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Coupling

Give me an... “ugh’’

Would ogling cheerleaders threaten my sons' ability to have healthy relationships with girls?

By Abby Rodman
November 28, 2010

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When I planned my family oh-so-many moons ago, I never entertained the possibility that I might not have a daughter. Yet when my third (and last) child, a third son, was born 16 years ago, I knew I was fated to a life of Power Rangers, Sports Illustrated, and smelly cleats.

Luckily, Boston’s sports teams make it a great city to raise a family of boys, and this year, a generous friend gave us tickets to the Pats opener. Fifty-yard-line seats with a perfect view. I took my two younger sons. A few minutes after landing in our seats, my 16-year-old turned to his 18-year-old brother and said, “Wow, I can’t believe how great these seats are!” Wait, no, that’s not actually what he said. What he did say was “Hey, did you see the cheerleaders?”

Ugh.

Before I start my rant, I want to establish that I do not have a case of pretty-girl envy. I have had my fair share of attention and can still turn a few heads on a (very) good hair day in (very) dim lighting.

Indeed, the cheerleaders were hard to miss. That Sunday, these beauties had donned their warm-weather outfits, known in some circles as bikinis. They kicked, twirled, and shook their, um, assets with the singular goal of shimmying the Pats into a season-opener win. I have no issue with cheerleading per se. What concerns me is the sexuality it brings to sporting events already so exciting that it hardly seems necessary. Do we need a halftime show that would make Hugh Hefner blush? The Jumbotron renders it tough to have quality time with your sons when the cheerleaders are magnified on a screen so big it blocks out the sun.

I have always hoped that with both maturity and my hounding vigilance, my boys would learn to see women beyond their physicality. To view them as smart, funny, and, yes, sexy. To find the extraordinary in ordinary women. It worries me that the sexualizing of everything – including sporting events – may skew their perception of the other 99 percent of the world’s women.

Sometimes, however, rays of promise break through.

Take a couple of years ago, when my then 18-year-old and I walked through a behemoth Las Vegas mall. We stumbled upon an exhibit in which near-naked girls danced in cages. “Do they really have to do this?” my son mumbled. “Couldn’t they figure out some other way to make money?” Somewhere in his adolescent heart, he felt they were degrading themselves. My own heart swelled just a bit.

I’m also impressed by the lovely, bright girls my boys have brought home. To be fair, it hasn’t all been Edenic. I’ve watched my boys navigate the land mines of argument, negotiation, and reconciliation with these girls who demanded and got their respect.

My eldest son’s best friend is a girl he’s known since sixth grade. Before he makes any important life decisions, I jokingly ask whether his choice has been “Jesse-approved.” They have forged an ironclad alliance based on time and trust. They’re in college now, a thousand miles apart, but the friendship endures.

At the Pats game, my middle son emerged from his pompom-induced stupor just long enough to say, “Hey, as long as there are women willing to dance around half naked on national TV for money, women will have a hard time getting the respect they want.”

These moments of clarity I credit to the fully clothed cheerleaders in my sons’ lives. Grandmothers, aunts, friends, and female teachers and coaches have made positive, powerful impressions along the way. All are real women of imperfect, celestial beauty. Not to mention a mother who never shuts up about treating girls with respect. And maybe, despite the eye rolling, some of those words have sunk in.

So I’m making peace with cheerleaders. After all, they’re only fleeting decorations on the Jumbotron of life. I’m still not comfortable with the media-ready bombardment of perfect cleavages and flawless faces that infiltrates the consciousness of my teenage boys and millions more like them. But their real-life choices and insights tell a different story. And from knowing that, my heart swells just a little bit more.

Abby Rodman is a psychotherapist in private practice in Newton. Send comments to coupling@globe.com. Story ideas: Send yours to coupling@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.

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