Flip-skirt fatales: on cheerleading, fetish and hate

Download files
Access & Terms of Use
open access
Copyright: Jane, Emma
Cheerleading – an activity with origins in the elite, male-dominated domain of the late 19th century American university campus – is now a highly commodified and mass mediated feminised spectacle which attracts intense vitriol from a range of ostensibly disparate social groups. These include feminists, social conservatives, cultural elites, sports administrators and fans, mainstream media commentators and members of the general public. Complicating these negative framings is the fact that cheerleaders are simultaneously sexually fetishised in pornography, pop culture and the news media. That a relatively unremarkable feminine athletic endeavour provokes such intense cultural anxiety and sexual obsession makes cheerleading a singularly revealing object of study. Engaging with media, feminist, gender, sporting and cultural studies theory – under what I will unpack as a conceptual framework I nominate as fetish theory – this thesis conducts an extensive analysis of media texts framing cheerleading. It shows that cheerleading animates intense cultural anxieties because it is seen to threaten a broad spectrum of ideologies and ideals, which range across theory, practice and views as diverse as feminism, moral conservatism, sport, and cultural authenticity. As a result, cheerleaders: are the subject of intense desire and loathing; are used as multi-purpose, psycho-social scapegoats; and have come to occupy a provocative liminal space between the sex worker and the athlete (in part because they have been both stripped yet also hyperinvested with meaning via a range of fetishistic logics). This thesis examines the role of feminist discourse (particularly in relation to its convergence with social conservative rhetoric) in censuring young women involved in sexualised performances such as cheerleading. It interrogates the relevance of traditional media studies models such as moral panic; problematises orthodox understandings of the progressive/transgressive politics involved in active audienceship and self-publishing; explicates some of the dangers of celebratory rhetoric framing new media ecosystems; and probes the usefulness of new approaches to explicating power flows in media environments.
Persistent link to this record
Link to Publisher Version
Link to Open Access Version
Additional Link
Jane, Emma
Lumby, Catharine
Albury, Kath
Conference Proceedings Editor(s)
Other Contributor(s)
Corporate/Industry Contributor(s)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Degree Type
PhD Doctorate
download whole.pdf 1.1 MB Adobe Portable Document Format
Related dataset(s)