Gender Roles in “But I’m a Cheerleader”

The 1999 satirical romantic-comedy film “But I’m a Cheerleader” is directed by Jamie Babbit and stars Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, and RuPall to name a few. The movie focuses on a teenage girl, Megan Bloomfield (Lyonne), who is sent to a conversion therapy camp, True Directions, because her parents and friends suspect she is a lesbian. There Megan soon comes to embrace her sexual orientation, despite the therapy, and falls in love with Graham (DuVall). The movie uses the theme of socially constructed gender roles to “cure” homosexuality.

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The production and costume design of the movie was meant to reflect the idea of gender roles. There is a progression from the organic world of Megan’s hometown, where the main colors are orange and brown, to the fake world of True Directions, dominated by intense blues and pinks, which show the artificiality of gender roles. In the camp, the male campers wear only dark blue shorts, shirts, and ties, whereas the female campers wear only bright pink skirts and blouses. By having the campers wear clothes that are typically associated with the standard male outfit and the standard female outfit, it tries to show the campers how normal straight people dress.

Besides making the campers wear gender specific clothes, they make the campers perform a series of tasks associated with each gender. For example girls are taught how to clean a house, change aBut_I'm_a_Cheerleader_BLUE baby, how to sew, specifically a wedding dress, how to wear make-up and look like a “pretty young woman”. Guys are taught how to change a tire and fix a car’s engine, how to play football, and how to chop wood and spit. The idea is if the campers realize and practice their intended role in society then their homosexuality will be cured.

Along with performing gender specific tasks, the campers are also given cards with images of their gender doing the typical gender roles the campers should be emulating. Megan and Graham are going over the cards, and Megan shows Graham a card of a but-im-a-cheerleaderwoman taking out the trash. Graham responds with “I see a woman” and Megan frustratedly says “ It’s a mother. Women have roles. After you learn that you’ll stop objectifying them.” The concept that is being taught at the camp is that homosexuality is caused by not conforming to the socially constructed gender roles. In order to cure this homosexuality, you have to act and dress like an ideal man or woman performing the gender roles given to you by society.

The idea that performing gender specific tasks and wearing gender specific clothes will change who someone loves is just ridiculous and ignorant. The movie showcases this in a funny light-hearted way but still gets the message across: love is love, and it cannot be cured.

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