THE PINK LOCKER ROOM FAQ
                                                Jill Gaulding

What’s the Pink Locker Room?

If you have to ask, you must be new to Iowa or to Big Ten football. The Pink Locker Room was
originally created by Iowa Coach Hayden Fry back in the early 1980s. His decision to paint the visitors’
locker room in Kinnick Stadium the color of “Barbie's Dream House on acid” has gotten a lot of press
over the years, usually in the sports pages where commentators and players talk about the “hostile
environment” the Pink Locker Room creates for the opposing team.

Why is the Pink Locker Room an issue, if it’s been around for decades?

Some people have always been bothered by the Pink Locker Room, but didn’t feel comfortable objecting
to it. They may have been hoping that it would quietly go away at some point, perhaps during routine
repainting. This hope was dashed when the University decided, as part of major renovations of Kinnick
Stadium in 2005, to rebuild the Pink Locker Room, and indeed, to build it “even pinker” than it was
before. The new Pink Locker Room has pink urinals, pink sinks, pink tile, pink carpet, and so forth, all
carefully selected by the Athletic Department as part of the renovation.

Didn’t this issue get resolved in 2005, when you and your colleague objected to the rebuilding of the
Pink Locker Room?

Not at all. After all, the Pink Locker Room is still there! It is true that the issue received a lot of press in
2005, after I and my law school colleague Erin Buzuvis lodged a public objection at the University’s
NCAA Recertification Hearing. We got a lot of hate mail (which I answered) and I gave a lot of
interviews, so the public had some chances to learn about the issue. But the University itself was not
willing to permit any discussion. The Chair of the NCAA Recertification Committee (Acting Provost Pat
Cain) decided to exclude the issue from the University’s final report to the NCAA, purportedly because
she saw the issue as being “University-wide.” She called upon then-President David Skorton to set up a
committee to consider the matter further, but shortly thereafter he announced, without explanation, that he
would not do so. (Collectively, they washed their hands of the issue.)

For this and other reasons which I won’t elaborate upon here, the atmosphere on campus was not
conducive to an open discussion. Now that I have resigned my faculty position and the University has
new leadership, we can try again as a community to discuss the Pink Locker Room issue openly.

Why do you say the Pink Locker Room raises gender issues? Didn’t Coach Fry say that it’s based
on the calming effect of the color pink?

Here’s what Hayden Fry said in his autobiography:

        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.

We can see from this quote that Coach Fry intended to reference the idea that pink is a “passive” color.
Perhaps he even believed that it would affect the opposing team on a physiological level, rendering them
too calm to play well – though I doubt he was surprised when opposing players noted just the opposite
effect (labeling the Pink Locker Room “a motivator” that “gets them ready to go”). Certainly, the

particular shade of pink chosen – described as “Barbie’s Dreamhouse on acid” – doesn’t seem calculated
to calm anyone.

Interestingly, the media often quote only the “passive color” portion of Coach Fry’s words, even when
supplied with the full quote. But the other part of the quote is just as relevant: Coach Fry himself
acknowledged that the Pink Locker Room was meant to refer to “girls” and “sissies.”

So are you objecting to the color pink? If so, that seems really stupid. What about the pink ribbon
for breast cancer survivors – are you objecting to that, too?

No, I am not objecting to the color pink itself. I agree that this would be stupid. Nor am I objecting to all
symbolic uses of pink. We often use colors to send a message (like red for “stop” or pink for “let’s fight
breast cancer”), and there’s nothing wrong with that. The question in each case is, what’s the message?

How do we decide what message is being sent by the Pink Locker Room, if people say different
things about it?

This is a trick question, because we don’t actually need to decide on “the real meaning.” Coach Fry
himself listed several possibilities. The question that matters is, “How do most people understand the
Pink Locker Room?” And the answer to that is clear: most people understand the Pink Locker Room as a
taunt against the other team, calling them a bunch of women / ladies / girls / sissies / pansies / etc. To
quote some Hawkeye fans, commenting on the controversy in 2005:

        Oh, c'mon. She's being a dumb***, sure [referring to Erin Buzuvis or to me], but of COURSE the
        football team painted the locker room pink to imply that the visiting team was a bunch of ladies.
        Who's seriously denying that?

        Has any man posting to this thread ever played a team sport and not had at least one coach deride
        the team by calling them "girls" or "ladies"? Does anyone really think that the idea of painting
        the locker room pink had nothing at all to do with the stereotype?

        Don't be deliberately obtuse. Of course it's meant to shame and humiliate. That's the thing that
        pisses women off about it.

        You're free not to give a sh** [and this author doesn’t], but you have to be an idiot not to pick up
        on the misogynist slam. What if the tradition was painting watermelons all over the walls. Or
        putting a giant menorah in the locker room. Or maybe pansy print wallpaper. It's just another way
        to say: "You're all just a bunch of (fill in your favorite epithet)."

And why can pink be an “epithet”? Why is the Pink Locker Room a taunt? Why does it “shame and
humiliate”? Why does it get the opposing players “ready to go”? We all know the answer: It’s because
we continue to associate women and girls (and men classified with them) with bad things, like being
passive, docile, weak, and subordinate. We all understand what the Pink Locker Room means, because
we all know that it’s still a putdown to be called a girl.

Suppose we agree that the Pink Locker Room is understood by most people as a taunt against the
other team, calling them a bunch of women / ladies / girls / sissies / pansies / etc. What’s wrong with
having this little joke? Must “political correctness” eliminate all jokes?

The Pink Locker Room is definitely meant to be funny, and I do get the joke. I am a sports fan myself. I
like to watch football (I had season tickets in Iowa) and I play ice hockey, so I understand the pleasures of

team rivalries. It’s fun to have that experience of us vs. them. Some people might say it is
unsportsmanlike, but plenty of people enjoy a chance to taunt the other team. When I was in high school,
the students in the stands used to hold up newspapers while the other basketball team was being
introduced. Unsportsmanlike? Probably. Disrespectful? Definitely. But it was also funny.

So why was that joke okay (discounting any sportsmanship issues), and the Pink Locker Room not okay?
Because the newspaper joke was not sexist and homophobic. It did not carry any message beyond the
bare point “we don’t respect you.” The Pink Locker Room says more: it says “we don’t respect you
because we think you are like a girl or a sissy (and those are shameful things to be).”

You might still ask “so what?” Why is it such a big deal that the University is sending a sexist and
homophobic message? The answer comes from scientists who study the brain. They tell us that our
brains act as sponges, soaking up stereotypes and other biased messages from our surroundings. And this
is a critical point: Once these messages are built into our brains, it is very hard to eliminate their effects.
They can cause us to treat other people differently on the basis of race, gender, and so forth, even when
we are trying very hard not to be biased. By sponsoring the Pink Locker Room, the University of Iowa
makes this problem of unconscious cognitive bias that much harder to solve.

Suppose we acknowledge that the Pink Locker Room reinforces stereotypes about women, which in
turn increases the prevalence of unconscious cognitive bias. Is that a big deal to anyone outside

Yes. It’s not just a local issue, because Iowa’s Pink Locker Room is famous (or infamous) all over the
country. The harm caused by the Pink Locker Room is not contained by Iowa’s borders.

Furthermore, the Pink Locker Room does not stand alone. It is merely one example of a whole slew of
derogatory uses of pink. Consider, for example, Minnesota-Duluth’s use of a Pink Locker Room in their
hockey rink, the Seattle Mariners’ use of a pink backpack to haze new players, the Redskins’ use of pink
goggles to embarrass players who drop passes, an Arizona sheriff’s use of pink boxer shorts to shame
prison inmates, or – further afield – the use of pink armbands to punish wayward police officers in
Bangkok. All of these things are wrong, and all of them matter.

Suppose I decide that rebuilding the Pink Locker Room was probably a mistake. What should I

Sign the petition. Learn more about unconscious cognitive bias. Educate others. Write to University of
Iowa President Sally Mason or NCAA President Myles Brand and explain why you object to the Pink
Locker Room. And feel free to contact me for more information, or to share your ideas and concerns:



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