Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My Rant on the Pink Locker Room Dust-Up

The issue:
A University of Iowa law professor said she has received death threats after voicing her objections over the pink visitors' locker room at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

Erin Buzuvis, 29, who moved from Boston to Iowa City to begin teaching at the law school, said she and several friends, colleagues and neighbors have been concerned for months about the message behind the locker rooms. She said the locker room promotes negative stereotypes.

Former Hawkeye football coach Hayden Fry had the visiting team's locker room painted pink in the 1970s. University officials have kept the color and expanded its use with the renovation under way at the stadium.

The carpeting, metal lockers, brick walls, sinks, shower floor -- even the urinals -- are pink.

"I've heard this is a way to honor a great coach, and Fry was a great coach," Buzuvis said. "But I don't think it does him any honor to perpetuate what is seen by many as a sexist and homophobic gesture."
The original post is here.

(Note: some people have said there were no death wishes on it. I saw several, including this one at 9:36 am):
At 9:36 PM, hayden fry said...
I hate you. The world will be a better place when you die.

Tung Yin has some thoughtful comments here addressing the merits of such comments that don't consist solely of "shave your pits," "get a bra," "go do the dishes," etc. He analyzes whether this is a valid critique of Fry, given his background and other accomplishments, whether she's wasting her bandwidth, etc.

The Register chastises commenters for leaving death wishes instead of civil debate.

Iowa Voice believes it's a non-issue that's attracting too much attention.

State 29 wonders why she just didn't delete the offending comments in the first place.

Of course, I can't stay out of this one.

So here's the deal:

1) Yes, the locker room was painted pink because it's a calming color. But also because it's a "girly" color, as Hayden Fry is openly quoted as saying.

2) Does everyone think of the color in that way? I doubt it. I know lots of big guys who wear pink. But it is traditionally a feminine color.

3) Was the decor specifically intended as a slam to women? No, the intent was to demoralize the other team, and psych them out if possible.

4) Is it in fact insulting to women? A backhanded insult, because it was directed at men. But yes, it is an insulting implication: hang around a "girly" color long enough and it will siphon away your masculinity and render you helpless.

5) To gays? If you equate being homosexual with femininity, sure. Given some of the homosexual guys I know, I'm not so sure that's a proven point. Yes, some of them are quite "femme." Others . . . well, no way in hell would you describe them that way. At least, not if you wanted to live for a little while longer. So do the two equate? Absent research to the contrary, I'd say to many people they are equivalent, at least as a stereotype. Whenever homosexual males are portrayed in a superficial manner onstage or on film, it's almost invariably a feminine man with a lisp, walking with a swish and a limp wrist. I'd argue it's common enough to support the premise that the implied message behind the color extends to gay men as well as women.

6) Does this mean Hayden Fry was a horrible, sexist person? No, and she never said that. It simply means he intentionally used a stereotypical attitude to his advantage on the field. That's it. In her opinion, that's enough to look at repainting the locker rooms. In my opinion, given the circumstances and facts, I think it's rather a non-issue. But she's within her rights to raise it. As Tung Yin's post points out, as a public figure his actions are open to critique. He did some good things, he did some bad and/or stupid things. He's not a saint and decidedly not immune to criticism, as anyone who recalls his last few seasons should know.

7) Does the continued use of the pink paint harm women and gays? Harder to quantify, as the implication of the color is an oblique insult, not a direct one. I would think it is only enough to support - not strengthen - those stereotypical attitudes already held, and not enough to convert non-sexist, non-homophobes into prejudiced people who expect all women to be barefoot and pregnant and all gay men to be flaming. In other words, while she has a point, I don't think it's enough of a point that I'd require repainting the locker rooms.

8) Aren't there much better uses of her time? This needs a much longer answer:
First, if a person is silent when slapped with a label, it is generally taken as acceptance. As a member of the class implicitly labeled as weak, she has the right to speak up. Second, as far as the relative importance of a pink locker room versus many overt and/or violent acts against women or homosexuals: well, who are we to tell her which subjects she should or should not be interested in? Yes, there are probably better uses of her time, and of mine. There's still poverty, war and a bunch of other pretty major issues. But it's her time to use, just like this is mine. I blog about inane crap all the time, but hey, it's my blog and my opinions. And in my own inane opinion, I believe all prejudiced attitudes should be examined and discussed. "Know thyself" is one of the most awesome goals.

Note that all this rhetoric about examining prejudices wherever they exist doesn't mean you want to change all prejudiced behavior. To take a somewhat less controversial example: there are certain neighborhoods in Chicago I would never walk down alone at night. Period. No exceptions. Is that prejudiced against the type of inner-city, poor, people of color that live there? Oh, yeah. Definitely. I'm operating on a preconceived idea I could be attacked and harmed without even meeting these people or knowing their names. Am I going to stop engaging in this racist, economist, behavior? I somehow don't foresee that happening, given the risks assumed.

To sum: I don't think this was a waste of her time. She's interested in the topic, has a right to be interested, and has a legitimate point to make. That doesn't mean I agree that the walls should be repainted, but rather that the idea of repainting the walls should be discussed.

9) Should she just have deleted the inflammatory comments? Okay, I'm not going to censor the language on this one, primarily because there's no point since I'm going to use direct quotes from the comments. So, to get on with it:

Sorry, State, I've got to disagree with you here. But for a different reason than you might think. Random disturbing comments I delete with pleasure, as I do comment spam. But these particular remarks actually served to make EBuz's point better than her original piece. Some real gems:
We'll all form a line stretching up Melrose and charge $1 to kick you in the box. Proceeds will be donated to the Society for the Oppression of Dumb Cunts Like You.

Shut your pie hole or we will send Pierre after you.

Why don't you take your arms off frmo around that tree of yours, shave your arm pits and go buy a bra.

I'd love to lay you down and cock-stab you in the ovaries.

I bet if put a piece of coal down your chute you'd have a diamond in an hour. For christ sake, get some cock already!!!

Excuse me, I normally don't use crass language on this blog, but what the hell is with all this misogynistic crap? These small-minded, vitriolic sad substitutes for rational debate show the hatred against women that apparently still exists, far better than any pink locker room ever could. They underscore that while we would all like to believe that sexism is a dead issue, an ugly undercurrent apparently persists even in as enlightened an area as Iowa City. Yes, the commenters have a right to express their "opinion," such as it is. And I have the right to lambast them for being misogynist idiots cowering behind the veil of anonymity because they know damn well how offensive, childish, and wrong they are. (Notice not one of the comments I quoted involved a real name, URL or email.)

I would argue that while EBuz may have been majoring in minors, the fact it stirred up this type of debate shows that it is obviously precisely the type of rhetoric necessary to lure this particular beast out of hiding and, with any luck, verbally beat it into submission.

UPDATE: It appears EBuz's blog is AWOL as of today (09/27). I hope it's not gone for good. I may have disagreed with her conclusions, but this whole blog thing works best if everybody's viewpoint gets a voice, and whether or not you agree with her politics, her reasoning was logical and well thought-out. I'd hate to see comment trolls kill a blog.


Well, she got comments alright.

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