PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It's not the Texas bill against lewd cheerleading that gets to you. It's that a law was needed at all. Am I missing something, or has the culture just gone nuts?
For some time now, cheerleaders have been shaking their booty at high-school games. They bump and grind. They bend over and stick their rears into the air. Friends who teach in the Dallas suburbs have been talking about the phenomenon for years.
You have to wonder where the school administrators have been all this time.
And lacking their intervention, why didn't the parents put a stop to the raunchy shows? Could these be the same folks writing their congressmen about the bad influences from Hollywood?
The adult supervisors don't seem to mind that modest, pleated cheerleading skirts have given way to short numbers with slits to the hip. Common sense says they would, but when common sense goes on vacation, no-brainers have to be chiseled into law. That's why Rep. Al Edwards of Houston sponsored a bill to ban "sexually suggestive" cheerleading in the public schools.
The issue is not prudery. There should be a place in our society for stripping, pole dancing and all manner of adult entertainment. I support the right to free expression - for grown-ups.
Children are another matter. Adolescents are children. Some older people think teenagers are grown-ups - and the teenagers definitely do. But they're not. It's odd. The girls aren't allowed to order beer at a bar, but they can simulate sex acts before the student body.
In a perfect world, high school students would not engage in sex. Teenagers (I generalize) haven't an ounce of sense and even less ability to withstand peer pressure. A moment of unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy or, tragically, to deadly disease.
An active sex life in high school is bad even for sex itself. The girls enter their 20s as tired women of experience. They've been denied the longing and romance that could have enhanced the sexual experience later on.
Many high school students do have sex, and we have to deal with that. But the very least that grown-ups can do is stop sponsoring activities that arouse the students further.
How did we get to this point? When did rah-rah-rah become ooh-la-la?
The watershed year is probably 1972. That's when the Dallas Cowboys football team traded pom-pom girls for busty broads in hot pants.
Needless to say, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders were a great commercial success. By mixing girlishness with cleavage and high white boots, they perfected the classic formula for titillation.
Six years later, their example inspired the X-rated "Debbie Does Dallas" - about girls wanting to be Cowboys cheerleaders.
The fuzzing of virgin and vixen makes the cheerleaders' performances at ordinary Cowboys games seem far sexier than Janet Jackson's breast flash at the Super Bowl. (A pornographer would have starved trying to make a living off the Jackson incident.)
To protect the Cowboys' "family friendly" reputation, the managers established a strict rule of no fraternizing between the cheerleaders and the players. So it appears that the pros cheerleading for Dallas may have more supervision than the high school girls copying their hip movements.
The cheerleading world now stands divided between the newer dance model and the older athletic style.
Athletic cheerleading is more gymnastic and often involves military-type formations. The cheerleading squad at University of Michigan sports events offers a fine example.
"Dance" covers a lot of ground and can include, one supposes, ballet. But in the case of cheerleading, it means gyrating to "Shake That Thing."
Back in Austin, state Representative Edwards has taken some barbs for his bill, which the state House passed last Tuesday and will be considered by the state Senate. He's been accused of wasting the legislature's time on what seems a small matter.
One high school coach noted that the cheerleaders in Louisiana wear "almost nothing" and "the fans in Louisiana love it."
I bet they do.
Yes, in the cosmic order of the universe, high-school cheerleading is small stuff.
But it is part of a big problem: the sexualizing of America's children.
That parents and educators let high-school girls perform erotic routines at public events simply shows how oblivious grown-ups have become.
Why don't they just set up a pole in the gym afterward, and charge admission?
• Froma Harrop is an editorial writer at The Providence Journal. ©2005 The Providence Journal. Distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.