Updated: Mar 28, 2021
For almost five decades, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have been stealing the show from the sidelines. Using elaborate dance numbers and iconic uniforms, these cheerleaders have made themselves a symbol of Americana. With a Halloween costume, a Barbie Doll, an annual swimsuit calendar, two made-for-TV movies, two books, a documentary and 14 seasons of a hit reality TV show, this team has remained in the forefront of American minds since the 70s, but their rise to the top hasn’t been without controversy.
Since the DCC debuted in 1972, their skimpy uniforms have caused both fanfare and outrage. Many believed that the costumes and provocative dancing were objectifying the women. At the height of the feminist movement, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders found themselves the target of many protests. The Cheerleaders fought back and held their ground. Every member of the team stayed resolute that they were on the team by choice, in addition to the day-one requirement that the women either be full-time mothers, be students or hold down a full time job. While the cheerleaders had revealing costumes and sexy dance moves (for the time), they were representing the idea that a woman could be more than one thing. They weren’t shying away from the fact that they could be sexual beings but were simultaneously mothers, wives, students and career women.
It's no surprise that the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were at odds with the feminists of the 70s. The Cowboys organization is still a hot topic for social and ethical controversy; the Cheerleaders’ paychecks didn’t hold a candle to the players’, for example, or the zero-tolerance policy set for kneeling during the national anthem. In the 1970s however, the Cheerleaders were far ahead of the sociopolitical ideas of their time. In many ways, the DCC represented so much of what the feminist movement stood for: sexual liberation and the ability to make your own choices and support yourself. It’s no coincidence that as the conservative city of Dallas, Texas, became comfortable with the scantily clad cheerleaders, Dallas was the ignition site for the landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade in 1973. DCC original director Suzanne Mitchelle was, at that point, the only female executive in the Cowboys organization. In a day and age when women are pushing for representation, it is important to note that a lack of diversity is a problem that hasn't touched the DCC. Looking at historic rosters, it’s clear that the DCC has always pushed to have a racially diverse group of girls to represent the brand. At a point in time when nothing in Dallas was integrated, Mitchelle made sure that every young woman in the stands could see herself as a Cheerleader.
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have truly withstood the test of time. While the group is not past the need to evolve in many ways (specifically how much the women are paid), it is important to note the significance they hold in the history of the sexual revolution. Despite the push-back the uniform fielded, in the beginning it stood the test of time and in 2018 was memorialized into the Smithsonian. Through all the controversies they have faced in their 47 years, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have done some ground-breaking things for women, while cementing themselves as both pop culture icons and America’s sweethearts. Think about them on the sidelines while you are watching football this Thanksgiving.
Pop-culture column by Staff Writer Hannah Davis Johns