By Hayley Van Allen
On April 10, Janelle Monae released “Pynk,” a song from her upcoming album Dirty Computer. She grabbed the world’s attention with the song’s contagious tune and not-so-subtle music video in which Monae wears her now infamous “vagina pants.” Reactions to the new song and accompanying video have been mixed, but overall her message seems to be one rooted in self-love and queer pride.
In the past few months, Monae has released four new songs in anticipation of the release of “Dirty Computer” on April 27. Her newest video, “Pynk,” is centered around celebration of women and their bodily anatomy. She makes explicit references throughout the lyrics to both vaginas and oral sex. Her and several other dancers wear pants designed to look like a vulva. During the song, she sings, “Pynk, like the inside of your… baby/Pynk, like your fingers in my… maybe/Pynk, like your tongue going round… baby.”
Some have accused Monae of being exclusive of trans women and other woman-aligned people who are not born with vaginas. Many transgender people face discrimination and violence because of their gender and gender-presentation. Black trans women in particular face the highest rates of hate crimes. Considering the current climate surrounding the transgender community, some have accused Monae of not doing enough to include trans women in her video.
Vagina-centric feminism is almost always trans-exclusionary. Some specific language within these kinds of movements is acceptable when in retaliation to Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” comment released back in 2016. More often than not, vagina-centric feminism and phrases like “pussy power” are harmful to trans women and detrimental to their inclusion in mainstream feminism.
In her video, Monae seems to be caught between celebrating her own personal bodily anatomy and celebrating the anatomy of all women. It is possible to appreciate vaginas without implying all women have vaginas, and it is also possible to appreciate women without equating them to their genitals. With words like “pussy power” shown in her music video, Monae hasn’t made it clear whether she is trying to support vagina owners or women. There are too many instances in the video where it is insinuated that having a vagina is equivalent to womanhood for her to have successfully included tran women in this message of female empowerment.
However, there are multiple points throughout the video in which Monae alludes to trans women. In scenes featuring the vulva pants, two of the six backup dancers have no pants on at all. There is also a shot in which a pink bat is shown between a set of legs, which some have proposed is symbolism for trans women who have penises.
In addition to imagery in the her video, Monae has also made a point to include “all women” in statements about it. She and her rumored partner Tessa Thompson – who also starred in the video – both took to twitter and explicitly included trans women in their promotions of the video. Thompson tweeted “to all the black girls that need a monologue that don’t have Vaginas, I’m listening.” Monae has also spoken up in interviews about including those in her video that do not have vaginas but still identify as female.
While Monae definitely could have been more explicit and tactful in her inclusion of trans women, she has certainly taken some measures to include them. Whether or not her statements made after the release of the video are performative is hard to say. That being said, it is almost too easy to demonize queer women of color in the entertainment industry. Regardless of how well she did it, Monae did acknowledge and include her trans sisters in both her video and publicity for it.
Despite the conflict surrounding her most recent video, she has definitely produced bop after bop these past few months–and “Pynk” is no exception. Janelle Monae did not come to play. She is out, proud, and living her best life as a queer woman in the music industry.
Image Credit to Pitchfork