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  • Writer's pictureJane Rubin

Pop, My First Feminist Encounter

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Recently, after completing my weekly grocery shopping, I walked out of the store and was greeted by a gaggle of adorable high school cheerleaders together with their mothers. They were selling baked goods to raise money for the football team. I stopped to chat and ask some questions. Were they the only cheering team? Were they raising money for the girls’ teams? I sensed at the time, before I heard their answers, that they would be saying, “no” and I was being a pest, but I just couldn’t help myself - I was so frustrated. Their mothers squirmed uncomfortably.

As a product of the 70’s and beyond, women have sacrificed so much to close the gender gap, and what I saw, was enthusiastic acceptance of an old, worn-out norm. I couldn’t quite get over their moms, raised by women of the more recent enlightened decades, supporting this. I told them that I would be delighted to donate generously the day they began cheering for their talented female classmates.

Flash back to the late 60’s and early 70’s. As an athletic child, I was dying to be a cheerleader. Together with my school friends, I practiced the moves and prepared for the tryouts. A week before, the unexpected happened. My father forbade me to participate. I was shocked. I never expected Pop, the dominate member of our home, to ever object. He said very simply, “The day there are boy cheerleaders rooting for you, I will let you also root for them. Until then, you may not participate! Why don’t YOU get out on the field and give them something to cheer about. Be part of the game!”

Pop was doggedly insistent that I separate from the pack, build myself as an individual, prepare to land on my own feet and fight for my rights if necessary. Needless to say, at that time, like RBG, he was incredibly unique.

On and off in high school, college, and my professional life, I found myself highly sensitized to instances of gender inequality and frequently at a loss to effect change. A few months back, I had the privilege of listening to Gloria Steinem, now in her 80’s. She recognized her colleagues, women who made it their business to balance the scales of opportunity and pay. Today, in the climate of clear progress, there is also much left to do. The pendulum continues to swing back and forth as we make this difficult climb to equality.

Having written this, I will say that my high school friends bore the test of time. I still adore them and am delighted that we continually reconnect. Some of my dear friends from high school and beyond were talented cheerleaders in their day and became quite successful and independent in their own right. Back then, they were not shy - they gathered the crowd and helped generate school spirit and excitement for the teams and their talent. I watched them with envy. They all had the ingredients for future success.

But, Pop did make a good point too. The teaching message would have been a lot stronger if our high school squads incorporated male cheerleaders and cheered for girls teams too.

When I attended University of Michigan, the football team had a male cheerleading squad. Wonderful gymnasts, they were equally impactful exciting the crowd. Basketball had a women’s cheering squad. It was the 70’s and this University had already addressed the gender issue. It is disappointing that 40+ years later, the world is still catching up.

What do you think?

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