Women can play ‘feminine’ sport…is this really the answer?

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This week, Tory MP Helen Grant came out with the statement below regarding the development of women in sports:

“[Women] don’t have to feel unfeminine. There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.”

Ultimately her initial message was to encourage more women to enter into sporting activity, by giving them what they want. The above statement focussed around the statistic that half of school girls think sweating is unfeminine, so we need to provide them with options to look beautiful whilst exercising.

Where can I even begin?

Firstly the part of the statement that incenses me the most is that cheerleading is a suitable sport for girls because they can look pretty and don’t need to sweat. Clearly Helen Grant has never been to a cheerleading competition, and I would invite her to do so. As an ex-competitive cheerleader and coach, I  stress enough how uninformed her opinion of this sport is. Or how irritating it is to have someone with the ability to reach the media push cheerleading back another 5 years. For all those that cheer, they know it is an incredibly physically demanding sport combining gymnastics, dance and acrobatics. It involves very dangerous stunts, and across my years as a cheerleader I saw shins snap, concussions, a girl carried off in a stretcher from a neck injury, broken arms- you name it.

And you sweat. A 2.30 minute routine is exhausting and you need to be at a peak of personal fitness along with muscle conditioning and strength, whether in the air or the ground. Every cheerleader would like it to be seen as a sport in its own right, full of talented and skilled athletes and yes, even boys.

The other reason the statement irritates me, is especially for the men in cheerleading. There are some fantastic male cheerleaders, who are stronger than most average guys and are incredibly dedicated. This statement then writes the sport off for them as something they shouldn’t be doing as it’s too feminine.

If the issue is with school girls not wanting to sweat, then this needs to be addressed in the classrooms. Everybody sweats, girls don’t have miraculous pores, and this needs to be combatted, instead of offering ‘feminine’ and ‘easier’ sports. Cheerleading does involve make up, and big hair and huge smiles, but this is part of the showmanship, not an attempt to appear attractive. It is part of the act, as after all, sport is a form of entertainment. Trust me, half the time you’re smiling your pushing your body to the extreme and testing the limits of your skills as a team. It’s a skill in itself to maintain a ‘cheer face’ whilst  holding someone above your head, receiving copious amounts of bruises and withstanding impact from tosses.

Now, the articles covering these stories are posting pictures of girls running around with pom poms, which whilst it is a valuable part of cheer, only scratches the surface of what cheerleading is. Thankfully someone had the sense to speak to a cheerleader, Bianca London, who has also highlighted the dangerous aspect of the sport. Thank you Bianca for talking some sense.

As for ballet, having finished this sport when I was 12, I can’t really comment, but I do know of the intense training and conditioning of the body required for ballet. It’s a tough sport, and I imagine there’s similar anger in the ballet community. It may look beautiful, but there is definitely blood, sweat and tears poured into ballet also.

The video below is of one of the top UK teams, who deserve more recognition, for their time, dedication and representation of the sport for the UK all over the world. Hopefully this will make a point that the sport is neither ‘feminine’ nor ‘masculine’, but an amazing show of skill, talent and teamwork:

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