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October 2, 2005 [feather]
Pretty in pink

At the University of Iowa football stadium, the visitors' locker room is painted pink. The color scheme has been in place for decades, dating back to the coaching days of Hayden Fry, a former psych major who believed that pink has a calming effect on people. His idea was to ease the nerves of competing teams by surrounding them with a mellow shade of pink. And that was that.

Now, however, heated controversy has arisen about the visiting locker room's decor. The stadium is presently undergoing an $88 million refurbishment, and the remodellers have carried Fry's think pink concept into the new millennium with relish. There are still pink walls--and there are also now pink showers, lockers, sinks, and even urinals. With the intensification of the locker room's rosy outlook has come harsh criticism from a visiting feminist law professor--and with that has come equally harsh criticism of the law professor's attempt to turn Iowa football into a feminist issue.

Last week, Erin Buzuvis criticized the pink scheme on her website. Her criticisms, which centered on her conviction that painting a men's locker room pink "is equivalent to painting the word 'sissy' or 'girlie man' all across the walls," drew heated commentary and even, amazingly and deplorably, brought death threats. Buzuvis has taken her web site down, but she is still talking to reporters and she is still fighting what she sees as the "sexist" and "homophobic" message of the pink locker room. "What you're really saying is you're weak like a girl. That belittles every female athlete out there," she told a local paper.

Other faculty have joined Buzuvis in her protest of the demeaning color scheme: "I want the locker room gone," says law school professor Jill Gaulding. "Research shows brains pick up stereotypes like sponges soak up water. ... One solution to reducing stereotypes, especially negative ones, is to not have them around." "There is no question that it sanctions the use of epithets like sissy and faggot," said American studies professor Kim Marra. "It's the 21st century and times change."

Current Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has been caught entirely off guard by the accusations--which amount to an accusation that he is himself attempting to unman opposing teams in an entirely underhanded and unfair way. "I wish I had enough time to think about it," he said. "The idea is that it was supposed ... to have a calming effect. But I really haven't burned a lot of brain cells on it."

Fry burned a few brain cells, though, to interesting effect. In his autobiography, Fry describes both the aim of painting the visitors' locker room in neutral colors, and the fits opposing coaches sometimes had trying to protect their athletes from the terrible, emasculating connotations of pink:

One thing we didn't paint black and gold was the stadium's visitors' locker room, which we painted pink. It's a passive color, and we hoped it would put our opponents in a passive mood. Also, pink is often found in girls' bedrooms, and because of that some consider it a sissy color. It's been fun to get the reaction of visiting coaches to the color of their locker room. Most don't notice it, but those that do are in trouble. We've had some coaches--Bo Schembechler of Michigan and Mike White of Illinois to name two--who had their managers cover the walls with white paper so their players couldn't see the pink paint. When I talk to an opposing coach before a game and he mentions the pink walls, I know I've got him. I can't recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beat us.

For Fry, there was nothing inherently effeminate about a pink locker room--but there was a strong psychological advantage to be gained over coaches who thought there was. Buzuvis might be chagrined to learn that she has fallen into the same trap Schembechler and White fell into; for Fry, those coaches' assumptions about pink marked them as paranoid and insecure and hence given to hysterical reactions to perceived slights upon their gender. Fry might smile to see Iowa professors who pride themselves on being incomparably enlightened about gender falling into the same conceptual trap.

Hawkeye fans are showing their support for Iowa football tradition, as well as their contempt for Buzuvis and Co.'s efforts to cast the football program as a homophobic and misogynist enterprise--by wearing nothing but pink during the Hawkeyes' Homecoming Weekend. Political controversy, local vendors are happily discovering, is very good for business.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the tip.

posted on October 2, 2005 12:15 PM


I think this is one of the funniest news stories I have ever read.

Posted by: Laura at October 2, 2005 2:56 PM

I thought that "That's Incredible" (ABC's answer to the Nova of the 80's) demonstrated that putting someone in a pink room for extended periods of time turns you into a violent homicidal maniac. Iowa might as well be piping the Enya in to the lockerooms, it'll drive 'em into the same frenzy and you won't have to repaint it when they find out that it doesn't work.

Posted by: Bill at October 2, 2005 3:43 PM

I don't think pink would turn me into a homicidal maniac. I like pink and red. Listening to Enya for as long as 30 minutes might do the trick, though.

Posted by: Laura at October 2, 2005 5:37 PM

Just thinking about pink is making me calm, calm, calm. My eyelids are heavy. I usually benchpress 300 pounds, but thinking about pink I can barely lift my hands to the keyboard. Oh, the pink! Oh the pink! Stop talking pink. Stop thinking pink. This girly-man-making pinkification must stop.

Posted by: Kincaid at October 2, 2005 7:17 PM

Referring to it as a "mens" locker room is in itself sexist, eh? It's a "Visitors" locker room. Just because most football teams happen to be all-male in biological gender (given one is concerned about stereotypes) is in itself narrow-minded, eh?

Posted by: tess at October 3, 2005 7:33 AM

It's a time-honored debating technique to put words in your opponent's mouth and then refute them. It's also cheap and easy, and proves nothing on the merits.

This is the first I've heard of putting thoughts in your opponents' heads and then condemning them. That's all Buzuvis is doing with her "stereotype" claims. Having imported all the negative connotations herself, she then condemns the connotations she herself has imported. It strikes me as equally cheap, and equally valueless on the merits.

If pink really has the negative connotations she suggests; and if, further, these connotations are as univeral and unavoidable as she suggests; isn't the logical conclusion of her argument to abolish all use of the color pink anywhere?

Posted by: Tom O'Bedlam at October 3, 2005 2:31 PM


You've just hit the nail on the head. Thank you for making the best argument yet as to why this debate is so stupid.

For 25 years, Fry and the U of I have said the same thing: it's pink because pink is a passive color. Now Erin [Buzubis] puts words no one connected with the athletic department has ever said, and then claims to be offended.

She might want to think about this as well: the vast majority of high school athletes in the state of Iowa are forced to prepare for away games in the opposite sex's locker room. So football players dress in the girl's locker room, and female athletes dress in the boy's. Is this sending a damaging message to younger, more impressional kids? Why isn't she upset about this?

I apologize on behalf of all Iowans that these two Boston lawyer transplants have taken up so much of your time. They do not speak for us.

Good day.

Posted by: Pro-Pink Iowan at October 4, 2005 1:51 PM

Oops, I mean Tom O'Bedlam- you made the excellent point.

You're was good too, Tess...

Ah... bye.

Posted by: Pro-Pink Iowan at October 4, 2005 5:23 PM