A friend of mine who was attending a recent college football game sent me a text about a brochure circulating at the game. Identifying as a Christian organization, a group was recruiting boys and girls for upcoming camp opportunities. Sounds pretty terrific, right? Until you take a closer look. These camps are designed for boys and girls: boys to learn basketball skills, girls to learn how to cheer.
It isn’t that I am completely out of the loop—I get that for people involved in cheering, they view it as a sport, a rigorous physical challenge demanding practice, determination, and skill. Also, I have three sisters and all three of them were cheerleaders at some point during Jr. and Sr. High school. (If you must know, I caved to peer pressure and actually tried out once, the results saving me, thankfully, from the excruciating experience that was sure to follow if I had, in fact, made the squad.)
Yet, for all of the positive aspects of providing athletic experiences for children, I’m disturbed by the distinction of teaching boys to play a sport while teaching girls their sport is to cheer for the boys. It begins at an early age this assumption that girls should keep to the sideline while boys take center stage. While some may disregard this illustration of having no real effect, not all that important because the children are young and the girls look really cute all made up in their short skirts waving pom poms and jumping up and down, the result is that there are very real consequences for creating assumptions that gender determines what is acceptable behavior.
A case in point is made in the new documentary Miss Representation where someone remarks that when children are seven years old, in almost equal numbers all of them say they would like to be president of the United States. However, by age fifteen, the discrepancy between girls and boys regarding this possibility has radically shifted. Most young girls no longer see this as something they can do. And, even though we as a country see ourselves as a free and liberating society, the truth is that a mere 17% of our national representatives are women, hardly indicative of a progressive culture where equality of all persons is established.
Certainly there are many places we can look to determine the sources of sexism in our culture. Yet, for all of our attempts to place this blame on others including the media and popular culture, I believe the church is very much as fault, especially those who subscribe to the notion that God desires people to live within confines of prescribed gender roles.
When we teach little girls to cheer, to keep their actions confined to the sidelines, we are also telling them they are of limited value and importance. They should watch from a safe distance as the real action of which they are not really a part ensues.
Any church or church-related organization that adopts such a position is doing nothing other than promoting theological sexism.