Janelle Monáe Has A Message For Men During The #MeToo Movement

Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images
Singer, music producer, actress, and activist: There are many titles to describe the inimitable Janelle Monáe.
In 2016, the star, then best known for hits like "Tightrope," appeared in two Oscar-nominated films: Hidden Figures, a film which shared the story of the Black women who worked as mathematicians for NASA during the Space Race, and Best Picture-winner Moonlight, a coming-of-age story about a Black man who grapples with his identity through three separate time periods.
Monáe's platform is now bigger than ever, and she is using it. This year, she performed at the Women's March in Washington, D.C., where she stood alongside the mothers of Black children who were killed by police.
The artist also collaborated with Refinery29 for its first-ever Los Angeles version of 29Rooms to share another message.
Monáe's room, titled "What's Your Frequency," presents her own take on surveillance culture. In her black-and-white room (a color combination that has long been a staple of her wardrobe), mannequins with televisions for heads stand, chains around their feet, as they are watched by domed mirrors and security cameras.
It's a bold message, but since when has Monáe — who once told Marie Claire that people need to start "respecting the vagina" — ever been anything but bold? In our interview, I spoke to Monáe about her past activism, and where women (and men) can go from here in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
This year's 29Rooms theme is "Turn It Into Art." How have you used creativity to cope with some of the more difficult moments of the past few years?
"I try to be as honest as I possibly can when I'm creating art. If I'm honestly feeling certain emotions, I have not held anything back. I'm just thankful that I have this outlet and platform. That I have a space like 'What's Your Frequency,' my room here at 29Rooms, to get out some of the questions that I've been grappling with."
Earlier this year you made waves when you said that "people have to start respecting the vagina." Do you think we've made any progress there?
"I still believe, and I always will believe, that the vagina should be respected. I don't think women are just their vaginas, we're many things. We're complete human beings, and we're capable of doing so many things, as we have shown throughout history. I love being a woman, I am all for other women and protecting other women and standing up for women's rights. If I had to choose being a woman all over again, I would."
In Refinery29 writer Sesali Bowen's recent interview with Gabourey Sidibe, Sidibe said that "being a Black woman is pretty lit right now." Do you also feel like it's a particularly special time for Black women?
"As a Black woman, I think that when Black women are in the room, in whatever industry, it's always better. It's going to be great when our ideas, our values, things that matter to us are considered. I think we continue to show that we have so much to offer the world. I look forward to creating and collaborating with other Black women, and not just Black women, but women all around the world that want to change this future, and change it to be more inclusive for all of us."
The women of the #MeToo Movement were just named TIME's Person Of The Year. What are your thoughts on that?
"I think it's long overdue. I'm so proud of all the women who are a part of that moment. I stand with them and I always will."
What role do you think men should play in the current cultural conversation around sexual misconduct?
"It's going to be up to men to check other men about their conduct, and how they speak about women and how they treat women. When they see that behavior, patriarchal behavior, or their fellow guy who is disrespecting a woman or [attempting to] sexually harass, abuse, or grope a woman, [or any of these] hideous things that we've heard about... they have to call it out. I'm asking all men to call out their fellow bro on their behavior around women."

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