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Just Because I Dance like a Ho I’m Not a Ho: Cheerleading at the Intersection of Race, Class, and Gender

Feminist sociologists of sport have critiqued cheerleading for perpetuating gendered divisions of labor and dismissing women’s athleticism. However, no research has centered the experiences of black college cheerleaders or cheerleaders with formal feminist education. Through ethnography and interviews with cheerleaders who attend a historically black college (HBCU) for women, this research reveals how race, class, gender, and ideological perspective mutually inform the HBCU cheerleading style and how cheerleaders interpret their own performances. Squad members deploy womanist language, adopt a sexual politics of respectability off the court, and emphasize the cultural constraint of choreography to negotiate a perceived contradiction between being upwardly mobile black college women and participating in sexualized extracurricular athletics. This intersectional analysis makes visible limits to the liberal feminist ideal of individual empowerment for women in sport and the importance of institutional context in race and gender theory.