Monáe’s pink neon sign that reads “Pussy Power,” represents a reclaiming of the vagina and all the degrading language and laws associated with it.
I’ve hated the color pink for most of my life. On some subliminal level, I wonder if this has to do with pink’s longstanding association with hyperfemininity (think princess culture) and compulsory gender roles. Margaret Atwood once said that “pink is supposed to weaken your enemies, make them go soft on you, which must be why it’s used for baby girls,” so I could be reacting to the infantilizing effects of the color.
Or maybe the answer is simple, and I just associate pink with sickeningly sweet cotton candy. Whatever the reason, I’ve been adverse to pink ever since I begged my parents to paint over my bubblegum walls with mint green in elementary school. Any pink-hued gifts I receive now are immediately relegated to sleepwear or blankets for my dogs.
So when Janelle Monáe’s music video for “Pynk” premiered a few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised that something so saturated in the color I loathe could make me feel airy and happy. I’ve recognized Janelle Monáe’s name for years but never made the effort to stop and listen to her material until recently, after falling in love with her performance in Hidden Figures. Her release of “Make Me Feel” back in February hooked me with its homage to queer sexual identity and throwback to the androgynous glamour of Prince and Bowie. Now, having be-bopped along to “Pynk” several times since Tuesday, I’m convinced that this is exactly the pussy-grabs-back anthem women need to propel us into midterm elections.
First, I have to praise the video’s attention to physical and sexual variation among women, and to intersectionality more generally. Monáe herself sports whimsical vulva pants (three words I never thought I’d string together in a sentence) shaded in variegated pink and rimmed in ruffles meant to suggest labia. She is flanked on either side by other women of color wearing similar pants, though each pair of pants is deliberately colored and styled differently. What’s being showcased here is a kind of body positivity that relates specifically to genitals: a celebration of vulvas that don’t necessarily conform to the neat and tidy standards set by the porn industry. The two women standing on either end are notably without pants at all, emphasizing solidarity with trans women who may not have vaginas at all.
Another beautiful thing about “Pynk” is that it gives queer women a reason to cheer while also recognizing straight women. The bouncy opener, “pink, like the inside of your…” encourages women regardless of their sexual orientation to feel comfortable with their anatomy; I think specifically of friends I had growing up who were taught by parents or religious upbringing to associate their vaginas with shame, mystery, or uncleanliness. “Pink is my favorite part” speaks to women demonstrating self-love, or alternatively, praising what they may love about having sex with other women.
Monáe’s approach to sexuality is friendly and even playful, as she takes a jab at the blue-is-for-boys/pink-is-for-girls binary with “cause boy it’s cool if you got blue, we got the pink.” And even though Monáe’s lyrics are punctuated with odes to her own love of women and queer sex (“pink, like your tongue going round,” “pink, like your fingers in my…”), they could also apply to women who have sex with men. I love this celebration of sexuality because female pleasure is centralized; the acts that Monáe references importantly push back against the oral sex gap. I’m also glad to hear more efforts to combat the erasure of queer women (particularly femmes) from the larger gay community. Vividly remembering the time a gay man told me that sex between two women “isn’t ‘real sex’ because there’s no penis involved,” I am grateful for Monáe’s attention to this visibility and validity.
Despite its multiple nods to trans women (a pink baseball bat that drops between two knees in a later scene is another), “Pynk” has come under fire in some social media circles for not being trans inclusive enough, to which Tessa Thompson, who stars in the video, responded on Twitter, “to all the black girls…that don’t have vaginas, I’m listening.” Viewers, of course, can decide for themselves how to feel about the video’s emphasis on anatomy. But I think this emphasis comes at a time when women are having to (once again) fight the time-honored fight of control over their own reproductive organs. We are tired of men with little to no idea how our anatomy operates writing bills to regulate it. We are tired of hearing voices like former writer for The Atlantic Kevin Williamson call to punish abortion with hanging. We are tired of our pink, our “favorite part,” being continuously dismissed and invaded and governed by others.
In this context, Monáe’s pink neon sign that reads “Pussy Power,” represents a reclaiming of the vagina and all the degrading language and laws associated with it. The video says, Keep my pussy’s name out of your mouth. We’re coming for you.
Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.