French Open misses mark with Ladies' Day

Courtey of Joanne Gerstner

Court 1 was resurfaced with pink clay to celebrate Ladies' Day at the French Open.

PARIS -- My retinas have been seared. The carpet is hot pink. The tennis court is rose pink. The champagne is pale pink. The nail polish is cotton candy pink. Even the hair dryer is flamingo pink.

The French Tennis Federation declared Thursday to be its first "Ladies' Day" at the French Open, and somebody thought it was a genius idea to go heavy on the pink to drive the theme home. Because all females love pink and live to be Elle from "Legally Blonde."

Like, no way!

Which brings up the question of the day: Should we, as ladies, be happy to be recognized or offended at the intimation the other 13 days of the French Open are by default "Men's Day"?

The event got off to a curious start Monday, as a cheerful female press officer from the FFT handed out invitations to a Ladies' Day press gathering. The invite was in pink and gray and referred to celebrating the "fairer sex" at Roland Garros. Clearly written on the invite: RSVP for women only.

No boys allowed.

My male colleagues hooted at that one, saying they were being discriminated against by the FFT. I told them they needed to come to help break down the clear gender lines that were being drawn. Time to storm the pink Bastille as it were.

About five minutes later, after we had a good giggle about this invite, the press officer returned, whispering that she needed to get some of the invitations back. She made a mistake and needed to fix it pronto: Boys were not supposed to see the invitations!

Quelle dommage!

So yes, I went if only to satisfy my piqued feminist curiosity. The French are embroiled in some interesting gender/sexism battles here, brought to the forefront by the rape accusations against former International Monetary Fund chief and French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn by a housekeeper working at a New York City hotel. The debate centers on how professional women are perceived and treated in France, which is definitely a deeply ingrained patriarchal society.

But this event was going to be much less deep, and not a sociological treatise on the evolution of women's rights in France.

Courtesy of Joanne C. Gerstner

Joanne Gerstner and BBC radio producer Katherine Hogan pose outside the tent where female reporters were invited to partake in some pampering and pink champagne.

I was welcomed into the Village de la Femme, aka a little tent setup on Court 4 by the eye-searing pink carpet. Two guys wearing baby pink polos guarded the door to prevent male interlopers. When I got onto the court, there were little chalets where we ladies could get our nails done, a blowout, a coffee/juice/pink champagne bar and massages.

So this was the definition of Ladies' Day at a place where Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Serena and Venus Williams, Suzanne Lenglen and other amazing female athletes showed their muscles, sweated and made their mark? Nope, no recognition of women as making up half the athletes at the French Open.

Again, the inherent conflict. Feminine is in the eye of the pink beholder.

I spoke with some other female sports reporters; there were about 25 of us at the event. We asked each other the same question: Was this was a step back for promoting women, or should we take this as a nice, but tad cliché first attempt by the French? Being a girly girl and a Grand Slam competitor could mix. After all, Serena Williams played her first-round match with as much eyeliner and mascara as a Lancôme ad. Quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova showed off a fierce French shellac manicure that had a black base and red tips.

So for pure reportorial professionalism, I first had my nails done. The manicurist, who spoke only French, took one look at my wrecked nails and cuticles and shot me a look of horror. Sorry, Madame. Irony here, you could not get a French manicure sitting in Paris. So I settled for silver polish.

I next went for the blowout with another lady who didn't speak English. I asked for my hair to be straightened in my halting French, and she understood the international language of flatiron. Merci, beaucoup.

I had a sip of the pink Moet. It was OK, but I'm not one to hit the champagne at 10 a.m. Others were taking care of that for me. And then I saw the men -- some snuck into the event -- and they were drinking our pink champagne and eating our pain du chocolate rolls! No!

My new friend from the BBC and I compared our manicures and decided our nails were pretty enough for the day. But we were still a little disturbed by the pink tornado we were entombed in. We joked that all was missing was a "Sex and the City" marathon and pink tutus for all of us to spin around in like Carrie Bradshaw. Maybe we were all in Paris to decide to go back to Mr. Big like Carrie?

It was time to head over to Court 1, aka the Bullring, for the unveiling of the pink court. As a jazzy version of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" played in the small stadium, the grounds crew prepared to pull back the rain tarp.

Once I ran to you, now I'll run from you. This tainted love you've given, I give you all a girl can give you. Take my tears and that's not nearly … Oh! … Tainted love.

Hmmm. Tainted love or tainted court? They wisely faded out that tune and went into "La Vie en Rose" by Edith Piaf. Evert, looking head-to-toe hot pink in a sheath dress, helped unveil the first -- and last -- rosy pink terre battue court at Roland Garros with FFT president Jean Gachassin. The bilingual Ryan Seacrest of the French Open, stadium host Marc Maury, cheerfully asked Evert what she thought.

"I've never seen a pink court before," Evert said matter of factly. And she said she'd love to play on it if she'd brought the right shoes. Alas, her cream-colored wedges would not do for sliding on this day.

Evert's self-described "nemesis," Martina Navratilova, was set to play doubles on the court with Jana Novotná against French stars Nathalie Tauziat and Sandrine Testud. The pink court was not a tribute to breast cancer awareness, which would have made things a bit more poignant with breast cancer survivor Navratilova playing on it.

But no. This was just silly pink to be girly. Because all girls are pink.

And Navratilova, never one to play along with stupidity, paused before she gave her prematch thoughts about the court to the French Seacrest.

"Uh … I guess we'll play on it," Navratilova said, mustering tepid enthusiasm.

And everybody cheered. Hooray!

Pink day. Pink court. Pink carpet. Pink manicures. Pink champagne. As the FFT president cheerfully explained, every day is women's day at the French Open.

I can't wait for Friday, when we go back to our regular non-pink, non-Ladies' Day programming. I'm waiving the pink towel. Bring back the red clay.

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