BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Feminine Feminist

Posted by sailorcindy on February 17, 2009


The other day, I came across a website naming a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Barbie the worst toy of the year. The doll is criticized for her outfit (short shorts, skimpy top) and disproportionate body, as well as for sending girls a message that they need to show a lot of skin to be noticed.

At first, I was outraged with the toy industry. We have enough Barbie dolls out there. Do we really need to be sending the message to young girls that they should be tall, blond, leggy, and sexy? But then I thought for a moment about playing with Barbie dolls when I was a little girl. I remember how much fun my sister and I would have – brushing their hair, changing their outfits, making up stories and games. I certainly don’t remember ever feeling like the Barbie had a perfect body that I needed to live up to. Nor do I think that Barbie had a greater influence on the woman I have become than, say, my mother. So the question I had to ask was – what are we really fighting here?

If over-exposing children to sexual images is dangerous, isn’t it also dangerous to encourage girls to completely stifle their femininity?

Having been in the military, I know a thing or two about stifling the womanly side of me. Before joining the military I wasn’t a girly-girl, so it wasn’t a big deal to pull my hair back in a tight bun and forego manicures and facials. When I first left the military, not much changed. I still wore the bun, skipped the makeup, and didn’t spend much time on my clothing (other than to make sure my outfits were ironed). I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when my perspective began to change.

I think I just began realizing that it felt good to wear a skirt to work instead of pants, and I liked taking a few extra minutes to dry my hair and wear it down instead of pulling it back. Although these changes were subtle, they were also very powerful. I felt more confident and strong when I embraced my feminine side than when I stifled it.

With that point in mind, I can’t help but wonder what is going to hurt girls more – telling them it is OK to be cheerleaders, or making them feel ashamed of their femininity by sending a message that all cheerleaders are sexual objects ruining the moral fabric of our society?

Moreover, let’s really get to the heart of the matter. Do we have Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders because these women used to play with Barbie dolls when they were girls? Or do we have a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Barbie because we have Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders? Is this a matter of life imitating art, or art imitating life? The causal connection between playing with a Barbie and becoming a (gasp!) Dallas Cowboy cheerleader seems pretty far removed to me, even if the Barbie the little girl is playing with happens to be a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Barbie. I guess we better pull all those awful Doctor Barbie dolls off the shelves before too many girls grow up to be physicians.

Although I am exceptionally grateful for the women who came before me to pave the way for women in the workplace, and as proud as I am to be part of the next generation of torchbearers, I do not want to completely abandon my sense of self for the sake of our cause. Do I have to give up my femininity for the sake of my feminism? Or can we find a way to strike a balance between being professionals while still being…women?

And for anyone wondering if I’d be disappointed to see my (currently nonexistent) daughter grow up to be a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, well, of course I would be. But only because I’m a Packers fan.

photo credit


12 Responses to “Feminine Feminist”

  1. Renee said

    With that point in mind, I can’t help but wonder what is going to hurt girls more – telling them it is OK to be cheerleaders, or making them feel ashamed of their femininity by sending a message that all cheerleaders are sexual objects ruining the moral fabric of our society?

    I think that cheerleadind does not get the respect that it deserves. Obviously there is some element of performing to satisfy the male gaze however you need to be in incredible shape to work as a professional cheerleader. You must have the ability to dance and be good at gymnastics. This is a sport no different than any other we have just famed it as eye candy. These women are athletes and we have allowed men to define what it is that they do rather than taking ownership for it as women. It takes many years of training to become a professional cheerleader. Girls and women dedicate untold hours to perfecting this craft and I think that we ought to celebrate it and reclaim it from the patriarchal vision that it has become.

  2. m Andrea said

    With that point in mind, I can’t help but wonder what is going to hurt girls more – telling them it is OK to be cheerleaders, or making them feel ashamed of their femininity by sending a message that all cheerleaders are sexual objects ruining the moral fabric of our society?

    Hiya. Oh god, the binary is everywhere. Does everything have to be either all or nothing?

    Do I have to give up my femininity for the sake of my feminism?

    Well, this is just one random stranger’s opinion, but I’d say that on this issue at least you’re buying into the patriarchal manipulation which declares “only ugly hairy dykes are feminists”. That manipulation is supposed to make you believe that if you like pretty things (what human doesn’t like pretty things?) then you must not be a feminist.


  3. gansie said

    okay, wow. lots of issues brought up here.

    one, i do believe the physical act of cheerleading is a sport, which is why they should get some respectable, athletic outfits. they should also have more of their own tournaments and less celebrating others’ achievements.

    and i also agree @M Andrea with the notion that feminism is an idea and a way of life, not a fashion statement. which is why that NOW shirt “this is what a feminist looks like” was so awesome b/c anyone could wear it and showed the diversity of the movement.

  4. joyinhome said

    My first response was in line with Renee that cheerleading is a sport and girls are getting some serious respect and more importantly $$$ for college in this arena.

    Next- DAMN it speaks volumes that we even have to debate this at all. Of course you can embrace your femininity and still be a feminist.

    I received this offline question: Would I want/allow my daughter to be a Dallas Cheerleader? If that’s what she wanted to do- go for it. I truly have no problems with it. She has and will have a great sense of self and will continue to be well-rounded. So what is the big deal!?!

  5. Sallyforth said

    It’s not the femininity of the dallas cowboys cheerleader doll that bothers me. It’s the fact that the doll’s thighs are impossibly thin. Is it just me, or are these dolls actually thinner than normal barbies. We can teach our daughters there is nothing wrong with being feminine without teaching them how to be body dysmorphic. Surely!

  6. businesswom said

    Great points raised here. At first I was a bit torn because I was a cheerleader, in Dallas, and had friends who were Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders…BUT, that’s only the side issue of the true questions you are raising here.

    If certain feminists hold a view of what a feminist should look like, they are holding themselves to stereotypes too, the very thing they work day in and day out to fight — as you said.

    Women should do what makes them happy, and fight for the rights that they want. Regardless of what image she portrays, or how much lipstick she wears, or how many mini-skirts she may or may not own. I’m not saying an animal activist should wear fur, for example, but…you get the idea.

  7. jpflaste said

    Great post, I think its an awful stereotype that if you are a feminist you can’t be cheerleader, wear makeup or embrace your feminine side. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be a cheerleader for a professional sports team, why shouldn’t you have a doll of your likeness?

    Girls today have great opportunities and the option to become anything they want with hard work and dedication, cheerleading included. What are we really saying by taking the dolls off the market?

  8. mcj4476 said

    Good point by Gansie on cheerleading as a sport in its own right and its role in the shadow(?) of the physical accomplishments of others.

    Wondering…Why are “male” sports (football, basketball, golf) all objectively scored while “female” sports (gymnastics, diving figure skating, competitive cheerleading presumably) all subjectively scored?

  9. espressodog said

    Ok, I am little late to the conversation but I had to weigh in on @mcj4476’s point about the scoring of women sports. I had that very same thought while watching the bad gymnastics movie, Stick It. (It was on ABC Family on a Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help myself.) The movie itself is formulaic but during the climax one of characters gets docked points for her bra showing and then the rest of her team all scratches in solidarity against the outrageous call. The female athletes effectively take over the scoring from the judges by banding together. It was a very feminist turn of events.

  10. GoingtoJapan said

    You hit the nail squarely on the head. I’m a male and I think you did a great job at showing what some feminists are doing to society. I was also in the military.

    The thing is that many men don’t mind women working with women in traditionally male dominated job roles. At the same time women don’t need to act aggressive like men to do well. The very point that feminist stereotype women and oppress them by telling them that they have to be a business woman shows that they are not really feminists to begin with. They are just as the male chauvinists that they are supposed to be fighting against.

    The point of equality is for everyone to be able to choose the path they want to follow in life. A lot of ‘feminist’ seem hell bent on making women think there is a special heaven by not marrying a man. The sad thing is if you follow their way of thinking to conclusion then you end up with a sad, bitter, lonely woman with a career and nothing more. I honestly feel that their true aim is to force women into loneliness and brainwash them into thinking that men are all bad just to increase the lesbian population which are at the head of their movement.

    If not then what other reason is there for wanting to cause hostility between the sexes and make people lose confidence in who they are? Women are simply oppressed because they are housewives? I don’t think so IF that is what she chooses to do. However, if the feminist movement is somehow forcing a choice on society that they don’t want then they are going to be met with a society that will increasingly choose to ignore them and those women that behave like men as well. Not because they are radical feminist or blur the gender lines but because there is a choice. And once that choice is put in jeopardy then the feminist movement becomes something that is illegal/unconstitutional and therefore will be discarded.

    I do understand that there are a lot of positive feminist movements that enabled women to vote, own property, equal pay, etc. I am definitely not talking about them.

  11. RealGirl said

    @ going to japan
    I’m going to assume that most of your rant above was simply meant to be provocative and to evoke female ire. You sound so bitter and lost that I feel a bit sorry for you. What feminist broke your heart and refused to marry you? Tell us what ails you… better yet, don’t: I know your type – the guy who trolls the internet blogs looking to pick a fight with women because its really the only feminine attention he can capture.
    But for the purpose of aiding a lost soul, I’ll humor you and give you some info that has obviously wizzed right over your head. One of the main foci of modern feminism has been to keep women from having to make the choice between family and family life and a career. That’s what feminism is truly about, empowering women to take control of their own lives, establishing the means through which they can overcome commonly faced obstacles that have been institutionalized by societies built around exlcusion and adn sexist notions of gender appropriate roles.
    As for your bizarre notion that feminism is illegal and unconstitutional…. Wow, i don’t even know where to start with that point. Your lack of knowledge about the law and feminism is magnificent. Really you should be embarrassed.
    Poor thing.

  12. […] 9. Feminine Feminist […]

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