SCHOOLS that have clamped down on cheerleaders' displays have been criticised by researchers for removing a safe way for girls to experience their sexual power.
The American Educational Research Association's annual conference in Chicago heard that schools should use cheerleading as a way to get girls to think about female sexuality.
Schools across the United States have issued new rules which discourage displays where girls show off or behave in an explicitly sexual way.
Pamela Bettis, of Idaho University, and Natalie Guice Adams, of Alabama University, surveyed around 60 cheerleaders.
There are 3.3 million cheerleaders at US middle and secondary schools.
Cheerleading's "girl-next-door" sporty image makes it acceptable to schools and parents. Girls who cheer "occupy positions of power, prestige, and privilege," the researchers say. But they also point to the sexual nature of this supposedly wholesome activity.
However, girls are well aware of the potential power of their high kicks, Bettis and Adams say.
One girl in cheerleader preparation class said: "Girls want to be cheerleaders because they believe that guys will like them more - they will see them as cute women in short skirts."
Instead of ignoring the sexual dimension, teachers could put it to good use, and get girls to think critically about female sexuality and identity.
"Cheerleading could provide a curricular space for girls to explore their emerging sexuality and female identity if school personnel formally acknowledged the erotic facets," say the researchers.
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