“TRADITIONAL cheerleaders – and their knee-high boots and short skirts -…” is the sentence Josh Massoud of The Daily Telegraph chose to open his report detailing Raelene Castle’s decision to modify the role of Bulldogs cheerleaders.
In other words, “knee-high boots and short skirts” is what a leading Rugby League journalist considers the traditional role of cheerleaders.
Can we really be surprised based on this appraisal that Castle is trying to change their perception?
I have seen uproar on Twitter about the ridiculousness of scrapping cheerleaders because they do a lot for their clubs, and that I would agree with. But their ability to support their club both on and off the field is scantly related to whether they are wearing knee-high boots and a short skirt or not.
Massoud reports that “pre-match and half-time performances are set to be abandoned in favour of off-field work, such as hospital visits, corporate entertainment and further education”, but Castle states that these women will still “be doing cheerleading at the game, they will still have pompoms”, but will also be given other opportunities and “professional evolution”.
Castle even explicitly states that these female ambassadors will go through the same community and learning programs as everyone else in the club.
The question is, why can’t these women do all of these things and still dance in short skirts if that is what they want to do? Because that is what feminism and empowerment is about: doing what you want to do and what you believe is important, wearing whatever you want while you do it.
Perhaps it is because when women’s space is expanded in this game, leading journalists introduce cheerleader characters based on their aesthetic qualities. Massoud did not write “Traditional cheerleaders – and their pre-match and halftime dance routines”. He wrote “…and their knee-high boots and short skirts”.
Because he is a journalist. It is his job to choose his words carefully and concisely. It is those words that dictate how a story is framed and perceived by the public. He chose to present these women as a mere spectacle in the opening sentence of his article.
Raelene Castle is trying to shift this perception. They are cheerleaders with pompoms, but they are also ambassadors for her club. She wants them to not only be professional, but to be seen by others as professional.
Unfortunately, if cheerleaders are seen merely for their physical merits and sexual attractiveness, this is a shift she cannot trigger until we disassociate these traits from their off-field work.
People are right. Cheerleaders – and women in general – should be able to experience professional evolution despite what they wear in particular settings. And I hope that one day they can.
But it will take far more than one decision from one club. This isn’t a footy problem. This is a people problem.
There are people in this game who see women as irrelevant. I have seen and heard it myself. It has been directed at my mother. It has been directed at me. Sometimes it is subtle and ideological. And sometimes it is explicit and downright offensive.
Raelene Castle is not the bad guy. She is not limiting, she is enabling. In all fairness, this might not work. But she is clearly aware that a problem exists, and as a good CEO should do, she is trying something new in an attempt to fix it.
Short skirts or not, these ambassadors will be there on game day. They will be taking part in off-field club initiatives. They will be as much a part of the Bulldogs empire as anyone else. They will be included.
Their space is expanding, and with any luck perceptions will change, and that is an exciting thing.
Short skirts or not.
Ladies who League