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The girls just don’t get it

October 17, 2009

An article in my son’s high school newspaper yesterday FootballCupcakesshed light on a surprising anachronism taking place right here in our very forward-thinking, socially progressive Connecticut town. Apparently, in longstanding tradition, each cheerleader is “assigned” to a football player for whom, in addition to her cheerleading (not to mention academic) responsibilities, she is expected to bake a cake or some other goody for each week’s team dinner.

“Before the start of the football season every year, the cheerleading team gets together and decides which player each will bake for,” the article explained.

As a card-carrying feminist who in college toted a bookbag that prominently flouted the word “Ms.” long before the term was in use, and one of the first of the women who refused to take our husband’s last names when we married, this article stopped me in my tracks. The cheerleaders put up with this? Being assigned to a football player to which she was expected to … uh, bake?

Indeed they do.  In fact, they don’t seem to mind one bit. In the brouhaha that followed the article’s publication – which included the principal, in a moment of good sense, not to mention polically correctness, stepping to ban the tradition – it was apparantly the cheerleaders (and not surprisingly, the football players) who most fervently defended the practice.

I guess it’s a generational thing.  After all, it was a few of the cheerleaders’ mothers, my contemporaries, who objected to the practice, rather than their daughters.   They saw through the inherent sexism at work, the hint of subordination, the potentially exploitive aspect of the whole thing.  But the girls, clearly, just don’t get it.

Rather than spending their time baking, these girls should be required to sit through the entire first season of Mad Men, where secretaries lived and died to make their bosses happy in any way possible, which included wearing a skirt that flattered their legs and the right kind undergarment. You can bet that probably included baking the occasional plate of cupcakes, too.

Full disclosure here.  I was a cheerleader once. Yes, really.  But not because I was particularly athletic, interested into my high school’s basketball games, or cared much about  pleasing any of the male players.  The truth is, I went to a school which required us to wear these impossibly drippy uniforms, consisting of a pleated skirt, oxford cloth blouse, and cardigan with the school emblem. The only exception ever granted was to cheerleaders, who on game days were permitted to wear our cute cheerleader sweaters instead.

So you see for me, it wasn’t about pleasing the boys at all. It was all about the clothes.

Back then, we knew how to keep our priorities straight.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2009 2:23 pm

    Interesting about the cupcakes. I graduated from a small, middle class high school in 1949, so that dates my experiences. Being a cheerleader was a big deal, one of the few ways a girl could stand out and get attention. Football was a big deal also although, being one of the smallest schools in our local league, we weren’t as good at it as most of the competition.

    Being a cheerleader made you a desirable date for a football player. Being a football player made you a desirable date for a cheerleader. Me? I was a outsider to both cheerleading and football. Maybe in Westport the cupcakes are a subtle status marker. See, we get to bake cupcakes for football players! Not having lived through the unfeminist 1950s and 1960s and the “second wave” feminism of the 1970s, today’s cheerleaders are not sensitive to the implications of their privilege.

  2. Mom permalink
    October 18, 2009 9:32 pm

    No Jessica. You just don’t get it! My daughter is one of these cheerleaders, and I am a NY corporate attorney in my mid 50s — I get the womans lib thing! My daughter knows firsthand what it means to be a successful independant working woman. Baking for the football team is not a subservient act — they have fun decorating baked goods for the football team and getting to meet the boys that they are cheering for. They are on a team and this was just a fun team thing to do. Also, you fail to mention that the boys baked for the girls when they compete. You read far too much into this. Obviously, you don’t know how to keep your priorities straight if you are attacking a group of very smart, very nice and very athletically talented young women. I, too, was a cheerleader. And I, too, went on to be a successful businesswoman. Give these girls a break!!!

    • October 20, 2009 2:02 am

      Hey, Mom – I totally agree that “baking for the football team is not a subservient act” but that’s not what was happening here. Every senior cheerleader was “assigned” to a football player for whom she was expected to bake – get the difference? I know enough about peer pressure to know that any cheerleader who might have objected to such an expectation (i.e. requirement) would feel pressured to keep her feelings silent in order not to risk her standing with her team. I think the potential for exploitation and a host of other unsavory ramifications is obvious. These cheerleaders are indeed athletes, not to mention scholars, and merit every bit as much respect for their achievements as the football players. Far from attacking them, I’m defending their right to that respect. The requirement to bake a weekly cake for their assigned player says exactly the opposite, subtle though the message might be. I hardly call having the football team bake for the cheerleaders’ once-a-year FCIAC competition (as opposed to their “assigned cheerleader”) equivalent. But thanks for responding!

  3. October 19, 2009 9:22 pm

    Hi Jessica,
    Enjoyed reading this entry and especially enjoyed reading the responding entries. Sounds like the baking is equal for both the men and the women. They each get to spend their time in the kitchen, which is a great experience for all. Personally I don’t think students get to learn the basics and I find cooking (and eating) to be a relaxing pass time. Recently, I taught my son, a sophomore at NYU, how to make a lasagna. He enjoyed himself and is now able to take some skills back to his NY apartment! So Looking forward to many more.

    • October 20, 2009 2:06 am

      Besides being a former cheerleader, I love to cook myself, although my talents are definitely lacking in the pastry department.

  4. Karyn permalink
    October 20, 2009 3:33 pm

    I understand the rationale behind it. The job description for a cheerleader, male or female, is to give support to the players. My husband and I run a business, and our secretary makes tea for both of us. These are modern girls who have a good sense of what they can achieve, and can draw the line at which of the players’ needs they are willing to cover.

    Personally, the tradition doesn’t bother me. In the real world, some women prefer to cook and clean and stay home with kids. They serve their husbands every day, and don’t consider themselves subjugated. Let’s face it – more girls than boys ask Santa for an “easy-bake oven.”

    But I also recognize the inherent sexism in the practice. It takes on an unintended nuance when taken in the context of a society where women are still not getting equal pay for equal work.

    • October 21, 2009 1:47 pm

      “Serve their husbands?” Oh, my dear. Please go watch the first two seasons of Mad Men, right this very minute.

  5. Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn permalink
    October 21, 2009 7:18 pm

    I was also appalled when my daughter, a high school cheerleader, was required to bake and make special cards each week for her “assigned” football player–especially since the football players at our school barely acknowledged any of the young women’s hard work and efforts on their behalf. The girls, not the football players, also spent hours decorating the school every couple of weeks for special games. Yes, she got a great workout, some wonderful tumbling skills and learned about group dynamics as part of this team. But, there was definitely a double standard at play. Today, though, she is not a cheerleader but a leader in her college’s Amnesty International chapter and World Youth Alliance. She and I are volunteering at an AIDS fundraiser this weekend. However, regarding “Mad Men,” both she and her 16-year old sister have asked me, “Was it really that bad?!”

  6. Karyn permalink
    October 21, 2009 10:18 pm

    I meant to write “They serve their husbands food every day.”

  7. Ilana permalink
    October 21, 2009 10:30 pm

    I’m opposed just because they’re baking them cakes. Those boys don’t need cakes. Make them a salad.

    : )

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