This astounding, depressing story, out of Wisconsin, not only makes me wonder about the ethics alarms of everyone involved. It makes me wonder about whether such alarms exist in out species.
Kenosha’s Tremper High School cheerleading squad held its annual banquet last March, and handed out some “gag awards” to members of the squad. Among them:
- The Big Boobie Award. for the girl with the biggest breasts. The coach giving the award joked that the girl concussions when she ran because her “enormous boobs” might flip-up and knock her out.
- The Big Booty Award. The coach presenting that one said: “We love her butt. Everybody loves her butt.”
- The String Bean Award, given to a freshman who “was so light and skinny.”
- The previous year, a blonde wig was awarded to a cheerleader for being a “ditzy girl.”
The one hundred guests at the event included many parents. Apparently the coaches were surprised that many of them had problems with the tenor of the “awards.” As this tear’s awards approached, and after the school and its coaches had brushed aside the complaints, arguing that it was all in good fun, the ACLU interjected itself for some reason. (A parent sicced the civil rights group on the school.) From the Times story:
American Civil Liberties Union, which on Tuesday sent Kenosha Unified School District a formal warning that it might sue, saying that it had “failed to take any meaningful corrective action” in the case. The coaches, the A.C.L.U. said, had continued to make inappropriate comments to the girls, including using “harassing language towards cheerleaders during practices.” It said the district was enabling sexual harassment and in doing so was violating federal nondiscrimination and equal protection laws. The A.C.L.U. asked the district to appropriately discipline the cheerleading coaches and to institute mandatory anti-harassment training for all district employees. If the district refuses and does not take steps to enact policies safeguarding the girls, the organization will consider all options, including filing a lawsuit, said Emma Roth, a lawyer for the A.C.L.U. Women’s Rights Project. “It’s so important that we intervene at a young age and girls are taught their worth and are treated equally,” Ms. Roth said. “When that doesn’t happen, they carry this message for the rest of their life.”
Well, that did it. The school district capitulated, saying in a statement “a clear expectation has been set that awards of this nature are not acceptable and are not to be given at Tremper cheerleading banquets going forward.”
- Having a cheerleading squad is itself what I call a “pre-unethical condition.” The squads and the tradition has always been overtly sexual in nature, with the cheerleaders the object of male fantasies in magazines, movies and student bodies. The culture of cheerleading is a Bizarro World ethics problem: how can the activity be ethical, equitable, fair and inoffensive to non-participants when it is based on appearance and attractiveness to the opposite sex? Unattractive teens don’t get to be cheerleaders. Being chosen signifies, in the social strata of high school and college, that a student is desirable and an appropriate object of male lust. Cheerleading is objectification by definition.
It is rare to see cheerleaders on the sidelines for women’s sports. As far as I can determine, there are none in the various professional female sports leagues. Why do you think that is?
- Do cheerleaders tease each other about their physical flaws and assets? Of course they do. It would be the duty of a coach, however, to discourage this as it easily could become harassment.
Teasing by the students in the relative privacy of the locker room, however, is not comparable to teasing in public.
- Do you wonder why men don’t understand what sexual harassment is, and why women don’t know where the lines are, after this episode? An employer who joked about an employee’s “big boobs” or said that he “loved her butt,” even once, would be guilty of actionable sexual harassment per se. Yet these adults in Kenosha are modelling this behavior, openly and in public, as if it is normal and harmless!
If the coaches talk like that about the girls in public, how do they talk when the parents aren’t listening?
- From the article:
“It is not the first time the A.C.L.U. has confronted the district. After a contentious fight with the organization, the district only recently dropped a dress code policy that barred girls from wearing yoga pants, leggings and tank tops and then, the A.C.L.U. said, selectively enforced it.”
The contradictions here make my head explode, on all sides. So the school tries to de-sexualize female attire, and the ACLU objects. Then the ACLU is shocked—shocked!-–when the cheerleaders attract sexual comments.
- The rationalizations put forth by the school and its staff are also stunning. The now dismissed female coach behind the awards argues that the Big Boobie and Booty awards were “a huge hit and truly lots of laughs and fun” and were not meant to hurt anyone. “Their parents thought it was the funniest thing.” She also pointed to the parents of the Big Boobie Award winner, who said that their daughter was amused by the honor and “is not shy about the fact that she earned it fair and square.”
Morons. The fact that some, even a majority, find inappropriate conduct “funny” or enjoy it does not make the conduct appropriate. Mocking any woman’s physical features, or defining a woman by her body parts, is uncivil, disrespectful, corrosive social behavior. Doing so to girls is worse. Adult doing so who are charged with teaching and civilizing students is worse yet. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone” when the conduct is this obviously wrong is no defense; it just means “I am unfit to live in civilized society, untrustworthy, and must not be allowed to teach children. Fire me.”
- On balance, the world would be a better place if cheerleading by all-female squads ended. It encourages and reinforces unethical attitudes and encourages societally harmful conduct by both women and men. I assume that the culture in Kenosha is hopeless: the coaches should be sacked, and the cheerleading program should be eliminated.
Its existence will always be a pre-unethical condition.
- Back to the ACLU: I don’t believe it should have been involved in this. The organization is supposed to fight for free speech. In this case, it is fighting against free speech. Wise or not, workplace speech rules and harassment law are speech restrictions. Even though I agree with their position here, the ACLU isn’t the right group to advocate it it. I would feel safer if the ACLU was defending the coaches. This is one more indication that the organization has become just another generic progressive agenda advocacy group.