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Code Pink’s Vagina Protest: Where Was the Diversity?

John Tarleton Aug 30, 2012

Around the time the Iraq War began I was interviewing a community organizer in Harlem who was also active in various anti-imperialist movements. As our interview wrapped up, she began to quiz me about the white, middle class wing of the antiwar movement that had gathered around United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). She was curious in particular about a flamboyant new group called Code Pink. Co-founded by West Coast peace activists Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans, Code Pink seemed to be everywhere, grabbing headlines with its vigils and marches and various publicity stunts.

“Code Pink? What does that mean?” The woman asked.

I explained it was a riff off of the five-stage, color-coded terrorism threat chart then used by the Department of Homeland Security to warn the public of the risk of terrorist threats from the sedate Code Green to the steadily more ominous Codes Blue, Yellow and Orange on up to the terrifying Code Red. Code Pink was trying to warn the public of the dangerous rush to military action that the country was being led toward. The use of pink, I added, was also a reclaiming of a color associated with the feminine and by extension notions of weakness and acquiescence to male power. Now, pink was being embraced as a symbol of female power.

“Pink, eh?” She snorted and looked at me with her hands on her hips and her head cocked to one side as if to say, “My pussy sure as hell isn't pink. So what am I?” Instead she muttered something about white women and their excessive self-regard and then began to close up her office for the day.

I thought of that conversation the other night when I saw photos of a nearly all-white contingent of Code Pink protesters marching through the streets of Tampa Bay wearing 6-foot long, bright pink vaginas made from foam cores and lined with patterned ribbon.

The event was well-timed and the props were ideally suited for calling attention to the Republican Party's hostility and ignorance toward women and their bodies. But why were only bright pink vaginas on display? Why were there no darker-hued vaginas to be seen in all their brown and ebony-colored beauty? What opportunities were lost to convey more fully who is being targeted by the GOP's misogyny?

I don't believe the oversight was deliberate. Still, what does it say that one of the nation's most prominent feminist protest groups only brings forth the image of a white woman's vagina when protesting the dangers posed by the Republican Party's War on Women?

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