A group of former and current professional cheerleaders, who have science-related day jobs, have formed a squad called the Science Cheerleaders. Their goal is to promote science education, but is sexiness the best way to lure girls into STEM fields?
In this introductory video, the squad is shown performing last month at the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C., and a few of the roughly 50 women in the group discuss their impressive science credentials:
Darlene Cavalier, a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader who went on to work at Discover Magazine, formed the site Science Cheerleader to get the public more involved in the sciences. Due to the name, she started hearing from professional cheerleaders who are also pursuing careers in science fields, which led to the formation of the squad.
At first the premise sounds a little questionable — why does science have to have a sexy makeover in order to get girls interested in the field? Media coverage has drawn several comments focusing on the women's sex appeal, like the remark on an ESPN blog, "Imagine how public reception of evolutionary theory might have differed if Darwin had glamorous scantily clad cheerleaders!"
While skimpy costumes and pom-poms may be the gimmick that draws attention to the group, the website actually provides an interesting picture of women working in STEM fields, and how their appearance has factored into their career. Along with updates on science news and videos explaining the physics of football, Cavalier posts interviews with each of the women about her interest in cheering, her academic pursuits, and the discrimination they've faced trying to do both. For example, Melissa, a Tennessee Titans cheerleader and a medical researcher at Vanderbilt University, says:
It has been quite challenging to mesh two contrasting interests, and I have encountered many critics along the way. As a blonde cheerleader, I feel that I have had to prove that I am an intelligent woman to be taken seriously. It is a constant effort to alter the preconceptions of many. Especially in the world of academic science, women and moreover, women who cheer or dance professionally, are an under-represented demographic, and it is sometimes very difficult to convince colleagues that it is possible to be talented in such starkly different areas.
Sami, a vision researcher and college cheerleader adds:
People are always more surprised by my intellect than by my cheerleading background. (Apparently, I look like a cheerleader, and not like a scientist-which is strange, because I'm not entirely what either is supposed to look like.)
Science shouldn't have to be sexed-up to make it an acceptable career choice for women, but hopefully the message girls take from the Science Cheerleaders is that your attractiveness is not a reflection on your intelligence.
Science Cheerleaders Combine Nerdiness, Mind-Blowing Hotness [Asylum]
The Science Cheerleader [ScienceCheerleader.com]
Favre, Martinis And Science Cheerleaders On ESPN's TMQ [Science Cheerleader]
Meet Melissa: Titans Cheerleader, Vanderbilt Medical Researcher [ScienceCheerleader.com]
Mee Sami: All-Star College Cheerleader And Vision Researcher