Ross: Sticks and stones may break bones, but can a color?

BY BEN ROSS | APRIL 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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The visiting locker room at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium is catching flak — again. And from the same person.

The whole controversy is something for the “doesn’t-make-sense department.”

Jill Gaulding, a former law professor at Iowa, first attacked the pink locker room in 2005. Now, a cofounder of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Gender Justice, Gaulding is again calling the pink locker room a sexist “taunt,” that violates the civil rights of individuals.

At the center of her concern — in the context of a highly masculine football setting, where gestures like manly grunts are common and necessary to achieve glory — the pink locker room “gender shames” members of the other team. She also notes the general population suffers from this gender-shaming, too.

“A lot of people understand the message behind the pink locker room  as a joke or taunt toward the visiting team,” Gaulding said on April 10.  “Of course, it’s meant to be funny, but it’s harmful, because there are people whose gender status is being used as an insult.”

Gaulding has gone as far to say she thinks Iowa’s pink walls, (and urinals) are actually illegal.

“I certainly do conclude that based on all the things that we’ve been talking about and what I understand are the civil rights laws that it’s actually illegal to have a pink locker room,” Gaulding told the Cedar Rapids Gazette, in an April 3 article.

Gaulding and her supporters shouldn’t lose sleep over the wall color of a locker room in which they will likely never set foot. The issue should be especially trivial for someone like Gaulding, who has the power to make real changes where civil rights violations are actually, you know, significant.

What’s even crazier is that Gaulding might actually have a legal backing.

David S. Cohen, a constitutional law and gender issues expert, said Iowa’s locker room could potentially put the school in a sticky situation.  

“I am sympathetic to everything [Gaulding] says,” Cohen, an associate professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, told The Daily Iowan on April 9. “It certainly reinforces stereotypes that schools should not be in the business doing. Both sexist and homophobic stereotypes are creating a message of inferiority … This is a horrible message to send to female students … It’s about a message being sent, to male and female students. That message is legally treacherous.”

There isn’t a big sign above the threshold of the opposing locker room that says “Play Like a Sissy Today.” One of Gaulding’s arguments is that there is no science behind the fact that pink is a calming or passive color. Well, there’s no science that says otherwise, either.

But in the end, Gaulding and Cohen are part of the problem.  When people first hear of the locker room, sexism likely isn’t their first thought. By promoting it as such an issue, Gaulding fans the flames on an idea that many may never realize.

Literally thousands of young girls play noncontact, two-hand touch football, under the moniker “Powderpuff Football.” If that isn’t an attempt to emasculate a hyper-masculine sport, then I don’t know what is. We should pay more attention to potentially harmful words and gender stereotypes embraced by society than the color of a locker room.

Pink is just a color. In Kinnick’s locker room, it has one meaning: You are at Iowa. And you will lose (HA).

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