Emma Jane (previous name Emma Tom)
(Working) Title of project: Flip-Skirt Fatales – Fear, Loathing And Cheerleading In Contemporary Culture
Short summary of project: 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 extraordinary vitriol from feminists, sports administrators and fans, social conservatives, cultural elites, mainstream media commentators and members of the general public. Much of this discourse frames cheerleading as an intrinsically shallow and meaningless activity, but my case is that cheerleading occupies such a provocative and liminal cultural status because it has been hyperinvested with meaning via a range of fetishistic logics. This fetishisation occurs, most obviously, within the realms of pornography and pop culture. But it is the news media’s obsession (and fetishistic disavowals of its obsession) with cheerleaders that reveals most about the continuing anxieties and antagonisms provoked by young women whose sexuality is both coveted and despised. More generally, this project asserts that cheerleading lies on a provocative cultural fault line– with cheerleaders occupying a liminal space between the sex worker and the athlete and feeding into wider moral panics relating to anti-Americanism, raunch-culture, trash-culture and sports-related issues. The sexual nature of cheerleading performance and aesthetics also provokes social anxieties with regard to voyeurism, the spectacular, exhibitionism and exuberant female sexuality. Engaging with media, feminist, gender, sporting and cultural studies theory, this thesis conducts an extensive analysis of the disparaging and contradictory discourses that both produce and are produced by cheerleading’s culturally ambivalent status. It offers alternative understandings of cheerleading practice and culture as well as new insights into the mainstreaming of feminism and the mainstream appropriation of second-wave feminist discourses to censure women. It poses – and attempts to answer – the question: What makes cheerleading so culturally, socially and politically provocative and why is this significant?
Emma Jane (previous name Emma Tom) is an award-winning Sydney writer and broadcaster who has spent the past 20 years working in both the print and electronic media. Her column appears in The Australian each Saturday and she freelances widely for magazines and newspapers both in Australia and overseas. Emma is the author of six books including a novel, Deadset, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Asia and the South Pacific for Best First Novel in 1997, and most recently, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Hormones, which was be published by HarperCollins in July 2009. Her short stories and essays have also been widely published. Emma lectures and tutors in media studies in a number of Sydney universities and is completing her PhD under the supervision of Professor Catharine Lumby and Dr Kath Albury.