The Cult of Pink

Two fingers dig into a pink grapefruit

By denying our pussies pride and pleasure, shaming projects perpetuate, maintain, and strengthen white supremacist heteropatriarchy.

I came of age in the ‘90s, a decade when actress Kathy Bates prompted many young women to come face-to-face with our pussies. Bates inspired our self-examination by playing the character Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged Southern white lady on a journey of self-empowerment. Evelyn’s storyline was one of several that the filmakers of “Fried Green Tomatoeswove together and in an iconic scene, Evelyn participates in a workshop geared at wives. Once the workshop leader announces that participants will use mirrors to scope out their vulvas, Evelyn leaves.

As an adolescent tomboy femme, I found this move cowardly, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to be the anti-Evelyn: I’d face my pussy! What was the big deal? How scary could a pussy be? I knew mine had hair but I was pretty sure it didn’t have teeth.

I marched to the bathroom and rooted for my mother’s gaudy handheld mirror, the one with a peacock preening on its non-reflective side. After spritzing the glass with cleaner and polishing it, I took it to my bedroom and shut the door. I wriggled out of my bike shorts, tossed them on my bed and sat on the rust-colored carpet, legs eagerly spread. I lowered the mirror, suspending it between my legs, and beheld a surprise.

Uh-oh, I thought. Isn’t it supposed to be…pink?

My pussy’s pigmentation shook me. It looked unlike the pussies an elementary school classmate had shown me. I’d seen these on an afternoon we’d spent drawing and flipping through comic books in her bedroom. She interrupted these activities to announce, “Hey, come to the bathroom with me. I wanna show you something.”

Intrigued, I followed her.

“Close the door,” she said. “And lock it.”

I obeyed as she dove into the sink cabinet, emerging with magazine-laden arms.

“These are my dad’s,” she whispered.

She sat on the bathmat, paging through one. Unsure of what to do, I grabbed a copy of Playboy and mimicked her. I had never seen so many naked ladies! Playboy after Penthouse after Hustler held buffets of women twisted into every conceivable pose, pretzels included, and some of the magazines didn’t bother showing the whole lady. These publications featured crotches, holes and flaps that were meat-like in their presentation. Had I not known what I was looking at, someone could’ve easily convinced me that I was looking at ham.

My pussy deviated from this pornography. The crotches my classmate showed me were mostly hairless. They shared the same color palette: Vanilla cream inner thighs always led to bubblegum pink labia.

I set Mom’s mirror down, put on my shorts, and darted back to the bathroom. I grabbed a washcloth and lathered my pussy with soap, scrubbing it, hoping to remove the dark brown stain that bloomed between my legs. Once my crotch felt raw, I returned to my bedroom to see if my efforts had excavated a pristine vulva.

Nope. They had not. Now, my light brown inner thighs transitioned to irritated dark brown lips. As my shock subsided, embarrassment replaced it. I wasn’t the badass I thought I was. I was worse than Evelyn. My anatomy had indeed proven to be too much for me to handle. Shame replaced my embarrassment, and in an attempt to erase the darkness, I squeezed my knees together.

That was my first experience with female genital shame and I’ve spoken to many racially minoritized women about how patriarchy uses pussy shame to disempower and control us. One Latina shared with me a horror story about a group of young white men she overheard plotting. They planned to peak at the genitals of an Asian woman who’d passed out. They wanted to check if her labia were vertical or horizontal. A Palestinian woman told me that in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, a female agent ordered her to strip in front of several male soldiers. Once she was naked, the Israeli group mocked her genitals, laughing as they repeatedly accused her of being “a hairy Arab whore.” A Black woman confided that when she was a teen, a white boy messaged her to request a picture of her “vagina.” When she asked why, the boy answered that he’d heard Black girls’ genitals look like “roast beef.”

Racialized pussy shaming is a corollary of female genital mutilation. By denying our pussies pride and pleasure, shaming projects perpetuate, maintain, and strengthen white supremacist heteropatriarchy. These practices distinguish genital pride and pleasure as goods unintended for those of us with racially minoritized pussies and ultimately, pussy shaming projects serve to crush our autonomy. Under such regimes, pussies of color become problems, ones that must be solved by those who are not problems.

An anecdote told to me by a Latina demonstrates the aforementioned dynamic. This Latina explained that when she was a teen, her mother took her to a gynecologist for her first pelvic exam. As the doctor peered between her legs, he noted the “hyperpigmentation” around her vagina, informing her that “mixed girls” often have this “unsightly issue.” Racial capitalism, of course, offers a solution to our condition: “intimate skin whitening,” otherwise known as vaginal bleaching. Whitening services are in high demand. As of 2018, the global skin lightening products market size was valued at 8.3 billion US dollars.

2017’s Women’s March provided a rare moment during which white supremacy’s cult of pink could be seen parading through cities across the United States. As I marched in Los Angeles, I cringed at the many white women I saw with bright pink knitted pussy caps plopped on their heads. They look like they’re wearing hysterectomies, I thought to myself. The other thing I thought was, That is not what my pussy looks like. Mine is BROWN. When I’ve mentioned to white women that those hats only reflect their anatomy, many rebuff my critique.

“Our insides are all pink!” some have snapped. Other white ladies have been even more assholish about it. “They’re meant to be cat ears,” these contrarians have argued.

Bullshit. The whole world knows they are white lady cooch beanies.

Should our current president be re-elected in November, women will, perhaps, stage another march. If I attend, I won’t be wearing my panocha on my head. You might, however, catch me snacking on papaya.

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The combatants aren’t mere wrestlers; they are luchadores, artists of acrobatics and theatricality, their faces hidden behind vibrant masks that carry stories older than the very sport they represent, stories rooted in the legacy of the ancient Aztecs.

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Women in Texas at the National Women's March, rallying against deadly abortion restrictions.
Lucy Flores

The landscape of abortion rights in the United States has become more restrictive than ever in recent history, particularly in Arizona and Florida, where recent developments represent a major setback for women’s reproductive rights. On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in a 4-to-2 decision to uphold an 1864 law banning abortion from the moment of conception. The only exception is saving the mother’s life, but there are no exceptions for rape or incest under this law.

Just a few days earlier, on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled in favor of upholding a 6-week abortion ban, which will take effect on May 1. This further reduced the legal threshold for abortions in Florida, which used to be 24 weeks of pregnancy before Republicans passed a law in 2022 banning abortions after 15 weeks. Both of these rulings have sparked intense debate and outrage about their impact on women’s rights.

Overview of the Near-Total Abortion Ban in Arizona

The Arizona Supreme Court voted to uphold an 1864 law, a law passed even before the state officially was a part of the United States of America, that makes all types of abortion illegal, including medication abortion, from the moment of conception. Though there are exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, the ban makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and imposes severe penalties, including imprisonment, on medical professionals performing abortions.

Medical professionals have spoken out about how dire the situation will become for women with this near-total abortion ban. Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, told CNN that this ruling will have “absolutely unbelievable consequences for the patients in our community.” She continued by saying, “Providers need to be able to take care of their patients without fear of legal repercussions and criminalization.”

Representatives from Arizona and other states across the country have also spoken up against this near-total abortion ban.

Video by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramVideo by Shontel Brown Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Image by Rub\u00e9n Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on InstagramImage by Rubén Gallego Member of the United States House of Representatives on Instagram

Until this Arizona Supreme Court decision, abortion had been legal in the state up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. The right to abortion via Roe v. Wade prevented the enforcement of the near-total abortion ban, but since a majority vote in the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe, those opposed to abortion rights had been fighting to enforce the 160-year-old 1864 law.

This new abortion ban in Arizona is not effective immediately as the court has paused its ruling for 14 days until additional arguments are heard in a lower court about how constitutional the law is. However, the law will likely come into effect in May, a few weeks from now. Planned Parenthood Arizona, the largest abortion provider in the state, will continue serving the community until the ban is enforced.

An Overview of Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban

The landscape of abortion in Florida has also undergone a significant change with the enforcement of a 6-week abortion ban, replacing the previous 15-week limit. This ban, similar to Arizona's, severely restricts access to abortion care and poses a significant challenge to reproductive rights in the state. Providers are bracing for a public health crisis due to the increased demand for abortion and limited options for patients.

Practically speaking, a 6-week abortion ban is a near-total abortion ban because pregnant people often don’t even realize they could be pregnant by this early stage. Combined with Florida’s strict abortion requirements, which include mandatory in-person doctor visits with a 24-hour waiting period, it’s nearly impossible for those who may want an abortion to be able to access it before 6 weeks. Not to mention that fulfilling the requirements is particularly challenging for low-income individuals.

Video by theluncheonlawyer on InstagramVideo by theluncheonlawyer on Instagram

Moreover, this Florida law also restricts telemedicine for abortion and requires that medication be provided in person, effectively eliminating mail-order options for abortion pills. While exceptions for rape and incest exist in Florida, the requirements are also strict, asking victims to provide police records or medical records. For victims who don’t always report sexual violence for many different reasons, these exceptions don’t make a difference.

The consequences of Florida’s ban extend to neighboring states with more restrictive abortion laws. For instance, residents of Alabama, facing a total ban on abortion, and Georgia, with its own 6-week abortion ban, have relied on Florida for abortion services. That will no longer be an option, further limiting care alternatives.

The Road Ahead

These recent abortion bans in Arizona and Florida are a major setback for women's rights, particularly impacting Latina women who already face barriers to accessing quality healthcare. These bans not only restrict women’s reproductive freedom but also endanger their lives.

Efforts to challenge these bans through legal means and ballot measures are ongoing, but the road ahead is uncertain. While there’s hope for overturning these abortion bans, the challenges of conservative laws and legal battles are formidable. The November ballot in both states will be crucial in determining the future of abortion rights and access for all.

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