Alexa Brenneman, Ben-Gals, Bengals, Cheerleader, Compensation, Feminism, Feminist Theology, first lady, Gloria Steinem, NFL, NFL Cheerleaders, progressive Christianity, single moms, Stay-at-Home Moms, welfare, White House, Zelophehad's Daughters
This week, I heard of another case where an NFL cheerleader is suing the team for inadequate pay. This time, the cheerleader, Alexa Brenneman brought the suit as an individual as she claims that her pay equals that of $2.85 per hour ($5 less than Ohio’s minimum wage).
Even before this and the suit with the Raiderettes, I was concerned about this practice. When I was in my twenties and in much better shape, I had ever-so-briefly toyed around with the thought of auditioning the Buccaneers cheerleaders. I thought I remember that they made somewhere between $50-$100 per game. But then I read a 2003 article which notes that they receive no monetary compensation for ANY of their work or efforts – except they receive two tickets per game.
I tried to see how much money the cheerleaders make now, but could not find any numbers. But looking at their site now, I see that it even costs $40 to audition for a role of cheerleader. Plus, during the season, they are required to give 50 hours of charity work per season. Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account how much it costs to look the way an NFL cheerleader should look.
The NFL acts like it’s doing women a favor or something…
At the same time, the men are getting paid millions of dollars per season while the women only a couple or few thousand. Or, like the Buccaneer cheerleaders, they may make nothing. Granted, the men are competing in a sport where concussions are expected and life expectancy is short. But when the mascot makes twenty-some thousand per year to sixty-some thousand per year, getting paid a couple of thousand dollars to look good, be athletic and wear barely any clothing sounds entirely and completely off balance.
To hear an individual cheerleader or cheerleading team stands up for themselves is refreshing, especially when their work matters to an organization or corporation. (The Bengals organization makes approximately $1 million off of the work of the Ben-Gals cheerleaders.)
This issue reflects something larger in our society. First Ladies give many hours per week filling ambassador-like roles. Yet they receive no compensation. I often wonder if a First Lady could refuse the role and live a completely private life or work completely in her own position away from the White House. And if a man ever fills the role of “First Lady,” would they reconsider compensation rates?
And then there are many churches where the wife of the pastor is required to fill a role for – once again – no salary. Since stay-at-home parenting is predominantly completed by women, minimal to no thought is given to their compensation package and must rely solely on their spouse’s income.
But stay-at-home moms who are married and have a man taking care of them are heralded as heroes while stay-at-home moms who are single and must live on welfare are called “welfare queens” and “lazy.” I have the utmost respect for anyone who chooses this calling, whether they are married or not.
I clearly remember hearing Gloria Steinem say in one of her speeches that stay-at-home moms should get compensation for their work. And the reason is my next point…
Here’s the big issue: to our society, compensation is equivalent to value. When you make more money, you “matter” more. When you don’t make as much money, you matter less – unless you fill the societal proper role of your gender.
This is the exception: To our society, it’s ok if you make no money as long as you are a woman supporting a man – either his team, his fantasy, his role as leader, his job, etc. Apparently, that is reward in itself.
But what our culture forgets is that women and men are both made in God’s image and all are given gifts to make this world a strong place. When a woman works, her work is just as valuable as a man’s. And while it’s not my calling, even cheerleaders deserve the same respect and validation for their hard work as anyone else.
In reflecting upon this, I remember a story in scriptures that show women standing up for their fair share. Numbers 27 recalls the narrative of Zelophehad’s daughters who want their part of their father’s estate. Moses advocates on behalf of them, and God responds “Zelophehad’s daughters are right in what they are saying.”
And so are the NFL cheerleaders. Keep advocating for your fair share.