notion that cheerleading is a feminine sport must be dispelled. Regardless of how male cheerleaders act, they are an asset to all teams. Urban areas have realised this and are doing a great job of encouraging male participation, but here in New Brunswick, we are failing. With provisional status as an Olympic sport, cheerleading can open up a world of opportunity for male athletes. So next time you are headed to a baby shower for a baby boy, be different, give him the pom poms. Who knows, you may be creating an Olympian.

¹ Bemiller, M. (2005). Men who cheer. Sociological Focus, 38(3), 205-222. Retrieved from https://login.proxy.hil.unb.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.hil.unb.ca/docview/60021165?accountid=14611

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Eating Disorders in Males and Male Athletes: Their Secret Disease?

By Lucy P.

The focus of eating disorders in sports has predominantly revolved around women athletes, with males being pushed aside and therefore in danger of being missed (Baum, 2006). Perhaps this is because of the influential media demands of the idealistic woman, or the sexualisation surrounding women’s sports? As discussed in class, males are not always encouraged to express their emotions, but over exaggerate their masculinity. Reported in a recent study it showed few males report eating disorders or find other excuses for them as opposed to what they really are (Nelson, 2014). It is unfortunate that men still feel isolated to conform to such a specific stereotype, despite the numerous resources for health, emotions and equality.

Growing up in today’s generation, there are so many stereotypical pressures to live up to it becomes impossible to satisfy society. Males, and specifically male athletes feel obliged to live up to the masculine, strong and powerful ideology that has been created for a ‘real man’.

These stereotypes are embedded in boys from a young age. They are taught to be ‘rough and tough’, whereas in reality, it is only oppressing emotions and acceptance of their individuality. Unfortunately, the culture we are surrounded by does not think there are barriers to be broken in male sports, but yet, male athletes would still rather suffer in silence, and question their denial of eating disorders with things such as, is there something wrong with me? Does it mean I am girly? Is this affecting my masculinity? (Nelson, 2014).

I don’t think anyone who has participated in sports can deny the physical and mental demands of an elite/professional athlete. Continuously being surrounded by coaches or parents telling you that you can do better or work harder; opponents that can still somehow beat you. It becomes almost second nature to believe that the sacrifice to be the best athlete will outweigh any struggle along the way. This now, common mentality is perpetuating eating disorders as normality to meet weighs in, fitness testing and body conditioning regulations. A study stated that males are more susceptible in comparison to their counterparts, as women are naturally lighter and smaller, therefore male athletes have to go to greater lengths to achieve their goal weight or body image (Baum, 2006).

Another source imposing influence would be the endless media demands, unrealistic body images of superhuman strong men making every headline, magazines and commercials furthermore prompting eating disorders with the need to look a certain way. It is so evident that women undergo the media’s expectations, but why is it that society thinks that men don’t experience the same social and cultural pressures? The media not only creates an image for the ‘perfect’ female, but also this fantasy that male athletes are untouchable, and god like, which promotes their physical and sexual appeal, but demoralizes any other characteristic. In an article by Jackson Katz, he highlighted a very valid point – that men do feel pressures, men have less access to more abstract forms of masculine validating power, like economic or work place authority, so the physical body and it’s potential creates a concrete means of asserting manhood. (Katz, 2011).

Societies fighting against traditional norms and becoming more accepting of equal status has been significant within the last decade, yet there are still underlying issues that go unnoticed. More so from a males perspective as there is constant review of females equality and influences. With constant resistance from male athletes, pressure from coaches and stereotypes, together they create a serious health risk that may be life threatening (NEDA, 2015). There remains significant stigma surrounding psychiatric illness in the athletic arena, and perhaps more so still among male athletes (Baum, 2006). I hope that as we continue to resist the norms and break the barriers for equality, that male pressures and influences will also be recognised as much as women’s. Because in the end, are we not all fighting to conquer the same cultural differences together? Women want to be seen as equal counterparts in sports, so why can’t men be allowed to feel the same pressures and influences of society?

References

NEDA. (2015). Athletes and Eating Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/athletes-and-eating-disorders

Katz, J. (2011). Unexpected social pressures in males. Retrieved from http://www.wstudies.pitt.edu/blogs/msf31/unexpected-social-pressures-males

Nelson, J. (2014). Male athletes and eating disorders. Retrieved from http://globalsportsdevelopment.org/athletes-eating-disorders/

Baum, A. (2006). Eating disorders in the male athlete. Sports Medicine, 36(1), 1-6.

The Political is Personal

Jamie Willar

We are rapidly entering an era where is it becoming more and more acceptable to be openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, questioning, and two-spirited. Members from the trans community are also making gains in terms of rights and representation; recently a hotline specializing in trans issues has even opened in Canada. Whereas there is progress being made for ensuring equal and equitable rights, there is still some backlash from pockets of society.

Whenever a professional athlete decides to come out of the closet (or to publically disclose their LGBTQ status), there are definitely mixed reactions from different segments of society. From the LGBTQ community, there is definitely jubilation. Representation in different institutions is a very important thing for all minorities, whether they are racialized or gender & sexual minorities. Queer youth need role models as well, and having ‘out’ athletes helps to inform queer youth that professional sports are open to them if they so want. Representation is about tearing down barriers for entry. When said barriers are torn down, there is more room for people to exercise their agency; there is more freedom because there are more viable options for careers, leisure, recreation, hopes, and aspirations. The world discloses itself to us by means of the choices we have. For most of my life and a good part of my adult life, I never thought that marriage would be an option for me. In 2005, Canada made gay marriage universally legal, and codified the constitutional right for gays to marry. An option that I never thought I would have has been readily available to me for the last several years, should I choose to act on it. Similarly, queer youth with a penchant for athleticism need to know that professional sports are an option for them as well; they do not have to choose to be who they are and having a career in a sport they are passionate about.

Potential backlash is a serious deterrence for athletes who may wish to come out. There is still social stigma associated with being LGBQT because there are harmful stereotypes associated with being as such. A gay man, who otherwise identifies as masculine may feel that masculinity as compromised because of the stereotypes surrounding gay men and effeminate mannerisms. Likewise, otherwise feminine women may feel like they will be stereotyped as ‘plaid-wearing’, ‘butch’ lesbians. When the entire purpose of coming out is to take command of one’s self-identity on one’s own terms, the stigma surrounding harmful stereotypes acts as an antithesis; one takes command of their self-identity only to be found powerless again when teammates, media, and society at large proliferates these harmful stereotypes. It takes the empowering aspect of coming out and attempts to negate it. The result is that far less athletes choose to come out, and instead remain silent. That is certainly their choice—but if a choice is heavily informed by the negative repercussions, the ‘goal posts’ have be moved by outside forces. The choice has been severely constricted. The second wave of feminism coined the phrase “the personal is political”—meaning that events that transpire in personal lives have a legitimate presence in the public arena. Likewise, the political is also personal: disruptive and harmful dialogues can have an extraordinary effect on people’s lives.