A Brooklyn couple is making headlines for launching a new business venture in the costume industry: manufacturing Lycra and polyester tunics roughly designed to look like a white person’s vulva.
Conceived in Brooklyn is the company’s name, and its proprietors are coloring their project in shades of philanthropy. “A vagina costume can provoke an uncomfortable response,” reads their website. “Our intent is to draw attention to a topic that many people aren’t aware of.”
Exactly what that topic is is somewhat unclear. Mic has filed this venture under “vagactivism,” which writer Nicolas DiDomizio calls “a delightful form of activism that champions women’s rights by destigmatizing and celebrating the vagina.” So perhaps general genital pride is the idea—but that’s a dubious goal for a wearable stuffed animal that looks more like a hot dog than an actual vulva.
Conceived in Brooklyn is also donating $10 of every $149-plus-$15-shipping purchase to 50 Cents. Period., an organization that promotes women’s health, menstrual hygiene, and sex education around the world. “We love costumes and making people smile. So we decided to marry our favorites things in order to give back,” the couple wrote on Facebook. (Wait—do vaginas make people uncomfortable, or make them smile?)
It will probably always be a little startling to see genital likenesses out and about in the public sphere, but the shock factor of the female genital has worn off quite a bit in the past few years. Back in 2012, in the pages of Slate, Katie Roiphe wrote that she was already sick of hearing vagina used as if it were a disruptive term. Cartoonish, broad-stroke penises, which have now made their way from bathroom stall walls to high-fashion runway shows, have lost much of their sexual and rhetorical power. The disembodied cartoonish vagina has made it at least half the way there, to the point where any generally yonic costume reads about as revolutionary as any generally phallic one. Yay?
The more likely outcome of Conceived in Brooklyn’s product launch is eliciting laughs, not destigmatizing vaginas or raising awareness about girls’ menstrual-health needs in rural India. It’s a little unnerving to see men dressed up in a set of genitals usually associated with women. On its ordering page, the company advises customers to order by June 1 to get the vagina tunic “in time for Burning Man.” The company’s Instagram feed recently reposted a photo of a New York real estate agent wearing the costume and making what can only be interpreted as a pussy joke. “I mean I have always been called one so why not just be one,” he captioned the photo, along with the hashtags #empoweringwomen, #freethevagine, and #givingback. The founders themselves use the hashtag #costumeforacause.
If the revelers at Burning Man do take the time to engage in nuanced feminist conversation with those who wear this admittedly pretty adorable vulva costume, let’s hope they get a lesson in proper anatomy, too. Is the person’s face supposed to be the clitoris? If so, it’s curiously placed. Furthermore, where is the opening to the vagina? Why does the labia majora create a full, complete oval? We deserve more anatomical subtlety from our $149 vagina outfits—something along the line of Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi’s vagina kayak or the 3-D printed models of her own vagina she was set to distribute to crowdfunding backers, for which she was fined by the Japanese government. Too bad there’s no boating on the playa.