New research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) suggests that cheerleading has the potential to challenge traditional ideas about gender and to be an inclusive activity for both boys and girls.
The study examined the educational and transformative potential of mixed-sex sports and what the obstacles might be in practice.
It focused on cheerleading, often considered a ‘feminised’ activity, and in particular UK university-level competitive cheerleading, which exists in both mixed and single sex formats.
Dr Esther Priyadharshani and Dr Amy Pressland, of UEA’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, argue that mixed-sex team membership can have a progressive influence on ideas about gender and the performances of both male and female participants, for example by encouraging teamwork and respect.
However, they warn that the existence of mixed-sex teams on their own is not a solution to correcting gender stereotypes and inequalities in sport, and if the transformative potential of cheerleading is to be realised, organisational, promotional and structural changes to the sport itself are also needed.
The study is published in the journal Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics. The authors suggest that the relative rarity of mixed-sex sporting events means they are under researched and there are few that require participants to work so closely together.
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