Written by Jen Offord

Health

Meet the Crystals? Hmm, what year is this?

Crystal Palace FC has a troupe of all-women cheerleaders. No disrespect to The Crystals, but Jen Offord would like to live in a world where a woman’s net value isn’t found in a tiny pair of shorts.

Plenty of sparkle: Crystal Palace FC cheerleading troupe The Crystals.

Plenty of sparkle: Crystal Palace FC cheerleading troupe The Crystals.

Last week I was hanging out on the Twitter, you know, probably saying something deeply profound about a video of some sloths or getting angry about Brexit, when suddenly out of nowhere some tits were thrust upon my timeline.

Tits (which for the avoidance of doubt were clothed, albeit in seam-straining crop tops) are not often thrust upon on my Twitter timeline*, because I don’t follow loads of porn bots or other timelines dedicated to the objectification of women. So I was a little surprised to find the thruster of said tits was in fact Crystal Palace Football Club, which I follow for professional reasons.

Wondering why, in this day and age, a Premier League football club would be thrusting tits on Twitter, I decided to investigate further. Clicking on the tweet I was invited to meet the Crystals: the club’s official troupe of all-women cheerleaders who also, coincidentally, don’t wear very much of a match day.

I initially worried I’d been transported back to the year 1998 and that Melinda Messenger was just around the corner, ready to drop a pithy one-line analysis of the Good Friday Agreement. When I realised this wasn’t the case, I did what any person in the year 2016 would do, and tweeted aggressively about it, only to be rather irritatingly followed by the Crystals. I immediately blocked them on principle.

“Are you shitting me?” I cried out in the office, explaining what I had seen, also not realising that the Crystals had in fact been around for a good few years now.

“Cheerleaders are very common in America,” one colleague replied. And of course he’s right. But so are presidential candidates who advocate the sexual assault of women.

I know this, for I’ve seen the Brooklynettes – the Brooklyn Nets cheerleaders, see what they did there – in action LIVE. I don’t want to disrespect them; they’re very good dancers. I’m sure they work very hard and watching them take a running jump onto a springboard from which they went on to slam-dunk a basketball, pants or no pants, I was impressed.

“I set about trying to find the club’s all-male dance troupe, who must surely be on hand pre-match getting their todgers out to use as a makeshift perch for Kayla, the club’s winged mascot, in the name of equality, right?”

I don’t want to disrespect the Crystals either; I’m sure they also work very hard and are very good at their jobs. I just want to live in a world where the message that a woman’s net value will primarily be found in an extraordinarily small pair of shorts isn’t endorsed by a massive brand name.

You see this kind of thing in smaller clubs and while it irks, you know it only has a reach of about four people, so it’s easier not to be bothered about. But that message, one that has been fought against for the last 50 years and more, isn’t a good look on Crystal Palace. It’s not a good look on the Premier League or the Football Association either, not least in a time where we are supposedly telling women: “Hey ladies, sport is for you too.”

“Crystal Palace won’t want to appear to be sexualising their brand at the expense of female fans, who they are unequivocally excluding by perpetuating this ancient message?” I thought to myself.

So I set about trying to find the club’s all-male dance troupe, who must surely be on hand pre-match getting their todgers out to use as a makeshift perch for Kayla, the club’s winged mascot, in the name of equality, right? UNBELIEVABLY this is not happening (and I think you’ve missed a trick there, actually, Palace). There is no male equivalent.

“Well, it’s not unusual for there to be cheerleaders in sport,” was the first reaction I got from the club’s press office. No, I said, but not in the Premier League. He agreed, not in the Premier League, before suggesting I contact someone else who declined to comment.

What about the FA? What did it have to say about this as English football’s governing body? Unfortunately it also declined to comment on the matter, which is a shame given it is charged with strengthening grassroots football for the good of the men’s and women’s game (and which has had something of a bad press latterly in terms of the footballing community’s attitudes towards women).

The CrystalsAnd this is really the point, right.

The deliberate cultivation of an environment where many thousands of men are presented with a squad of women to salivate over is not exactly welcoming for other women. And that’s before you even begin to consider the well-established theory that body image is one of the primary reasons teenage girls drop out of physical education – our bodies and attitudes towards them make us uncomfortable.

Scroll down The Crystal Girls Twitter timeline and you’re greeted with the same three adjectives on repeat: beautiful, stunning, gorgeous. Let’s not even get into these grown women being referred to as ‘girls’.

Comments on the photos include, “I’d smash it”, “middle een would get pumped,” and “I don’t know about hair flicks, but the elastic on my underpants just twanged.” Truly a celebration of their dancing talent.

OK, I know, we’re all objectifying everyone every day, or at least, I am objectifying Thierry Henry most days. But I’m not doing it in a way that devalues his one-time professional footballing talent nor could I, because that talent spoke for itself. Perhaps, however, if Thierry Henry had only ever seen himself represented as a scantily clad chap on the pitch as a youngster, or if his experience of a football match was centred around a baying mob of women, he’d have thought, “I’m not sure this football lark is meant for me.”

Even if you don’t follow the logic that this is exclusive and sets the tone that a football match is very much the domain of men, the message is clear and all too familiar: men are the main act, women are lucky if they get a supporting role in their grundies. We need to show younger fans that this isn’t the case.

*Apart from, curiously, in relation to a tweet I once made about Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, which inexplicably brought all the tits to my yard. This is not a euphemism; proper porn bots went crazy for my admiration of Klopp – riddle me that, algorithm fans.

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen