Chitra Ramaswamy ‘Janelle Monáe’s vagina pants make me cheer‘
Vaginas don’t get the best press. They are either being grabbed by future US presidents, trolled on social media, en route to a labiaplasty, mistrusted for their monthly capacity to shed blood or weaponised in the endless debates over gender-neutral toilets. So when Janelle Monáe, a black, queer, working-class star, shows up in her latest music video sporting a giant pair of juicy vagina pants, it’s joyous and uplifting.
Pynk, Monáe’s new single, its video directed by Emma Westernberg and featuring the equally bonkers Grimes, is a queer, arch and deliciously sexy ode to the vagina. Those pants are essentially chaps reconfigured as hot-pink labia – and it doesn’t get gayer than that. In the video, Monáe and her gang of women romp around the desert, drive pink convertibles and wear knickers bearing slogans such as “I grab back” on them. We really need to come up with a female equivalent of “phallic” to do all this justice. Vulvic?
So this is what pussy power reclaimed by black women in the 21st century looks like: fun and inclusive. The whole thing is, happily, about as subtle as a sledgehammer; at one point Monáe’s rumoured girlfriend, the actor Tessa Thompson, pops her head out from between her billowing vagina legs with a saucy grin. But the point is serious. Not all the women are wearing vagina pants because, well, not all women have vaginas. Or as Monáe put it on Twitter, “No matter if you have a vagina or not.” Thompson’s response to being thanked for “giving black girls their own Vagina Monologues” was: “to all the black girls that need a monologue that don’t have Vaginas, I’m listening”. Here’s the thing: vaginas can be enjoyed and celebrated by anyone, but everyone should respect them.
It wasn’t that long ago that Whitney Houston’s skin was allegedly being lightened by her label in publicity shots and black artists were routinely expected to “cross over”. To be more white, in other words, if they wanted success. Monáe’s video is an unashamed celebration of black female sexuality. Frankly, whether you have a vagina or not, this is progress worth celebrating.