Cheerleading can break down sexist barriers in schools, study says

Give me an E! Give me a Q! Give me a U! Give me an A-L-I-T-Y! What do we have? Equality!

This could be a schoolyard cheerleading chant of the future, according to academics from the University of East Anglia (UEA), who are calling for the activity to be taught in mixed classes.

Esther Priadharshani and Amy Pressland, both of the university’s school of education, are claiming that cheerleading – with its de rigueur uniform of short skirts and glittery pom-poms – in fact has the potential to bring down sexist barriers in schools.

“With many sports, the focus often ends up being on who is the fastest or the strongest,” Dr Pressland said. “Cheerleading is a very physical and potentially dangerous activity, where skill is just as important as strength.”

Their study, published in the journal Sport in Society, points out that girls tend to drop out of sporting activities between the ages of 14 and 16. But, she said, if girls and boys continue to play sport together as their bodies change, they become less self-conscious about those changes. “It’s not going to be as big a deal,” she said.

And, she added, mixed participation in cheerleading would encourage teamwork and respect between the sexes. Because of the potential hazards of the sport, cheerleading team-mates tended to rally around one another.

Cheerleading has grown in popularity in Britain in recent years, with increasing numbers of schools offering the activity in PE lessons.

But the academics emphasised that the mere existence of mixed-sex cheerleading teams would not be enough to correct all the gender stereotypes in the sport. Therefore, they called on coaches, teachers and professional associations to consider how the activity can be promoted in schools.

“It seems imperative to consider how the sport can be shaped in socially progressive ways,” Dr Pressland said. “Cheerleading is very much viewed as an activity for girls.”

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