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We've got Feminists, Yes We Do!: an interview with the Pirate Cheerleaders

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A few years ago I was doing freelance writing for the now defunct "actionmanMagazine". Actually, I only ever did one piece...and it never ran. So here for posterity's sake (and because I loved them dearly) is my interview with the also defunct Milwaukee Pirate Cheerleaders. I was fortunate that this interview in its own small way helped me get to know some of the Pirate Cheerleaders personally and would later land me a job at Broad Vocabulary, Milwaukee's former feminist bookstore.


"We're punk rockers without instruments," says Marisa Lange, co-founder of the Pirate Cheerleaders. Part rock-n-roll, part activism, and all fun, the Pirate Cheerleaders are a feminist pep squad from Milwaukee; and they're out to start a revolution. The team is made up of Marisa Lange, Chloe Stewart, Allison Halter, Kelly Todd, Molly Tennessen, and Joanna Ricco. actionmanMAGAZINE recently sat down and talked with the Cheerleaders about feminism, sexuality and crotch grabbing.

AM: When did the Pirate Cheerleaders start?

PC: We started back in February of 2000. It started out at a College Feminist meeting where we were talking about body issues and eating disorders, and we decided we needed something that was more in your face. We thought: roller skates and cheerleading! We dropped the roller skates, but the cheerleading thing worked. Our first show was on Valentine's Day back in 2000.

AM: How did you guys decide on cheerleading?

PC: We saw these artist cheerleaders at Ladyfest in Olympia. They were really awesome and funny. They talked about art and were also political. And we decided it would be really easy. All we had to do was get skirts and make up rhymes. It just came together in a hodge-podge kind of way.

AM: What issues are you trying to promote with the Cheerleaders? ?

PC: We're a feminist cheerleading squad, so pretty much all feminist issues. There are so many, but we're trying to tackle them all. Just by the nature of where we play and who we play with, a lot of what we're saying is about creating your own space as a woman in the art and music scene - specifically in the genres that have sort of passed over women, like the rock-n-roll and hardcore scenes where women aren't as usually recognized.

AM: It seems like the Pirate Cheerleaders could be misread as just being sexy.

PC: Well we are! I mean, look at us. You can't just suddenly stop being sexy 'cause you're trying to make a point. How you look is going to be out there even if you're with the most P.C. crowd. People are still going to be like, "Whoa she's hot!" or "Look at her tits, look at her ass!" It's still going to be thought. If we're being sexy that's okay, but that's not the point. There's a big difference between being sexy and being objectified, and we're definitely not objectified. We're definitely in control the whole time. It's okay to be sexy. Women that call themselves feminists are the sexiest women ever! Feminists get stereotyped as men hating dykes, and that's not true. Reclaiming your body and how you look is important. We've also taken it so far that most people realize that it's a parody of what we all expect cheerleaders and women to look like.

AM: You guys also seem to have definite rock-n-roll characteristics.

PC: It's the attitude! It's a lot easier for us to come together as cheerleaders and make up cheers and get them out there. It's more immediate. Instead of us learning to play instruments and working together as a band, we can get our message out more simply and directly. It also provides us opportunities that we might not have as a band. We're not going to reach frat boys at a basement show, and those are the kind of people that need to hear us the most. We played this one show where there were these little seven-year-old girls who got to see us. They were really excited. If we had been a band they probably wouldn't have been as interested, but because we were cheerleaders, it was something they could relate to.

AM: Do you have any specific events that stick out among the rest?

PC: Ladyfest! It was such an amazing opportunity to be with all these incredible women who were performing. The energy there was insane. We also did a show at the Empty Bottle. That was great.

AM: Any bad experiences?

PC: Summerfest was terrible! We had to edit over half our cheers because of swears. Our rhymes were really lame. Some of us couldn't even make it so we weren't a full team. We had to edit out our moves too. We couldn't grab ourselves at all. When we grab ourselves, that's not a choreographed move. That's just something we do, so to not be able to was really terrible. We're just so hot we can't keep our hands off ourselves!

AM: What do you see as men's role in Feminism?

PC: That's a big can of worms. It's great to have men supporting feminism, and we're not anti-men; but sometimes women need to have their own space. Boys need to recognize that there needs to be women-only things. Boys might feel hurt or left out when they want to participate in feminist activities, but sometimes women just need to be with women. They need to not only let women have their own space but to also learn about feminism. Boys need to take the responsibility and monitor their own actions. Maybe for men to think about how their gender roles are defined and what masculinity means.

AM: What are the future plans for the Pirate Cheerleaders?

PC: We want to get out and have more shows. We're planning on doing tours of malls and maybe high schools. Really spread ourselves out and reach younger girls. We'd like to go to more scenester parties and be really obnoxious. But obnoxious in a progressive way. Everyone can use a little pirate in their lives.

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