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Super Bowl Quiz: What does NFL “family” entertainment tell girls?

February 4, 2010 – 2:46 PM

By Katie Culver

Here’s a Super Bowl quiz question: Would you send your daughter to a football game in her underwear?

I wouldn’t. And yet, funny thing is, there’s women at every NFL football game in a close approximation of panties and bras. They just happen to be on the sidelines cheering — so does that mean it’s okay?

As a mom (and a football fan) who is raising children to believe they can be in the game, or at least relate to it, I’m disturbed by the skimpy cheerleader dress (or undress):

  • They are the most visible representation of women at the game. They are on the sidelines; they are cheering for an all-male team in the patriarchal sport of football.
  • Girls watching the game gravitate to the cheerleaders (most teams also have a “junior” cheer squad to capitalize) and the message they get is that their involvement in this multi-billion dollar, socially pervasive sport is limited to cheering on the sidelines, wearing inappropriate clothing. The subtext: Don’t bother competing because only your body is worth the attention.
  • Those at home get up-close views of these women before and after every commercial break, which reinforces women’s “place” at the game (never mind that the commercials we’ve just seen typically feature disturbing images of women behaving in stereotypically, demeaning ways).

The question about cheerleader dress in public might spur a comparison to the beach. Sure, people wear revealing attire to swim and it’s no big deal. The difference is that men and women alike are dressed to swim.

Then there’s quasi-feminist argument claiming that women who have beautiful bodies should be able to proudly display them. The problem? In a setting in which the men are not only fully-clothed, but extra clothed (with more undergarments than anyone else present) women are objectified, and the presence of cheerleaders—displaying this much of their bodies— just reinforces hegemonic notions of women’s status in society.

Why should my daughter think the only “place” for her on a football field is on the sidelines, nearly naked?

I am willing to budge: When TV cameras show fully-clothed female coaches, assistants, or trainers – I’ll reconsider. Until then, I’ll push for cover-ups for cheerleaders. In some cold weather venues, I bet they’ll snatch them right up.

Tampa Bay cheerleaders
  1. 4 Responses to “Super Bowl Quiz: What does NFL “family” entertainment tell girls?”

  2. To take this a step beyond cheerleading, I just found out about something called the Lingerie Football League. It is women playing football in panties and bras. I’m having a hard time not seeing this as denigration of women. Interestingly, the women who were interviewed and participating were enjoying themselves and said that if this was the only way that they could play football competitively, they wanted to do it.
    What do you think?

    By Davi-Ellen Chabner on Feb 7, 2010

  3. In response Ms. Chapner’s question, I think
    we don’t always see things as they are. More often than not, we see them as we are. So we should try not to be sinister in our interpretation of why a certain group of women choose to don underwear to play football, choose to wear makeup while playing sports or choose to become the next Bachelorette or SI cover girl. The bigger picture here is they were not afraid to take a risk (a common assumption is women are risk- averse), jump into the unknown and exercise their freedom to make choices. This birthright applies to both women and men equally. We may not always agree with choices people make but, in this instance,we can at least acknowledge the team’s courage to “try” regardless of how it may fly in the face of conventionality or out-lived social mores. Whether or not their choice was a frivolous one or simply an attention grabber, it’s not my place to say. They’re the ones who must assume responsibility and accept the consequences whatever they may be. Presently, they all seem to be enjoying themselves.

    By Sylvia Leeds on Feb 10, 2010

  4. I agree women and girls should be encouraged to be risk-takers, and this should not be considered against a social norm. What is troubling is that cheerleading and the lingerie football league establish that women can only take risks (or people will only take notice) if they take off their clothes as well. When women defend their choices to partake in such activities, they uphold the notion that their bodies matter more than their ability. Why can’t women play football in regular football gear? The truth is, they wouldn’t be taken seriously. And that is the problem. Risk-taking does not have to do with bearing all. I know many risk-taking, adventurous women who keep their clothes on while playing sports. Let’s support THEM.

    By Katie Culver on Feb 10, 2010

  5. I agree with what Ms. Leeds wrote. You see things through your beliefs, and therefore because YOU disagree with it, it’s wrong.

    I also get the sense, Ms. Culver, that there is a deeper issue with what you wrote-disagree with me or not-and that is, in its purest form, jealousy. Your post, and those of others, seems to be “If I can’t, then no one else should either.” “I don’t like it, therefore no one should do (insert activity here.) I seriously doubt that if you could be a NFL cheerleader, that you would feel this way.

    Instead of being judgmental about what others freely choose to do, you might want to consider building yourself up to a higher standard. Instead, with an article like this, you and those who “think” like you-try to make yourselves less unhappy by trying to bring others down to your misery level. Luckily, there are far more enlightened people than yourself, so your ideals will never advance much further than they do right now, and that’s a good thing,

    By Edward on Feb 13, 2010

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