Janelle Monae's 'Pynk' is the female call to arms we need now

In Janelle Monáe’s all-girl world, the great outdoors are stained pink. Ladies check into motels free of charge and never have to leave. Pubic hair grows freely. And pants are ruffled in such a way that they resemble women’s genitalia.

Monáe released “Pynk,” the third single on her forthcoming album Dirty Computer Tuesday, and the happy-go-lucky ode to femininity’s four-minute video is, quite frankly, the coolest celebration of the vajajay I’ve ever seen.

The video’s vaginal imagery is simultaneously cute and shocking. Directed by Emma Westenberg and featuring the Canadian singer Grimes, “Pynk” contains shots of raw oysters, the suggestive insides of a citrus fruit, and a cameo of a pussy cat.

But the most provocative scene features Monáe wearing the hoo-ha-esque pants as Creed actress Tessa Thompson, her rumored girlfriend, wriggles through her legs. The internet went nutso with birthing comparisons and prompted many to ask whether the ombrè bottoms — created by Dutch designer Duran Lantink — should perhaps be called labia pants instead.

“She’s celebrating that part of us that is often shamed,” said commercial voice actor Envy Mckee of Bucks County, a 45-year-old former local radio personality who on Tuesday afternoon posted the video on her social media. “All life comes from a vagina and through the vulva. And we are still squeamish about it.”

I certainly am. Like many young women, the only time my mother and I actually discussed my lady parts was when my menses started, and we’ve never discussed them since. My annual visits to my gynecologist make me quiver in fear. My privates were always high on the list on things I shouldn’t ever talk about with anyone. Only dirty girls do that. And if something, God forbid, is wrong with the area down there, of course it’s my fault. But how silly is that? After all, as Monáe so plainly says in the song, “PYNK is the color that unites us all, for pink is the color found in the deepest and darkest nooks and crannies of humans everywhere … PYNK is where the future is born.” 

In other words, no vaginas, no us. Gay, straight, trans — we all need to revel in that pink fact.

Like Beyoncé’s “Formation,” “Pynk” is a call to arms for women to stand in their truth. There is something about synchronized dancing, going back to Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” that evokes girl power by any means necessary. But unlike “Formation,” that was driven by anger — Beyoncé was hot with husband Jay-Z for his alleged infidelities — “Pynk,” the ultimate summer jam, exudes fun and unabashed pride and joy.

And to top it off, the women in “Pynk” world are completely unconcerned with the male gaze. That’s quite revolutionary for vaginas — especially those that belong to women of color.

“I’m glad she invited us into her space and I find that really empowering,” said Krystal Harris, a 32-year-old West Philadelphia mom. “We tend to look at our private parts in the context of men and what they want. But this is a celebration of girl power … Just because we are pro-vagina doesn’t mean we are anti-penis. This just isn’t about them. It’s about us.”

“Pynk” could be construed as Monáe’s coming-out video. The 32-year-old singer, rapper, and actress released her first single, “Tightrope,” in 2010. Her signature look: a black-and-white tuxedo. She styled her natural hair in a pompadour. And her look was completely androgynous. As she found herself on more and more red carpets, we saw her in more dresses, but she still, for the most part, dressed in black and white. It was a conscious choice, a uniform to reflect her working-class upbringing. It also served as a fashionable vehicle to desexualize herself.

“Pynk” is the opposite of that desexualization.

In February, Monáe released the video for “D’jango Jane,” Dirty Computer’s first single. The song is a tight rap that challenges misogyny in hip-hop and the mainstream. In it, Monáe wears a colorful cadre of men’s inspired pantsuits. In the next video, “Make Me Feel,” also featuring Thompson as her love interest, Monáe is clearly toying with her bisexuality. But in “Pynk,” she’s picked a side. And if fashion is any indicator of Monáe’s mood, she’s happy with her choice. She wears printed blouses tucked into pencil skirts and Daisy Dukes. Her hair is loosely styled.

Beyond the freedom that Monáe expresses through her coming out, “Pynk” also takes on a tone that is not just feminine, but feminist. Amid the playfulness, Monáe wears a pair of Fruit of the Loom-style briefs with “Sex Cells” printed in red over ungroomed mons pubis. Next, we get a quick shot of women in similar undies emblazoned with “Great Cosmic Mother” and “I Grab Back.” The juxtaposition is not missed.

“I think it’s powerful imagery and it’s a powerful critique against patriarchy in a very playful way” said Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad, an LGBTQ organizer, writer, and facilitator. “It’s in line with her politics. It’s an artistic action against the forces that try to suppress fem voices and voices of women. That’s a powerful statement.”