What Would It Be Worth To You To Be a Laker Girl?

Cheerleaders have it all — in high school. Once they become professionals, though, and cheer for the NFL or NBA, they face an array of obstacles, including some entrenched, institutional unfairness; and at last, like the famed stewardesses of yore, another group of attractive, exploited young women employees who had to rebel against gross and unequal treatment, cheerleaders are beginning to push back:

Former Buccaneers cheerleader Manouchcar Pierre-Val has just made Tampa Bay the fifth NFL team to get served with a lawsuit from its cheerleaders. … Pierre-Val is the only named plaintiff as of now and was paid $3,000 less than minimum wage during her one year with the team.

On a recent This American Life episode (#530), writer-producer Chana Joffe-Walt discussed the cheerleader suits and the insanely stringent restrictions in their employee guidebooks, which cover everything from appearance and hygiene to decorum and what feels like cotillion-level etiquette.

“Never apply makeup or fuss with hair front of people. If it’s absolutely necessary you reapply, freshen up, go to the ladies’ room. And do not hang out and talk while there. Beware, other women will judge you in there, too. (emphasis added because OMG WTF — ed)

Always say excuse me when you burp, sneeze, or cough, even if you think there isn’t anyone around. Napkins — when you leave the table at the end of the meal, place your napkin loosely next to your plate. It should not be crumpled or twisted, which would reveal untidiness or nervousness, respectively.”

This is my favorite part:

“Please, think before you speak and always pay attention and listen. Ask yourself, ‘Is it likely that this person will be interested in what I’m about to bring up?’ Do not be overly opinionated about anything. Do not complain about anything. (again, emphasis added, because my head is exploding — ed) Ever hang out with a whiner? It’s exhausting and boring. Watch other poor manners or nervous habits, such as nail biting, knuckle-slash-neck cracking, excessive sniffling, and too many arm movements.”

The mean voice in my head sounds exactly like this. It’s uncanny. Also probably some sorority manuals and old-school, tight-lipped, censorious books about Manners as the apex of femininity. But these women are not diplomats, they’re dancers, for Chrissakes.

Joffe-Walt wanted to talk to actual people who had been affected by these arcane rules and she found one pretty easily: her colleague Robyn Semien, whose career trajectory took her from Laker Girl to Public Radio Producer. (Now that’s a no-bullshit hiring history I’d like to see.) Their conversation is fascinating, in part because Semien only shrugs at the craziness and says, basically, it was worth it, because the job was fun. Like, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity fun. Which raises an interesting question: if your dream job came with these kinds of strings attached, would it still be worth it to you? And for how long?

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