You know the year is getting back into the swing of things when Adam Spencer returns to the radio, taking up an issue that isn’t in the newspapers – instead just expressing things that are on his mind. This morning, it was why the Tour Down Under adopts the Tour de France practice of using podium girls to give the winner a kiss.
He went all “shock jock” and asked why we needed to continuing this tradition – sending the message that the only place for women in sport was to stand on the side and give big man victor a kiss. Or, worse, the “Grid Girls”, whose jobs are to “point out where the men put their cars”. This picture is from the MMM website – which has a big range of sexist galleries.
There are those who argue from the looks on the girls’ faces, that they enjoy their job and get a sense of self worth from being a cheerleader, grid girl or podium presenter. That they may do. I worked with a teacher who had made good money from being a grid girl and she liked the work. The issue, however is one of cultural sign construction. The reason they are there to provide men with a piece of visual fluff – which sends the signal that is the importance women hold in sport and society.
It doesn’t have to be like that. The Cricket Big Bash League have experimented with a range of entertainers – the Melbourne Stars showing videos of their players attempting dances, the Melbourne Renegades featuring breakdancers. The same has gone for the Hobart Hurricanes, who have been filling their home ground, despite the absence of cheergirls (thanks to Alex Johnston for that info). They don’t detract from the games and feature skills that are watched, rather than skin. Tellingly (and embarrassingly), both Sydney Big Bash teams had cheer squads, which made for uncomfortable viewing – especially when you consider that T20 cricket is, amongst other things, a prime chance for parents to take their children to see live cricket for the first time. Our daughters arrive, only to see that in order to be close to the game, they have to wear skimpy clothes and look good. Plus, often look orange. It was a bit of a bizarre throwback to see cheerleaders at a Sydney sporting event at the SCG – considering that the Sydney Swans stopped using cheerleaders many years ago. Many rugby league teams still persist with them, however, believing that their predominantly male audience wants them. It is questionable, however, whether the game would lose spectators if the teams stopped parading the cheergirls.
Men will answer such a call to eliminate cheerleaders in a variety of ways. That it’s “all just a bit of fun”; “the girls like the attention”; “politically correct wowsers / tossers / pussies are the only ones who want to stop it”. There will also be women who will answer that there are bigger issues, that the girls should be free to “express their sexuality” in whatever way they like, that somehow they gain empowerment from their experience. The men with their eyes wide open on the sidelines and at home aren’t thinking of female empowerment when they watch cheergirls. This is not “fun” – it is formulation of gender roles in our community. Women should be on the sidelines watching the game, commentating on it, organising it, coaching it. That is true empowerment.
Spencer also made the point that we don’t see women’s cycle races where buff men present the trophies. The point here is that we don’t see women’s cycle races on TV. The same goes for women’s sport in general. Even if we do see women’s sport broadcast on TV – there aren’t oiled up male dancers gyrating on the sidelines. Though, I dare say a few women would want to see that. I don’t see, though, how that would balance the issue. Men’s sport will continue to dominate our screens and stadiums for a while yet. And while there are still scantily dressed cheerleaders on the sidelines, on the podiums and on the grids, there is still work for our society and activists to do to, in order to eliminate the sexism in those domains.