Since becoming a Hamilton Tiger-Cat, I've been thinking a lot about the sexy cheerleader cliché, and I've come to a conclusion of sorts. It seems to me that the relationship between cheerleaders and CFL fans is like a romantic relationship between a woman and a man.
If sitcoms have taught us anything, it's that women want men who find us sexy, but we don't want them to want us strictly because of our sex appeal. I'm not sure how it works for men; I think they're just happy when someone wants them.
I would be disappointed if a boyfriend never mentioned my appearance, but if that were all he talked about I would think it was a problem. I hate it when I ask someone to tell me what their girlfriend is like and they say, "She's really hot." Great. I'm sure she would be thrilled to hear that's the only word that comes to mind when asked to describe her.
So while I'd appreciate if at least a couple of adjectives regarding my personality were mentioned before going to my hair colour/bra size, there's the other side of the equation to consider.
And that would be the old cliché that if the first thing you say about a woman is "She has a really great personality" — you might as well have said she has a hunchback or horns or some unspeakable disfiguration.
These mixed emotions are what I feel about cheerleading.
When I first told Yeehua that I was writing a blog about being a Ticat, and that I wanted it to be about how cheerleading isn't about putting your looks on display for men to ogle you, she laughed.
"But it is about that," she said simply. "You can't write that it's not."
My initial reaction was to defend myself. I'm a dancer; I went to the audition because I love to dance. It has nothing to do with parading around in a half-top.
But looking back, I was worried that I wouldn't make it because I wasn't blonde or tanned or a size two. Which means I assumed my sex appeal — or rather, lack thereof — would have more to do with making the team than my dancing ability.
And then there's the matter of fan reactions. After the Argo girls danced at the last game against Toronto, men in the audience didn't hesitate to tell us what they thought.
"You girls are way hotter than the Argo girls," they'd say, smiling at us reassuringly. They certainly meant it in a good way; as if it was the highest compliment they could pay us.
I don't know how they could even get a decent look at the Argo girls considering they were on the screen for about 60 seconds during their centre-field dance, but I suppose that's beside the point.
How about: "You girls are way better dancers than the Argos." That would have been preferable.
But am I just nitpicking? Why not just smile and take the compliment?
Though I guess it depends on what you consider a compliment. One of my favourite conversations about cheerleading to date was with my friend Jef after he came to the season opener. He complimented my dancing, and I asked him if he could even recognize me from his seat high in the bleachers at Ivor Wynne.
"Oh I could pick you out from the back of the stands," he said.
His face cracked into a smile. "Just because of the way you move."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
I raised my eyebrows and repeated 'goofy' with sufficient incredulity.
"Well, you know…Just the things that are supposed to look sexy…When you do them it looks goofy."
So here's a prime example. I felt torn. How should I have reacted?
a) With happiness and relief: Better goofy than trying to look sexy. After all, I don't want to encourage the common association of cheerleaders with sex. Also, there's a fine line between sexy and slutty — I can rest assured I'm nowhere near the line.
b) With anger and hurt pride: Why didn't I look sexy? Do I stick out of the routines the way my friend Sahra did when I took her to an advanced salsa class? I know the steps, but do the other girls secretly want me off the squad because I'm bringing them down?
And this is the problem with the sexy cheerleader cliché. We are sexy. (Or at least the rest of the Ticat cheerleaders are). Clichés get to be clichés for a reason, right?
But the point is, we aren't just sexy and we certainly don't need it to be pointed out as our defining quality. We're there to dance, to entertain the fans, to support our team.
Like any good relationship, there's more to it than sex.