At the first USA Science&Engineering Festival in 2010, the Science Cheerleaders drew large crowds, as they shook their pompoms, did a brief summary of what kind of scientists and medical specialists they are, and joined in unison to yell “Go Science.”
The Science Cheerleaders travel around the country and do many public appearances. They hold cheerleading clinics and try to inspire young girls to take science seriously as a career path.They have gotten a lot of media attention, as well they should. It’s a unique idea and it negates a persistent problem in science - the notion that female scientists are weird and frumpy.
With all that said, I simply can’t get away from the fact that the whole concept of cheerleader, whether pushing science to girls or not, has always bothered me. Perhaps it’s because I was one of the smart girls who hung out with but didn’t date the jocks. Perhaps it’s because the cheerleaders didn’t like me and I didn’t like them. Perhaps it’s because even at my 30-year high school reunion, the cheerleaders still wouldn’t speak to me.
Or perhaps, it's because I’m the mother of a 12 year-old girl and I don’t want my daughter to be a cheerleader or a beauty queen or a model. I want her to be liked, and loved for that matter, because she’s funny, smart, cool, a total jock and all the other wonderful qualities that make her, her.
Of course, if my daughter wants to be a cheerleader then I will support her in every way I can. But I would feel a lot better about that choice if the image of a cheerleader wasn’t such a negative one, particularly as it is portrayed in media.
If you watch a lot of bad teen TV, or teen movies, which I insist on viewing if my daughter does, cheerleaders are still portrayed as not very nice girls. They are the queens of the high school, the popular girls, the ones who wear too much make-up, really short skirts, and date the captain of the football team. They are shown as the original mean girls, shallow, foolish and admired not for who they are, but what they look like.
Cheerleaders conform to a male, let’s face it pretty darn sexist, image of who and what girls are and should be. The Science Cheerleaders have a serious message to impart, but they’re attention-getters because they are pretty, sexy and good dancers. That’s a fact.
The beauty queen who followed the Science Cheerleaders at the event I saw them performing in, lost me within seconds. She talked for a good half hour about the work she does with growing passion. But no matter what she said, she couldn’t negate the image of the woman I saw heading towards the stage, strutting her stuff in skintight jeans, boots with five inch heels, with an entourage of men beside her. After she changed into her long white beauty queen dress – I think she even had a crown on but I could be making that up – she wanted to be taken seriously. But I don’t think she was.
So do I think that smart, beautiful women who want to level the science and engineering playing field should be out there doing what they do for science? Absolutely. But there is a part of me, and not a small one, that wonders how much good the Science Cheerleaders can really do if all those good intentions get lost behind the stereotypes.
What do you think?