Culture
Still from Janelle Monae's "Pynk"

Celebrating the Taboo: Janelle Monae's 'Pynk' and Why I'm Refusing to Accept That Vaginas are Vulgar

Here's to openly celebrating the power of the vagina.

Janelle Monae's epic visual album Dirty Computer dropped a few days ago and personally, I am finding it empowering AF. Just like Queen B's Lemonade, it is such a beautifully feminine and powerful offering. While I have been jamming to the entire album, I must admit that "Pynk" is one of my absolute favourites. And why wouldn't it be? The whole song is literally about the vagina.

Vagina. For some reason, these six letters standing side-by-side are enough to make people blush, fidget in discomfort, fake cough or laugh nervously. If you're black and Shona like me, the reaction is even worse. It can range from "the look" to a full-blown whooping with a wooden spoon or bedroom slipper. For just another part of the human anatomy, we sure have developed an aversion to it. But why is this?


My favourite cousin, the love of my life, visited from Zimbabwe a few months ago. One morning, as we were getting ready for a day of shopping, I asked her what the word vagina was in our Shona language – purely out of curiosity. I had always known to use colloquial references to it as I grew up, but I had never learnt the correct Shona term for it. She told me hesitantly that it was beche. She went on to quickly add that it was considered extremely vulgar and that it was better to refer to the vagina as uhm…lady bits. I found it hilarious and started chanting the word which of course, only added to her distress. I jokingly threatened to go and ask my mother what the new word my cousin had taught me meant. By this time, she was absolutely mortified.

This is why I love "Pynk" and the way in which Janelle chose to conceptualise it as a whole. Sure, Janelle uses "Pynk" to refer to the vagina but that's because from the arty vagina pants (where did she get those by the way), overt crotch-grabbing and descriptions of fingers being slipped into the vagina, she really doesn't have to say it.The entire music video literally speaks for itself and unapologetically so. And the key difference is that whilst Janelle uses "Pynk" as a euphemism, she is not shying away from speaking about and celebrating the vagina.

We live in a society that fundamentally believes that anything associated with femininity is weak, less-than and ultimately degrading. The vagina is no different. However, the paradox that exists here is that on one hand, the vagina, in a patriarchal heteronormative context, has been objectified and lauded as being the source of male pleasure and on the other hand, considered insulting, vulgar and to be referred to using various euphemisms. And this is is not limited to my Shona culture but across African cultures such as Tshivenda, Xitsonga, isiZulu, isiXhosa—you name it. The vagina is a no-go area.

We'll say vajay-jay, the Netherlands, down-South, cookie, coochie and all sorts of polite and unoffending ways to refer to a legitimate part of our anatomy. I say legitimate because it feels as if women are constantly being expected to apologise for the fact that we have VAGINAS. Imagine that.

I can't help but turn up the volume every time I play "Pynk" because in a way, I want everyone around me to join in the celebration. I want my mother to ask me what Janelle is singing about and without hesitating or skipping a beat in my little jig, tell her that she's singing about the vagina. And not feeling that I have to feel ashamed for acknowledging that let alone joining in the celebration. It may make others uncomfortable, especially our older generation of African women, but one surefire way that to dispel discomfort is to do exactly that which causes the discomfort in the first place. Neither the way we treat our vaginas nor the way they are perceived in broader society is ever going to change if we dont first address our language. Language is so very important and oftentimes than not, it informs our actions. Stop being afraid of referring to your vagina as a vagina because that is exactly what it is.

And if the thought of saying it to another person right now seems daunting (which is OK), start off by reading this article aloud. The number of times I have mentioned the word vagina has been completely intentional and not me just being unknowingly superfluous. Or, just like me, get your hands on Dirty Computer and turn that MF volume up. Start there; start somewhere. The important thing is just to start because if we are ever going to have these necessary dialogues with others we need to be able to have them with ourselves.

In the words of yet another of Janelle's fierce tracks on Dirty Computer, "Django Jane:" Hit the mute button. Let the vagina have a monologue.

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