Flaunting gender roles is always dangerous in modern society, let alone in a school setting. Nonetheless, there are certain long running traditions which have always been accommodated. Primary among them are long running events like homecoming "fancy dress" weeks and powderpuff football games, where cheerleaders play as football players and the jocks get to dress up as the cheerleaders.
Generally, powderpuff games are just good fun. Evidently that wasn't the case in suburban Boston, where one school principal has banned the game and been met by an absolute avalanche of student discord as a result.
As reported by the Boston Globe and Boston TV network WCVB, among other sources, the 2013 Newton (Ma.) South High powderpuff game was unilaterally cancelled by Newton South principal Joel Stembridge. The school's gran poobah has apparently been concerned about what he feels are sexist overtones perpetuated by the game. Then, recent editions of the traditional contest proved to be exceedingly competitive, leading Stembridge to harbor concern about the student athletes' safety.
"Last year alone, there were three concussions and one serious knee injury," Stembridge wrote in a letter to parents. "A couple of years ago there were broken bones."
Regarding issues of sexism, Stembridge's letter addressed them in the passage below, which was obtained by WCVB.
The name 'powderpuff,' which most students still call the game, inadvertently serves to mock the hard-fought struggles of female athletes to be taken seriously and, we think, perpetuates negative stereotypes about femininity and female athletes.
You can see footage of a past Newton South powderpuff game above and decide whether it lives up to Stembridge's billing.
Stembridge's concern clearly doesn't mesh with student opinion. The game is traditionally contested between the junior and senior classes on Thanksgiving Eve, raising school spirit just before the biggest football game of the year. Many of the girls involved in the game are also varsity athletes, and they were quick to note a sense of belittlement with the concept that powderpuff games were sexist or belittling in any way.
"Powderpuff is a celebration of women’s sports," Lucy Holmes, a senior soccer player told the Globe as part of it's extensive report on the issue. "It's a rite of passage for juniors and seniors. It's very disheartening."
Holmes and her classmates made their views clear immediately after Stembridge issued his decision to cancel the game. Many students wore all school colors on campus Thursday to protest the event, leading to an immediate reaction from Stembridge himself. WCVB reported that he has already held discussions with some students, and said he is willing to "have a conversation about the event."
That may not be as good as getting the annual student pride fest reinstated, but it's a start, and one that Newton South students will have to accept if they're going to play again, either this year or in the future.
"Ever since I was an underclassmen, I've been looking forward to my senior year of Powderpuff and doing Powderpuff junior year, and it's just a rite of passage," Monique Gould told WCVB. "It's just really a fun day, and we have a pep rally and the game, and everyone is just really excited to play and have an event that brings our school together."