SHOWCASE day. My partner and I are hiding out in Heriot-Watt University’s Hugh Nisbet building while my daughter’s team runs rehearsal drills in a giant sports bubble across the campus.

The freak snowfall meant they missed the National Championships in Manchester in March but today the girls have a chance to perform the routines they’ve mastered. It’s also an opportunity for parents to see what they spend hours, weeks and serious cash on: competitive cheerleading.

It’s our first season. I resisted for two years before giving in to my daughter’s pleading and undeniable gymnastic skill. Other parents wander around with hairspray and tail-combs. “Team mums” buzz around the girls preparing them for the show. I’m out of my depth and out of my comfort zone. We’ve already had a mango-juice-on-the-uniform disaster, flapping, tears and a crimper burn. The irony of preening in a world-renowned STEM university isn’t lost on me.

I’m told competitive cheer is now a sport in its own right. The girls spend several nights a week developing flexibility, strength and acrobatic skill. They travel the country each season to compete against teams from across the UK, scoring points for stable pyramids, high tosses and clean stunts.

My daughter has a six-pack, can lift other girls and bends like a willow. Her tumbles possess a grace and ease entirely alien to me. I’m wowed and proud of her in a way that comes only from watching someone you gave birth too far surpass your own abilities. But it still makes me uneasy. She finds my discomfort amusing.

“Washington Redskins Cheerleaders Describe Topless Photoshoot and Uneasy Night Out” pops up on my phone. I screengrab it, text “SEE?!” with an accompanying Stephen Colbert “I told you so” gif (we have most of our conversations in a similar format these days). But I stop myself before I press send. This time I spare her the pointless monologue she can regurgitate verbatim, expertly parodying my gathered brows and desperate gesticulation. Blah blah patriarchy. Blah blah objectification. Blah blah body image.

She knows my “analysis”, but she doesn’t care. This is a thing she loves, that motivates her and gives her self-esteem. It’s brought new friendships into her life, and a discipline she’s never had before. When I raise an eyebrow, she calls me a fun sponge. I have to agree with her. But however far the sport has come, titillation for male athletes and spectators is how it started and I can’t unsee it, even for the positives it’s brought into my daughter’s life.

Any conversation about cheerleading between us is uneasy. I can’t help but offer a disclaimer or a qualifier or an inadvertent look when there’s talk of rhinestones and Fake Bake. When I offer my take, she either laughs, argues eloquently or groans. It’s the first topic on which we have found ourselves ideologically opposed.

Cheerleading is her first love, as guitars and bands were mine. To me it’s a minefield – a minefield I’m watching my not-so-little girl talk and tumble her way through as I watch with a mixture of horror and awe from the bleachers.

Cheer has taken over her life. At the start of high school, on the cusp of teendom, it has become her identity. She is a cheerleader and everyone knows.

If you didn’t, there are reminders aplenty: the varsity jacket with her name and team on it, the gym bag, onesie, bow, water bottle – the list goes on. I’m trying to make peace with it, to enjoy it vicariously through her and for her, but I’m doing a crappy job so far.

I feel stuck between failure as a parent and failure as a feminist. I’d like to do both well but this sport has brought the complexity of real life into crisp focus.

To be fair, cheer has evolved. These days chanting is minimal, and when they do chant, they chant for themselves. They don’t spell out words, giggle, whoop or toss their hair, although the resemblance to the all-American girl stereotype is undeniable.

The costumes, which come in form-fitting Lycra for flexibility, are still conspicuously scant on material. The obscenely volumised high-ponytails. The (minimal) make-up and the spray tans. For all of contemporary cheer’s striking athleticism, the aesthetic screams of times when girls were chosen for their sex appeal as well as their moves, for the benefit of men. I can’t separate what my daughter does from the fact that cheerleaders are still flown out to “entertain” troops.

Despite the hard work, the hours of training, the undeniable skill, when I see my daughter dressed up for this sport, it feels icky and dissonant. I see her standing atop a pyramid of girls who have been sexualised and upholding a narrow, stultifying feminine ideal for 60 years. She needs me to be cool with it, to respect her decisions. At this point, I can only offer the latter. Lord knows I’ve tried with the former. I’m still trying. “I love you. But I still find this weird.”

“You’re weird, but I still love you.”

I guess part of me rather naively thought feminist parenting would have sealed the deal to a feminist teen. That by trying to make her alive to the way sexism impacts girls and shapes their lives and choices, she wouldn’t waiver from the path I was laying out for her.

The harsh but instructive reality is: 1) You can’t impose your beliefs, political or otherwise on your children; 2) The things that are important to you are less important to them; 3) Thinking you can raise a headstrong girl to be anything other than what she wants to be is delusional at best and parental narcissism at worst.

I told her she had choices, and that she should trust her ability to make decisions. She has and she does. It just so happens that we disagree on what’s problematic about what she’s chosen as a hobby.

All I can do is lay the foundations, and hope that once the glamour fades, what remains is what she’s learning about teamwork, her strength and what she can achieve if she persists.