The Buffalo Bills cheerleaders are advised by management on which type of feminine product they should use for their menstrual cycle. They are told that they cannot wear clips or tie backs in their hair. They have been asked to perform backflips on demand at an annual golf tournament where men placed bets on which Buffalo “Jill” would ride in his golf cart.
For all these imposed regulations and for hundreds of hours of work, members of the NFL Buffalo “Jills” Cheerleading Squad did not receive a penny of wages.
In April, five former Jills cheerleaders filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against the NFL franchise for "exploiting the women by failing to pay them in accordance with New York State minimum wage laws."
The worst part of this is: I don’t care.
When I was growing up I never wanted to be a cheerleader. I barely had a Barbie doll. I raced my brother’s Big Wheel on foot. I never had the desire to stand on the sidelines and cheer for other people, namely men, that were considered more athletic than myself.
So when I heard the news of the Jills’ unfair treatment, my personal sympathy level was somewhat low. They wanted to be cheerleaders, right? They signed up to wear short skirts and tight tops and dance in front of millions of people — they didn’t have to do that.
One commentator on the Jills’ lawsuit said, “Nobody forced them to be cheerleaders. They weren't enslaved. Stop with the pity party.”
And there lies the rub. What’s really at the root of these issues?
For me, it’s sociologically contrived female competition. Female-to-female blame. Female-to-female judgment. I automatically consider myself “better” than these Jills because I chose the “moral high road” of chasing after dreams provided to me by the hyper-masculine athletic world. I played soccer in college, and I was never told how I should wear my hair. I was taught to be tough on the field, be strong in the weight room, and be brave going into tackles. I can’t stand in solidarity with (scoffs) cheerleaders because they are prissy. They are girly. I played against the boys, and they cheer for the boys.
Stepping back, however, so much of my own opinion is ego-driven. This is an issue much larger than me, and there are many larger systems in play that need to be unearthed.
Our society idolizes and materializes female sexuality by elevating cheerleaders as an idealized position for young girls, and then refuses to decently pay or reward women at the so-called top of the totem pole. The Buffalo Jills cheerleaders made $420 for 800 hours of work. That’s 52 cents an hour. The NFL, a $10 billion “nonprofit” business, pays their male athletes an average of $1.5 million a year. I cannot call that just.
In this situation, there is so much more than “just cheerleaders” being treated unfairly. There is wage inequality. Idolization of sexuality. Materialization of the body. It’s all there.
When I take a step back, remove my ego, and look at these issues through the lens of the divine spirit within each of us, my heart aches for the systems that create such deprecations of individual dignity.
“I ended up feeling like a piece of meat,” Alyssa, a former Jill, said. “It came down to this, what self-worth do I have?”
Kaeley McEvoy is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.