Weston Warhorse

When Tradition Becomes Toxic: The Evolution of Powderpuff

Elizabeth Enright, Section Editor

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Perhaps it is not a surprise that one of the most popular homecoming events is one rooted in tradition, but with tradition comes age. At what point has the social and political climate changed enough to render what used to be a revolutionary event problematic?

Powderpuff is an unconventional football game in which gender roles are reversed; girls act in typical male roles by playing in the game, while often male cheerleaders entertain the onlookers. Typically, it’s juniors vs. seniors, underclassmen vs. upperclassman, or competition between schools.

As the girls run onto the field, trampling years of oppression where women have been forbidden to play, one question still persists: is this game sexist?

Originally intended to be empowering, the Powderpuff game first occurred as early as 1931, but did not have a significant social impact until 1945.

At Eastern State Teachers College in South Dakota, there was a problem; the majority of men were fighting in WWII, and only about 3 men were eligible to play in the homecoming football game. The custom was that if there was homecoming, there had to be a football game. A controversial solution was proposed.

What if women were allowed to play?

That proposition was, of course, met with opposition. Robert C. Nelles, who was a freshman that year at ESTC and a member of the homecoming committee, was fiercely opposed to this idea. He stated that “the very idea of women playing football was enough to make your teeth curl.”

Despite resistance, the movement pressed on and the game was allowed to go on with great success. Stands were packed, ample amounts of money was raised and most importantly, the precedent was now set that women could play sports. The status quo had been abolished.

The first modern Powderpuff game happened in 1972 in Wallingford, Connecticut at Mark T. Sheehan High School. From there on, the game was introduced into many high schools all across the country, evolving into a tradition for many years.

But as time progresses, so do social movements. Culture evolves; equality increases, meanings change. Has putting this event into the mainstream caused it to be ridiculed, a product of internalized sexism rather than overt?

The girls run onto the field. The onlookers watch, but do they see years of oppression being trampled, or do they see a group of girls in tight fitting shorts?

“I feel like I’m being objectified. I know that all the guys are only looking to see all the girls in spandex out on the field,” states Emma Rogers, a junior at Weston High School.

The era where women were not allowed to participate in sports is far in the past. In the years since women broke that barrier, some women have begun to wonder whether Powderpuff has become a perverted version of its original intent.

As social climates have changed, where it is no longer radical for a woman to play sports, is this demeaning to women’s ability? Reversing gender roles for a singular game can turn it into a mockery. If this was a serious cause, then shouldn’t women be allowed to play professionally?

The addition of male cheerleaders also serves to be another set of problems. Women playing temporarily as football players can make football a mockery, but men acting as cheerleaders does just the same to cheer, a female dominated sport.

The name itself even serves as a mockery; it describes a makeup applicator, which other than the fact that it has nothing to do with the game itself, only serves to prove that anything relating to femininity is something to be ridiculed.
Some still argue that tradition overpowers all; it’s just a game, and attempting to observe ramifications is ultimately pointless. “I think it’s fun. When you look too closely at the traditions behind it, yeah, it’s kinda weird. But it’s really fun and I get out of class.” states Holly DeBarger, a senior at Weston High School. “I also really like the addition of male cheerleaders. That brings some equality into it.”

It seems as if the tradition is here to stay; kids want an excuse to get out of class, and sports help foster healthy competition in the school. It is important however to consider the consequences these traditions have on society.

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When Tradition Becomes Toxic: The Evolution of Powderpuff