"Cheerleading was too masculine for women": How today"s bare midriffs and pom-pom waving was once a male sport


'Cheerleading was too masculine for women': How today's bare midriffs and pom-pom waving was once a male sport

|

UPDATED:

16:02 GMT, 22 March 2012

Cheerleaders, with their micro-minis, tight mid-riff baring sweaters and iconic pom-poms, have been impressing male fans and rousing excitement among eager sports spectators in America for decades.

But the half time show of a professional football game that these days centres around a group of scantily clad women writhing and waving their toned arm in the air to the beats of the latest number one hit, was once a strictly male-only arena.

In fact in the late Thirties, the job was deemed too 'masculine' for women whose appropriation of slang and loud shouting was seen as unfeminine.

It's a man's world: In 1924 cheerleading was a male-dominated job as exemplified by these Columbia University students, and was seen as 'valiant' and unsuitable for women

It's a man's world: In 1924 cheerleading was a male-dominated job as exemplified by these Columbia University students, and was seen as 'valiant' and unsuitable for women

Come on fellas! It wasn't until World War I that women were afforded the opportunity to fill the shoes of the absent cheerleaders who had gone to battle

Come on fellas! It wasn't until World War I that women were afforded the opportunity to fill the shoes of the absent cheerleaders who had gone to battle

The concept of cheering a team evolved in the 1880's, according to The Society Pages, when it took form as a morale boosting set of stunts, gymnastics and rallying cries led by men.

Cheering was a 'valiant' sport, one that required strength, leadership and athletic wherewithal; qualities that were not seen as pertaining to women.

Being a cheerleader in those days was an honour almost as coveted in high school or college as that of being on the team itself and certainly as respected.

As publication Nation noted in 1911: 'The reputation of having been a valiant “cheer-leader” is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college. As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of having been a quarterback.'

A Yale cheerleader

A 1937 male cheerleader

Too masculine Being a cheerleader for men in the Twenties and Thirties was as respected as being the quarterback himself and a role that many past American presidents played

Some of America's most famous leaders, in fact, owe their political achievements to time spent noisily stirring up excitement on the sidelines of their college sporting events.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan were all cheerleaders as well as actor Jimmy Stewart and Republican leader Tom DeLay.

It wasn't until World War I forced the men to the battlefields that women were given the opportunity to step into their cheerleading shoes. And they had to fight for the right to keep them on until long after the Second World War.

In 1938, one opponent argued: '[Women cheerleaders] frequently became too masculine for their own good… we find the development of loud, raucous voices… and the consequent development of slang and profanity by their necessary association with [male] squad members…'

Unfeminine These days, professional level cheerleading teams are dominated by scantily clad women dancing to the latest chart-topping hits

Unfeminine These days, professional level cheerleading teams are dominated by scantily clad women dancing to the latest chart-topping hits

But by the 1950's women were dominating the half time shows and sideline antics, their pom-poms and broad smiles replacing the gritty stunts and injuries of the past.

'Cheerleading in the sixties consisted of cutesy chants, big smiles and revealing uniforms,' reported Society Pages. 'There were no gymnastic tumbling runs. No complicated stunting. Never any injuries. About the most athletic thing sixties cheerleaders did was a cartwheel followed by the splits.'

These days, although cheerleading on the professional level continues to evolve, from the 'stomp n shake' squads to complex dance routines, teams are mostly made up of slender, able-bodied women who attract the attention of male fans.

In high school where gymnastics prevail in a more competitive environment and where tournaments are held between squads, boys are often needed to help throw their female counterparts into the air and support the pyramid formations and teams are therefore often co-ed.