As if the world needed more evidence of how absurd and capricious Title IX enforcement has become, a former University of Iowa law professor is happy to provide another example. Inside Higher Education reported today that Jill Gaulding plans to file a complaint under Title IX over a pink locker room. I repeat, a pink locker room.
For those of you who aren't Big Ten football fans (I'm a Big Twelve fan — go Buffs!), a history lesson is in order. It all goes back to legendary Iowa football coach Hayden Fry. Fry was a psychology major and had read that pink had a calming effect on people. So, in 1980s Fry painted the football stadium's visiting locker room pink in an attempt to get a mental edge on the competition. (And who could blame him for wanting to calm down angry linebackers?). The locker room lived in infamy (longtime Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who passed away last year, hated the locker room) until 2005 when Kinnick Stadium underwent intensive renovations, including adding even more pink features to the locker room. The renovations didn't sit well with the easily offended on campus, who called the locker room insulting to women and homosexuals. Debate eventually died down and the locker room remains pink to this day.
Fast forward to 2007: The university has a new president and Gaulding, who is no longer at Iowa, still doesn't like the locker room (she was one of its critics in 2005). Now it looks like this whole ordeal could end up in court (I dare one of the lawyers to wear pink to the trial).
Gaulding's complaint raises so many questions. For starters, Fry is right that pink has a pacifying effect — that's why prisons and drunk tanks are sometimes painted pink. Is Gaulding also offended by those decorating choices? The comments on the IHE article also raise several interesting questions:
If painting a male locker room pink is sexist and offensive to women, then painting a female locker room blue (just as "traditionally" male as pink is female) must be sexist and offensive, as well. We wouldn't want to risk implying that women athletes are masculine, "butch," or less than feminine because they change their clothes in a blue room.
And, my favorite:
What would happen if our women's basketball team painted the visitors dressing rooms pink? Surely this would not be self-hate.
Back during the 2005 debate, Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins criticized the campaign against the locker room, which at the time was led by Iowa law professor Erin Buzuvis. Jenkins' words still ring true today:
You have to try awfully hard to take offense at what's implied in a color. But it's not hard to take offense at what Buzuvis implies, or her insulting line of reasoning. She buys into the very sort of discrimination she alleges. What she implies is that locker rooms are full of large unfeeling men who can bench press a refrigerator and hammer nails with their fists, and therefore they must really be ashamed to be naked in a pink room, because pink, after all, is a girly color, even a queer one. And therefore putting those men in such a room for a couple of hours is a dire insult to girls and homosexuals, who can't help it that they have closets full of pink bathrobes, a color that no real man would ever like.
You better know who you are if you walk into that room. Otherwise, the pink could shatter you.
Jenkins is right that you have to try awfully hard to take offense at a color. We're surrounded by pink (see here, here, and here if you need examples) — and I think it's a positive thing. And if it happens to help the University of Iowa win some football games, I'm fine with that — as long as it's not against my Buffs.