I hate cheerleaders. Or at least I thought I did. I am a feminist after all and feminists hate cheerleaders. They are the epitome of what we fight against. The female faces of objectification. They stand on the sidelines, all aglitter in tiny shorts and crop tops, ponytails bobbing, fake smiles pasted to their faces, cheering on men, while men play and strategize and score points. The cheerleaders are the entertainment while the men are the main attraction. But just recently, my attitude toward cheerleading has begun to soften. I am still a feminist. I would still like to see more women compete in sports. But I also realize that though I never wear a crop top and my hair is too short to wear in ponytail, I too am a cheerleader. It may not be on AstroTurf, but much of my day is spent cheering on others, hoping and praying they score a touchdown. Let’s begin with the most obvious—my husband.
Twenty-seven years ago when we exchanged our I do’s, in my feminist’s eye, I naively saw a marriage of complete and utter equality. My father once sarcastically asked if we both had to wash our own dish and fork after each dinner. I wasn’t quite that extreme, but I did see our union as a marriage of equals, but then along came kids. First one, then two, then three and then, yes, four. His career soared. My career fizzled. But I was so happy for him. He worked harder than anyone I knew. He deserved it. So I cheered from the sidelines as he scored touchdown after touchdown. Not only did he not share in the dish washing, he didn’t know where the dish detergent was located. I would have my day, I reasoned. And then he would cheer me on. But I kept cheering him and then the kids. Each first, each cheerio, each tooth, each step, gold star, trophy, graduation. I joined Team Motherhood, the hardest working group I have ever huddled with. I cheered even more when there were losses, propping them up when they were down, encouraging everyone to keep going. When they struggled and stumbled and fumbled the ball, I kept a fake smile pasted to my face and screamed louder, pretending all the while, they were just steps away from a win. I cheered on friends and family too as they ventured out, wavered, transitioned and struggled in their own ways. While I screamed my throat raw, sometimes I collapsed at night into bed as exhausted as if I’d completed a double full basket move.
When the time came for me to embark on my writing journey, I was sure I would never make the cut. But I knew how to cheer, so I began by softly reciting my own to get me on the field. And then I heard the roar of louder voices behind me. Give me an L. And I started writing. Give me an E. I sent in my manuscript to an editor. Give me an S. I revised and revised. Give me an A. I sold it and started all over again. What have you got—Lesa! Each and every one of their cheers, my husband’s included, helped me put my own points on the scoreboard.
It wasn’t just me and my strength and resolve and fortitude that were racing through those goalposts. It was the cheers from my squad of family, friends and yes, my kids, that were propelling me forward. I did much of the work, trained hard, studied the plays (forgive the metaphors, but the Super Bowl is just around the corner), strapped on my helmet and cleats, but it was those cheers from the same folks I cheered from the sidelines that helped me to sprint all the way downfield. It was then that I realized I don’t hate cheerleaders. How could I? The cheering business is not for the faint hearted. They are a tireless group that makes you feel like an All Star when you are batting like a Little Leaguer. Just maybe, it’s the cheering from those screaming, pony tailed acrobats that help to win games.
Have a tryout. Pick your squad. Be sure their voices are strong and loud and will drown out the boos from the stands. We all need them. But I’m still not sure they really need to wear tiny shorts and a crop top.