October 1, 2005

About that pink locker room....

WaPo sports columnist Sally Jenkins takes on the big pink locker room controversy. Is it a significant feminist issue that the visiting team's locker room at the University of Iowa has a pink decor?
An Iowa law professor has deconstructed those pink walls in Kinnick Stadium, and, instead of seeing them as a joke, has found semiotic messages of misogyny and homophobia there. "The pink locker room is a subtle way of painting the words 'sissy,' 'girlie man' . . . on the walls," Erin Buzuvis charges. She is suggesting that the locker room be redone, presumably in a more serious-minded and gender-neutral taupe, gunmetal or ochre....

"In this context, putting your opponent in a pink locker room is saying, 'You are weak like a girl,' or 'You are weak like a gay man,' " Buzuvis wrote in her blog....

You have to try awfully hard to take offense at what's implied in a color....

If you are not offended by Iowa's pink locker room, it may be because you recognize a joke, a tease, and a riff. You realize that contact with the dread color pink does not actually make a man weak, or a woman, either.
Okay, there's a lot going here, and I need to break it down into several points.

1. The fact that something is a joke doesn't mean it can't be offensive, and taking offense at something meant as a joke doesn't mean you don't get the joke. You can imagine a blatantly racist or sexist joke that is also hilarious that you would nevertheless know damn well not to tell. You'd never think saying "Hey, it's a joke" would get you out of trouble. And it shouldn't.

2. I'm sure Buzuvis understands the humor of the pink locker room. (I'd link to Buzuvis's blog, but she seems to have taken it down.) She's just offended by the University's engaging in humor that is widely perceived as making a connection between women and weakness. (I realize the original reason for pink is supposedly that it is a restful color, not that it is a girly color.)

3. The real question is what feminists ought to do about it. We could laugh along, ignore it, blog an objection once, write and complain about it a lot, or go all activist about it and demand that the University apologize and redecorate. There's a whole range of possible reactions.

Some people at Iowa seem to have decided to take the activist route:
''I want the locker room gone,'' law school professor Jill Gaulding told a university committee studying the athletic department's compliance with NCAA standards, including gender equity.
I wouldn't have picked this battle. The pink locker room is a long tradition -- a sports tradition, at a big sports school. Most people think it's funny and in good fun. Feminists have long had the problem of looking like they don't have a sense of humor. (I remember a Ms. Magazine story from the early 1970s on the subject. I remember it so vividly I can describe the cover. It had a picture of Wonder Woman and the lines: "Do you know feminists have no sense of humor?" and "No, but if you hum a few bars, I'll play along.") It doesn't help feminism to trigger the old prejudice that feminism is grim and puritanical.

It's one thing to lay out feminist critique on your blog. If you do, it's important to work out ways to be good at feminist blogging. That would include sharp-tongued humor, strong observation, and surprising insights, not platitudes and legalisms.

It's quite another thing to threaten to take away the things people love. Some things people love are worth destroying. The pink locker room isn't one of them.

UPDATE: Iowa lawprof Tung Yin wrote about the controvery a while back, here and here. Lots of heated comments over there too.

48 comments:

Meade said...

Besides, the significance of pink is not that it's associated with girls but with baby girls.

If the visitors' locker rooms for women's volleyball were painted pink, the message would not be "you're weak because you're girls." It would be "prepare to get a spanking and go home crying like little babies."

Ooo, we're scared.

Icepick said...

Redecorate? There's no redecorating in football!There's no decorating in football!

Charlie (Colorado) said...

Actually, the significance of pink is that it's supposed to be a "calming" color. Lots of places are painted pink or something close (pale rose, "desert rose", that kind of thing) that are supposed to be calm and relaxing.

The message isn't "you're queer", it's "you too nice to get all angry and pushy."

Theis said...

Aren't there enough actual cases of misogyny and sex discrimination going on in Iowa to keep this lady busy? I think the real reason the pink locker room got Erin Buzuvis out of her chair is that her name is now in the Washington Post.

Make no mistake, the locker room is pink so the visiting team will know they're pussies. (Pardon,but it's the right word, because the joke really is adolescent) It's just not worth any outrage.

Out of curiosity, can anyone come up with an analogous paint job for the visiting women's locker room that would upset the men? Camo? John Deere theme?

Meade said...

"Out of curiosity, can anyone come up with an analogous paint job for the visiting women's locker room that would upset the men?"

No, because men (and adult rational women) don't get upset over colors.

SippicanCottage said...
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Charles said...

I don't suppose anyone checked to see if it helped their team win against opponents subjected to that bit of psychological warfare? Then you could work on if the opponents lost due to having their manhood assaulted mentally, or they were too calm after time in there.

EddieP said...

Iowa is just getting ahead of the curve where Title IX demands co-gender football teams.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RiverRat said...

Ban Pink...as long as you include Code Pink.

vbspurs said...

"Do you know feminists have no sense of humor?" and "No, but if you hum a few bars, I'll play along.") It doesn't help feminism to trigger the old prejudice that feminism is grim and puritanical.

I wish I had had that pithy Ms. magazine riposte when I heard Sean Penn berate Chris Rock for his Oscars "slam" on Jude Law.

But then, I think most people understand that ideologues have no sense of humour.

And this is why I don't call myself a feminist

...in academia, I'm not surrounded by women professors who are intelligent, above-board about feminism, like my mother is.

They're the petty, rabid, unhumourless types who go around taking offense at the inoffensive.

(Like the pink lockerroom. I wonder if Sally Jenkins will be invited back in. Probably. Seeing as how she could sue for discrimination if not)

P.S.: One lady professor, who looks like she stepped out of Hippie Unchic magazine, told my classmates that "femayle" is preferrable to "female" when handing in patient reports during rotations.

I ask you.

Cheers,
Victoria

Jeff said...

While the protesting academics are tackling the use of pink in the locker rooms, they might also want to dispatch humyn rights observers to the team training sessions to ensure that no coach tries to motivate his players by calling them "ladies"!

This is another battle in the war against human nature being waged by the academic left in the form of enforcing the notion that gender is a social construct.

Seriously, the bottom line here is that the entire foundation of masculinity is a seperation of men from that which is feminine. What's more masculine than confronting another man physically and humiliating him through superior athletic ability?

Try fielding a female football team against the Buckeyes or whoever and see what the results are. If they can beat a male team (any male team), then maybe the "stigma" of pink will end or even reverse.

vbspurs said...

As an aside:

Gianluigi Buffon, Italy and Juventus goalkeeper, wearing his trademark pink shirt.

In macho Italy, it caused a furour, even to this day.

He also wears the unusual-for-soccer, number 88, which has Fascist overtones -- so don't go calling Gloria Steinem to praise him just yet.

Cheers,
Victoria

PatCA said...

Another example of lonely activists working in an environment where pretty much everything is okay.

Sports exists in a certain discourse or milieu that includes competition, razzing, psy-ops against your opposition. A pink room is fine here, but probably wouldn't be in, say, the Supreme Court bathrooms.

I suspect competition is the real "enemy" here. Winning implies that someone loses, and that's unacceptable in this PC world.

Big Hal said...

I thought it was painted pink because as at one time it was thought to be a calming color, and like a lot of things to do with sports got turned into a tradition. I remember that when I was in a high school the visiting team dressed in the girls locker room. Sometimes they locker rooms were pink sometimes they weren't, but in any case it didn't make much difference in the games. I had the misfortune of spending a weekend (speculating about the identity of a mysterious white powder found during the traffic stop of a van you are riding in is not a good move) in jail once and I noticed the cell block was painted pink. I suspect that most Iowans outside of Iowa City will roll their eyes and say something along the lines of "It's Iowa City what do you expect" Then they'll go back to talking about how the Hawks are doing and wondering if they will make it to a bowl game.

PatCA said...

After reading the article, I wonder if "several" people opposing something constitutes a bona fide conflict or if this is just a slow news day.

I also like the Avening Angel, Stalinist tone, if the quote is true: 'I want the locker room gone,' law school professor Jill Gaulding told a university committee.

Jeff, I think to many feminists, masculinity is indeed the enemy.

vbspurs said...

Seriously, the bottom line here is that the entire foundation of masculinity is a seperation of men from that which is feminine. What's more masculine than confronting another man physically and humiliating him through superior athletic ability?

This is exactly right.

Listen, I don't like when I hear coaches or managers call their players "ladies" to insult them. Something inside me recoils visibly.

It implicitly suggests that I, as a woman, am weak. And that's just not true.

As a woman, God willing, one day I will give birth to my children -- and that is a monumentally courageous thing to undergo. Many men would blanch if they had to do so.

But men produce testosterone, and that makes them stronger, and faster than we women. That's a fact of life.

Strong physically doesn't mean strong morally, but it's fair to say that in sport, the physical is primordial, thus "you run like a girl", is apt.

(shrug)

Cheers,
Victoria

Jeff said...

On a related note, an old joke:

Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A: That's not funny!

vbspurs said...

I suspect competition is the real "enemy" here. Winning implies that someone loses, and that's unacceptable in this PC world.

This is why in many public school systems, like in California, kids are not allowed to keep score in dodgeball, anymore.

I suppose the rationale for that has something to do with Vince Lombardi's famous quote:

"If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?"

The meme here is about feelings. Pink walls, or dodgeball. It's the same thing.

Cheers,
Victoria

SippicanCottage said...
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vbspurs said...

Q:"How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

A: "That's not funny."


Sippican, you know something is really funny when you laugh after reading Jeff say it, and then you too.

I think I may just not saying it to that "femayle" professor though.

She may have her principles, but they don't include fairness when you stick up for your own beliefs (as I learnt to my detriment...).

Cheers,
Victoria

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tcd said...

I onced volunteered at a women's shelter for battered women and had to go through a lengthy training course so that I would know how to help the women in a crisis situation (such as a suicidal caller). I noticed in our reading material that the word "women" was spelled "womyn" and a lot of the training was geared towards indoctrinating feminists ideals in not only the women who were seeking help from the shelter but also towards those of us who had volunteered to help. I just thought to myself that a battered woman needed more than a lesson in feminist semantics. I stayed as long as I could endure the suffocating feminist atmosphere (about 6 months).

Meade said...

Old politically incorrect coach: "You run like a girl"

New politically correct coach: "Whyt? Yre you testosterone deficient?"

Ann Althouse said...

Hey, this thread was taking off while I was outside trying to get started on the first item on my To Do list: "paint house." (Really. Don't ask! No, seriously, it's just some trim.)

Victoria: "And this is why I don't call myself a feminist..." That's why you should call yourself a feminist. The territory shouldn't be ceded to such people. I used to hesitate to call myself a feminist because I felt other people were out there actively defining the word and I didn't want them defining me. Now I think it's important for sensible people to claim the word and keep it from getting ruined.

Pat: Yeah, that quote "I want the locker room gone," it says more than it was supposed to.

Jonathan said...

The leader in the Giro d'Italia bike race wears a pink jersey. Pink is a macho color!

OK, seriously. The Wash. Post columnist put it best:

The whole point was to discomfit people who were insecure enough or dumb enough to take it seriously.

This statement applies equally well to the humorless ideologues as to the opposing team, which is the columnist's point. The idologues won't get it, though.

Ann Althouse said...

"If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?"

Well, blog traffic isn't everything, but I still have a Site Meter.

Meade said...

"... I still have a Site Meter"

Harrumpf! Hardly lady-like.

Wade_Garrett said...

I agree with the sentiment that it is meant to discomfit people insecure or dumb enough to take it seriously.

In my own athletic career, my teammates and I had to put up with: locker rooms with no heat, locker rooms where the heat was turned up to 100 degrees, locker rooms with no hot water in the shower, no towels, etc. If the Iowa locker room has hot showers and is kept at something approaching room temperature, then a mere pink paint job would probably represent LESS gamesmanship than the opposing players are accustomed to encountering when they play on the road.

vbspurs said...

Victoria: "And this is why I don't call myself a feminist..." That's why you should call yourself a feminist. The territory shouldn't be ceded to such people. I used to hesitate to call myself a feminist because I felt other people were out there actively defining the word and I didn't want them defining me. Now I think it's important for sensible people to claim the word and keep it from getting ruined.

I know what you're saying. I agree with what you're saying, on principle.

But I just can't.

The moniker is too tainted by my own personal and intellectual experiences with feminists.

Maybe who knows, it can be like liberals who know call themselves progressives, because Ronald Reagan did such a number on them, that liberal is a dirty word.

Let's think of a new name, people!

Vaginists?

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Well, blog traffic isn't everything, but I still have a Site Meter.

Because man is a competitive animal!

And thank f-bomb for that.

Cheers,
Victoria

Jeff said...

patca,

I agree that the 'I want the locker room gone,' quote is extremely telling. It's the demonstration of raw power, liberated-woman style. As macho as any football player trash talking a rival before a big game.

The whole thing is extremely Soviet in an Orwellian sense, trying to airbrush over inconvenient facts of biology and innate nature. And doing so by way of an exercise of brute political power, trying to subjugate the overarching symbol of unfeminised masculinity present on every academic landscape in America: the football team, the JOCK!

This isn't about discrimination or misogyny, it's about political power on the campus. It must be galling to be a feminist academic, dedicated to leveling the gender playing field, and still be absoulutely surrounded by team logos and football talk and the whole state streaming in to see the big game, in effect celebrating uniquely male power and ritual. And seeing that a good portion of the celebrants are young womyn!

Hence the rare chance of taking another sacrosanct male scalp is being pursued with gusto (gusta?). They are going after their goal with the same spirit of competitiveness and lust for domination as any tackle gunning for the opposing quarterback.

If this contest goes the same way as the recent Larry Summers vs. Feminist Establisment bowl game, then I predict that it's the Iowa coaches offices that will be painted pink.

Wade_Garrett said...

I consider myself a liberal, and I think that people who call themselves progressives have ceded the word 'liberal' to Rush Limbaugh et al. However, the biggest point of contention between my liberal friends and I in college was over their desire to protest everything, while I always stressed the importance of picking your battles.

Big Ten football is enormously presitigious. These football teams are more critical to the overall health of their Universities than any other teams in the country. Study after study has shown that, when a football team does well, alumni giving increases enormously, applications increase enormously, schools have more success attracting new professors and retaining old professors, and so forth. Even people who don't consider themselves to be real football fans recognize that morale is seriously effected by the football team's success. Any attempt to change the football team's culture is going to be met with an enormous amount of resistance and negative press.

Feminists demanding that the football team redcorate its locker rooms will only reinforce a lot of negative stereotypes. I agree with some of the other comments that there are probably many, many things happening on campus that deserve the attention of feminist activists than the visiting team's locker room.

PatCA said...

Terrence,
You seem like a reasonable guy, so I'll ask: are you saying you think there is something inherently bad about a violent sport like football but you choose not to fight it?

What a lot of people who might otherwise sympathsize with activist feminists object to is that membership in that society demands that every human activity, from shaving your armpits to enjoying football, must be mediated by group dogma. It's suffocating to the human spirit.

Wade_Garrett said...

Pat,

I don't think there's anything inherently bad about the game of football; I am a loyal of my hometown Buffalo Bills. Having said that, major-conference football programs are 800 pound gorillas. You can't get them to do ANYTHING they don't want to do, and the University isn't going to lean on them to change, because they earn so much money for the school, and are a major reason alumni keep donating and returning to campus.

Consider the case of U.S. v. Morrison. Virginia Tech could have made it all go away, if they had only had enough nerve to keep the two football players who repeatedly raped Christy Brzonkala suspended. The University backed down, let the football players return to practice (and, less importantly to everyone involved, to class) and decided instead to defend these two degenerates all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Major university football programs are sacred cows. Pick your battles. I bet that Professor Buzuvis got the worst of it in the local press, and as a result, did her cause more harm than good.

Wade_Garrett said...

Forgive me, I should have started at the beginning.

Football teams are the perpetrators of an enormous number of violent crimes against women. In addition to the enormous number of unreported incidents that happen every year, there are public, reported cases that the Universities punish with a slap on the wrist, if they do not sweep it under the rug entirely.

A couple of years ago, a University of Wisconsin football player sexually assaulted a classmate of his on the way home from the university's 'sexual assault awareness' meeting. Have you ever attended one of these meetings? They are mandatory for all male athletes at Division 1 schools. They spell things out in the simplest terms possible - for instance, "really make sure you have her consent before you have sex. Because once you start she'll probably be all winded and gasping for air and won't be able to say no loud enough for you to hear it. So REALLY make sure she has given her consent." Everybody knows the reason we had to was so that the University's athletic department wouldn't be held liable the next time somebody on the football team committed a gender-motivated crime.

If this professor is concerned about sexism on campus, and wants to do something to help women, she can begin by advocating the cause of these women. The color of the visiting locker room walls should not be a priority.

Jonathan said...

PatCa wrote:
What a lot of people who might otherwise sympathsize with activist feminists object to is that membership in that society demands that every human activity, from shaving your armpits to enjoying football, must be mediated by group dogma. It's suffocating to the human spirit.

I think this is true to some degree of the activist core of many political movements. It's even true of hard-core participants in Internet discussion groups, including most of the hobby and recreational forums that I have read (everyone must wear his bicycling helmet!). However, leftists tend to enforce this conformity as a matter of principle and even to formalize the process ("the personal is political"), making pressure to conform more intense than it is in other settings.

PatCA said...

Thanks, Terrence. You lost me though at "football teams are the perpetrators of an enormous number of violent crimes against women." Individuals are responsible; the sport did not make them do it. Even a permissive attitude towards team members does not make them do it. Why don't we just remove all men from campus, and there won't be any gender-related violence at all!

That's like blaming the government for 9/11 because they "ignored the warnings" instead of the perpetrators.

Elizabeth said...

Goodness, so many assumptions about feminism and academia. No, it's not appalling to me to be surrounded by team logos and athletic competition--I usually have season tickets for the Saints, I support my university teams, and I have three students from the women's volleyball team in my Intro to Women's Lit class right now.

I also am happy to call myself feminist, and just as happy to debate the 70s second-wave mentalities when I encounter them in my colleagues. It makes our program stronger. Most of my colleagues in Women's Studies have great senses of humor, are ribald and earthy, love to drink and dance, and to fight about the things that they feel strongly about. Maybe it's a Southern thing? I do enjoy teasing one of my colleagues about her PC Marxist-feminism. She's appalled that I own a gun, have a fast car, and enjoy all my private property.

I realized I had moved beyond that particular thread of feminism when I read a column in our local gay tabloid disapproving of Brandy Chastain from tearing off her shirt after kicking the winning goal in the Women's World Cup a few years back. That's jouissance, a physical joy in life, in the body, and that's my feminism. It's what I bring into my classroom as well. And I'm not alone.

pinkhawk said...

As a student at Iowa I get two things out of the whole pink locker room "controversy:"
1)Where do these law professors get time to worry about the interior decoration of a football stadium? Shouldn't they be more worried about getting prepared for their lectures or publishing some text books or doing some research on a legitmate topic?
2)Is this where my tuition money is going to? It's nice to finally figure what the thousands of dollars I pay a year are being used for. Heaven forbid they go to something useful like finding a cure for cancer or maybe a fuel alternative.
Thanks for taking attention way from other things that actually effect people like say...the war in Iraq, the hurricane recovery in the south, or maybe finding out who's going to be the next Supreme Court justice. Thanks for wasting everybody's time.

Tung Yin said...

2) Heaven forbid they go to something useful like finding a cure for cancer or maybe a fuel alternative.

Speaking in defense of my colleagues, just why exactly is it that you think that they would otherwise be finding a cure for cancer or a fuel alternative? They're law professors, not research doctors or chemical engineers.

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff said...

tung yin- You're right- they're busy training the next generation of lawyers who will sue the pharmacuetical companies that are searching for the cure for cancer.

Will the circle be unbroken
by and by, lord, by and by?

Tung Yin said...

Jeff said: You're right- they're busy training the next generation of lawyers who will sue the pharmacuetical companies that are searching for the cure for cancer.

Then again, their students may go work for big law firms that *defend* pharmaceutical companies.

Tony said...

It implicitly suggests that I, as a woman, am weak. And that's just not true.

Victoria, when are you ladies going to be fielding your NFL football team? ;)

yetanotherjohn said...

I seem to remember a study that connected pink with physically weaking some one.
I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, but did find this (http://www.colormatters.com/body_pink.html). Apparently they use pink in drunk tank holding cells to "calm violent prisoners in jails".

“Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can't. The heart muscles can’t race fast enough. It’s a tranquilizing color that saps your energy. Even the color-blind are tranquilized by pink rooms.” 1 In spite of these powerful effects, there is substantial evidence that these reactions are short term. Once the body returns to a state of equilibrium, a prisoner may regress to an even more agitated state.


1. Morton Walker, The Power of Color, (New York, Avery Publishing Group, 1991), pp. 50-52

Also note the last line in the link which to me has a perfectly acceptable solution to the whole business.

In summary: The status of pink football locker rooms today
University of Hawaii associate head coach George Lumkin was a member of the 1991 staff that saw visitor locker rooms at Iowa and Colorado State painted pink in the belief that the color made players passive. Now the WAC has a rule that a visiting team's locker room can not be painted a different color than the home team's. In other words, it can be pink, black or any color of the rainbow, as long as both locker rooms are the same color.

Source: Honolulu Star Bulletin 10/24/99

From a football standpoint, while seeing the other teams colors, mascot, etc. could be used to focus their energy against the school. If you are wanting to play psychological tricks, you should be able to come up with a scheme that makes your players feel that they are part of an invincible team and the opponents feel they are going up against an invincible team.

John R Henry said...

I'm a bit late posting here but just heard your podcast on this and had to weigh in.

You seem to be most upset about the fact that pink says the visitors are weak like women.

Well, women *are* weak. (Physically) compared to men. If they were not, we would see more women on football teams.

Your problem does not seem to be with the facts in this case but with the idea of someone stating them out loud.

That is the classic demonstration political correctness and you are usually much better than that.

John Henry

Slinky01 said...

The problem here is with all of you that have such a big problem. You see, guys think very simply. The pink locker room is an attempt to make the opposing team feel less manly. Now it's an easy jump to say "less manly is girly". It's a much bigger jump to say the color implies women are useless. However, most men don't think the same way as women. They don't break things down and analyze actions to the nth degree. They don't make those jumps in thought. The do and say what they intend. They do not imply distant motives. The pink locker room is not an attack on women, it's a fun way to mess with the opposing team. That's it. Trying to find the imaginary inner message of hatred in everything is just going to make you and everyone around you extremely unhappy. Stop victimizing yourself it's getting ridiculous.