Remind me why we still have NFL cheerleaders again? Oh, because women should have the choice to objectify themselves, while being treated with respect.
That was according to actual female feminists. I emphasize female because, according to my boyfriend, he was surfing the internet and came across a discussion during which the males stated it was time to get rid of the NFL cheerleaders, while the female feminists countered with choice feminism. He agreed with the men, FYI – NFL cheerleading is useless and degrading.
I wasn’t surprised when he told me this. I had a similar experience on a Facebook thread where any statement suggesting that NFL cheerleaders are part of the system that led to the harassment of Washington’s cheerleaders was countered with accusations of victim blaming. Interestingly, there were many men in this thread who believed that the NFL cheerleaders were objectifying and insulting to women, and although there were women who agreed with them, women were also the most staunch defenders the cheerleader’s right to choose to “self-objectify.” That phrase was actually used.
I get where the fears of victim blaming come from, but this is different from experiencing sexual harassment walking down the street, or drinking in a bar, or at work, and then being blamed for your own harassment.
NFL cheerleading is a specific kind of sexuality – thin, hairless, fake unnatural breasts, with clothes and poses specifically designed according to male pinup fantasies. It is not a natural sexuality, it is designed for men by men, and it is based on a sexuality which holds little respect for women. It is then supplemented by topless or almost topless photos of the cheerleaders created and designed as basically soft-porn for the men to consume, with the women as objects of their consumption.
When a woman “self-objectifies” into this system of sexuality, she does not deserve to be forced to perform any sexual act against her will. Many cheerleaders were shocked at the way they were treated and quit, particularly after male sponsors were allowed to attend a topless photo shoot. The problem is that women believe that they can “self-objectify” and yet still retain full control over their bodies.
Female objectification was not created to benefit women. It was created to benefit men, particularly men who like this type of sexuality, which infantilizes women while simultaneously exaggerating their sexuality. It is a purposefully designed sexuality that has only served to keep women in a semi-human status, and thus women will be treated accordingly.
Which is why it is time to ditch this type of sexuality, and thus time to ditch NFL cheerleaders. We did it with Grid Girls – so how can we defend the spectacle that is NFL cheerleading? I suspect that some feminists fear treading into victim blaming, and yet pointing out that women will never benefit from this type of sexuality, which will always be exploitative, is not victim blaming – it is correctly critiquing a very specific type of sexuality attached to female bodies.
My theory as to why the men were the main ones wanting to ditch the cheerleaders, while the women defended the cheerleaders’ “choice” to perform a degrading parody of sexuality while expecting to be treated like human beings, is that these men are not steeped in the liberal choice feminism that deludes women into thinking they can reclaim patriarchal versions of female sexuality.
I also wonder if it is hard for these women defending “choice” to admit that women may choose to participate, and enjoy participating in, activities such as NFL cheerleading, which are degrading to women. If this is the only version of female popularity and sexuality that women are given in society, then women who long for such attention will obviously turn to such activities – especially since liberal feminism has been feeding them the lie that it can be liberating, as long as it is a “choice.” Or perhaps these feminists don’t have the heart to tell these women that an activity they enjoy is actually bad for them and other women in society. Or perhaps they have given up on dismantling such a system of sexuality, and have instead have undertaken the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality.
If we are going to change the narrative of female sexuality, we need to rid society of harmful presentations of female sexuality such as NFL cheerleading, beauty pageants, etc. Second-wave feminism made this one of the main goals of the movement, but that all changed with the rise of neo-liberalism and the ascent of liberal feminism based on “choice” – that if is a choice, then it is never exploitative. I believe strongly that we CAN fight victim blaming, and thus rape culture, while simultaneously smashing degrading institutions such as beauty pageants and NFL cheerleading. In fact, we kind of have to, given that such institutions are an important part of dehumanizing women and thus contribute to rape culture – no matter how much “choice” is supposedly involved.