Rise of the Female Aggie Yell Leader?

Aggie Yell Leader Lans Martin (photo by Stuart Seeger)
Aggie Yell Leader Lans Martin (photo by Stuart Seeger)

Well, you can file this in the “unnecessary commentary few would be interested in” drawer. But it’s on the front page of my Wall Street Journal, so it’s made some news, and I think there are bigger principles that are touched by the “fun” news item it represents.

It looks as though Ms. Samantha Ketcham, a junior at Texas A&M University this year, is campaigning hard to become the first female Yell Leader.  For those unfamiliar with the tradition, check out the Wall Street Journal article, available without subscription, here: “There’s Lot’s of Yelling in Campaign to Break This Glass Ceiling” (WSJ, 2/27/2012).  The article actually covers the tradition fairly well, while mentioning many other A&M traditions, as well.  (Those of you who wonder why I begin most of my sermons or announcements or e-mails with “Howdy” will find your answer there.)

The fact is that Aggies don’t have cheerleaders, we have Yell Leaders: five guys (Rick Perry had been one while at A&M) dressed in white running around at football games who lead all the Aggies in the stands (and, yes, I’ve been one of them) in all of our arcane yells concerning farmers and bus drivers and the sawing off of our opponent’s horns in accordance with Psalm 75:10 (well, the only opponent to which this applies is t.u. — the Longhorns — which will be hard now that they’re in a different conference, but that’s another story).

Texas A&M used to be a school exclusively for the Corps of Cadets, gradually allowing nonregs (students who are not a part of the Corps of Cadets) and girls (students who are not boys), and is co-ed in many ways. While they aren’t a majority by far, there are even girls in the Corps of Cadets.

But the Yell Leaders have always been male.  For just over 100 years, it has been the one institution that has remained XY-chromosome-only. Some females have tried to be elected to the spot, but Ms. Ketcham’s campaign seems to be the most aggressive and most popular so far. You can check it out yourself on her website, samketchamforyell.com.

Let me say that I am sympathetic. Ms. Ketcham seems very loyal to Aggieland — a 3rd generation Aggie whose blood probably runs as maroon as anyone’s. She’s clearly no Two Percenter and doesn’t appear to be generally anti-tradition. The same WSJ article points out that though some suggest that the A&M dance team that has performed at basketball games in recent years should also perform at football games, Ms. Ketcham is against the idea, preferring the uniqueness of Texas A&M’s Yell Leader tradition, and good for her for thinking so.

At the same time, making one of the Yell Leaders a female would be a dilution of that tradition — an incremental but nontrivial decrease in the uniqueness she praises.

Yell Leaders are just that: Leaders. Unlike cheerleaders (forgive me, offended cheerleaders), they aren’t just performing to get the crowd excited and pumped, but they are leading and directing the entire student body, tens of thousands strong, like a team of coaches of the 12th Man. Sure, student class presidents have included females, and as our society increasingly demeans the idea of gender differences and demeans the idea of preferring men over women as leaders in such positions, that shouldn’t surprise us. I would say it is to society’s detriment, but that, too, is another post for another time.

And being a Yell Leader is a more overtly masculine role in ways that “student body president” (sadly) is no longer, surrounded by the sort of “release the XY-chromosome hounds!” traditions you might expect in such a role on a college campus that used to be all military corps. Consider the scene below:

Corps Freshmen tackle the Yell Leaders after a victory over Oklahoma State in 2007 (photo by BQZip01 from Wikipdea)

Here we see the tradition of chasing down the Yell Leaders (the guys in white) after a winning game and carrying them off to throw then into the fountain. But can you imagine the scene above if one of the “guys in white” was a gal? If you find that too easy to imagine (you shouldn’t) then imagine all of the figures in white being gals, with a mob of men (or vastly a majority of men) running them down to physically tackle them and throw them into a fountain.  I notice the article addresses the concern about a girl in white being thrown into a fountain (Ms. Ketcham says she plans to wear a swimsuit under her clothes), but what of the rough and tumble leading up to it? And who wants to be one of a pack of adrenaline-fueled young men, running down a girl to catch her and carry her off like a mob? Who thinks that is a good idea? Anyone?

Yell Leaders have remained a tiny bastion of the regrettably outdated idea of masculine leadership. And, seeing them in action, it comes across as a traditionally masculine role, to which a masculine image is naturally suited, like that of a stereotypical drill sergeant. Could a female do it? I am sure one could. There are, after all, female drill sergeants. But the real question is: should a female do it? (The same could be asked of drill sergeant-ing, by the way.) It isn’t a popular question to ask anymore, but it really is the question at hand.

If having all male leadership means nothing anymore, then the answer is easy: “Sure, if she wants to.” But male leadership does mean something, I believe. And what a statement on our society that defending the notion that male leadership still means something could center on deciding whether or not a group of five guys yelling at football games should be allowed to include a girl. It’s a tradition I love, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like deciding on who should be the leader of the free world, and I don’t recall hearing a lot of real debate about that when Mrs. Clinton or Mrs. Palin were vying for such spots. Whether or not a female should be allowed to serve as a Yell Leader is, in the large scope of things, incredibly trivial.

But the larger idea the question represents is not trivial, at all. Those who think that the Texas A&M’s cadre of Yell Leaders should remain a male-only group, like I do, should ask themselves why they think so — why they think such a tradition is worth holding on to. Maybe they will get a glimpse of a larger discussion that needs to be had.

I have nothing against Ms. Ketcham, and I admire her spunk and determination, as well as her passion for Aggieland, a school I, too, love very much. But if she does succeed, I will mourn a bit that traditional masculine leadership’s death by a thousand cuts has proceeded apace with one more nip.

[VERY LATE UPDATE, 9/14/2012: Ms. Ketcham did not succeed in her quest, though she received more votes than any other woman who has run before, coming in at 5th place in a six-candidate race where the top three are picked. Of note, the 6th place candidate was also a female. Here’s an article on the results.]

5 thoughts on “Rise of the Female Aggie Yell Leader?

  1. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    I think your last paragraph, and especially your last sentence, sums it up perfectly: I have nothing against Ms. Ketcham, and I admire her spunk and determination, as well as her passion for Aggieland, a school I, too, love very much. But if she does succeed, I will mourn a bit that traditional masculine leadership’s death by a thousand cuts has proceeded apace with one more nip.


  2. So you and the other Aggies have a problem with the Longhorns, huh? You want to make something of it?

    I don’t know quite how to say this without offending everyone. But many women do have a problem with identity, feeling important, and having a part in our modern society. And I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of men. If the guys stopped acting like selfish jerks and idiots, then perhaps the ladies would trust them a little more.

    If a guy wants the right to leadership, then he better well accept the responsibility or fruits of his leadership. He can’t have it both ways. Of course the ladies will look elsewhere if they can’t depend on or trust in their men.

  3. Hey, the schools, themselves, have been “making something of it” since the end of the 1800s, so don’t look at me. Don’t you know how Bevo got its name? 🙂 And I don’t know if I would place the blame of the state of things solely on the shoulders of men, but they certainly do share their part.

  4. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Steve: We have gone way past the time when it’s the women who should be worried primarily about identity, feeling important, and having a part in our modern society. The shoe is decidedly on the other foot and has been for some time – and it will become more and more so. Much of that problem too lies on the shoulders of men, but not all, no more than the other large issues at hand.

    Yes, there is still considerable resistance. Yes, this particularly stupid war hasn’t been won in women’s favor yet. Yes, there is a very long way to go before anything like such a victory happens outside the Western and some parts of the developing world (although give the UN time, they’re working on that). But we are simply running from one ditch headlong into another – or, perhaps better said as Mr. Smith did, it’s our turn to sit in the prisoner’s chair and suffer the slow death of a thousand cuts to every genuine basis to our self-esteem. Reaping what we sowed? Indeed, but that doesn’t excuse the extremism in reaction that drives the women’s movement at its core. It doesn’t even excuse the relatively mild trickle-down effect that challenges any bastion of masculine-only tradition, whether it makes sense to challenge it or not.

    I’m not speaking as someone unsympathetic to women’s genuine concerns. Directly and by example, I was taught the opposite from childhood up, and it helps to have an estrogen-influenced NF temperament as well. And, I study the Bible and always admired Jesus’ ability to relate to women at least as easily as to men. I grew up in a single-mother household (having been abandoned, literally, by my father when still a babe) where such concerns were very much front and center and (in high school) at a time in history when they were coming to a head in the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Thankfully most women saw what was really driving the ERA and rejected it. I was there. I heard them talk about why they rejected it. For them, “equal pay for equal work” was more than enough. They didn’t want legal “equality” redefined under a philosophical or political cloak of shadow as “sameness across the board”. And neither did I. I still don’t.

    Every enduring society, from “primitive” to “high”, has recognized that there are some social institutions that should be for men only and some that should be for women only. And indeed, some that should be for children only. It is in such institutions that a person’s individual and social identity is largely forged. Are you arguing against this basic social truth? For as a perceptive woman author put it, if women can do everything men can do and have babies too, what good is it to be a man? She saw this gut reaction on the part of men, she saw it as a cross-cultural thing and I believe (as she did) that it’s something that should be reckoned with.

    It’s not because men are “selfish jerks and idiots” that this is going on – talk about a sweeping generalization (and not by any means the first I’ve seen of this kind from you, here and elsewhere, if I may say it)! It’s because some men have been jerks, some women overreacted to their jerkitude, and (in at least one case, driven by a sort of missionary zeal that sounds as if it were directly demon-inspired) they started a social avalanche that’s been subject to the Law of Unexpected Consequences. It’s encouraged men to become more jerkified and women to make gains at the expense of men. And it has become a vicious cycle. And women are left wondering, “where are all the men?” Well, they should look to their own houses. They share half the blame, and there are women as well as men who still have the courage to say so. (Mr. Smith, you might not agree with that percentage assessment, and if you have a more compelling logic I’ll hear it, but I find it hard to believe otherwise given what male-female dynamics are.)

    Dr. Doug Winnail had some very interesting things to say about what drove one of the spearheads of the woman’s liberation movement back in the day and I recommend it to you and others highly:


    “Offense” would not be the right description of my reaction to your statement. Respect of real or alleged individual rights at any price – that’s what I stand against, and i hope you don’t have that lurking behind what you say. Such a stance doesn’t work in the long run – rather, it puts a lot of people, some no doubt more than others, between rocks and hard places. And it’s certainly no solution to the ever-increasing jerkitude of the men in our society.

  5. @John: I can’t reply to every little point you said without making a several page comment. Frankly, I’d like to move away from that stuff. Not that I’m afraid to do so, but that it becomes a waste of time and energy after awhile.

    Your first two paragraphs? I agree with you one hundred percent! As you said, “the shoe is.decidedly the on the other foot” and that “it’s our turn to sit in the prisoner’s chair.” Well said! I would suggest, however, that the guys are still responsible for the situation, because it could not have happened unless they allowed or created it.

    What’s happened to the men in modern Israel? Are they so weak, selfish, and ineffectual that they want to whine, wring their hands, and blame the women (wimp, wimp, wimp)???

    Of course some women are bad apples. No kidding. It doesn’t excuse the “extremism that drives the women’s movement,” just as you said. That foot doesn’t plant itself in the door of broader society, however, unless the men fail in their responsibility.

    Your third paragraph? I can’t speak to your personal situation, and I would be out of line to do so. I can only say that I empathize with you. There’s a whole lot of male children growing up in that kind of situation. Where are their fathers???

    Your fourth paragraph? Of course there should be institutions for men only or women only.

    Look, I’ve been accused of being a right wing, knuckle dragging, chauvinist conservative. Is it true? Sometime ago I set my foot on a path that I was determined to follow. I wasn’t going to let any woman argue with me, persuade me, or deflect me into another path. Take a walk and find somebody else. And don’t act like I’m suppose to feel somehow grateful.

    Then you find a woman walking down the same path as you, and she becomes the most important person in the world. You’ll give her the only blanket and sit in the snow because that’s how important she is. And somewhere along the line she’ll bring you a healing that you didn’t think possible.

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