UEA study encourages boys to join girls in cheerleading teams

Miami Dolphins cheerleaders entertain the crowd during the NFL International match at Wembley Stadiu

Miami Dolphins cheerleaders entertain the crowd during the NFL International match at Wembley Stadium, London. October, 2014. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

It has traditionally has been seen as a female dominated activity - to say the least. But researchers from the University of East Anglia suggest more men should take up cheerleading, MARTIN GEORGE looks into a rather unusual study

Boys and girls cheerleading at Akayu Junior High School in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan.

Boys and girls cheerleading at Akayu Junior High School in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. - Credit: Archant

With its pom poms, sparkles and beaming smiles, cheerleading has long seemed to play up to certain gender stereotypes.

But two academics now claim the activity could actually challenge traditional ideas about the differences between the sexes.

Dr Esther Priyadharshani and Dr Amy Pressland, of the UEA's School of Education and Lifelong Learning, today publish research claiming that when boys join girls in this 'feminised' sporting arena, it can have a progressive influence on the ideas about gender, as well the performance of both.

It started as an elite male activity in 19th century America, before becoming a female-dominated activity on the fringes of male sports, but it has now become more diverse.


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The UEA pair looked at three mixed teams, and one all-female.

Dr Pressland said: 'Cheerleading is very much viewed as an activity for girls, a safe activity where they can remain girls and women. We were really interested in what happens when boys and girls take part it in it together, for boys in terms of their masculinity and how the gender relationships work within the team.

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'We think this would be a fantastic, inclusive, activity for young people to work together at and a place where gender norms could be challenged and played with, particularly as sport becomes very segregated when young people get to a certain age, for example when their bodies are developing.'

They found male participants were very protective of the females and their team mates, and there was no inappropriateness or sexualisation of bodies.

The research also found even when men felt uncomfortable doing things they might not consider masculine, such as wearing 'sparkles' or performing certain dance moves, they did it for the team.

Emily Oxbury, 14, a pupil at Thorpe St Andrew School, said: 'The only con of taking part in competitive unisex sports is some people can feel self conscious. But overall I think getting more boys into cheerleading would be great as it stops the stereotypes of cheerleading being a 'female sport'.'

Aaron Cahill, 16, from Attleborough, said: 'I think it's important teenagers mix with with both genders in a competitive environment as it would help quash gender stereotypes. I don't currently feel there's enough being done to encourage this at the moment.'

Do you have an education story? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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