Illustration by Shino Arihara
Like a lot of good feminists who grate against the notion that women are naturally peaceful, I recoiled at once from the ethos of Code Pink, the woman-centric anti-war group co-founded by Global Exchange diva Medea Benjamin and Unreasonable Women’s Jodie Evans. The whole thing resonated with a frivolous kind of feminism, the kind that empowers women to reveal their essence and talks of chakras without irony. Besides, my anti-war stance has nothing to do with any innate nurturing instincts; the Bush administration has not turned me into a peace goddess so much as a shrieking harpy, and I don’t much feel like a pacifist when my fist is twitching to break pseudo-patriotic jaws.
Now, as much as the Bush administration’s graying band of brigands has forced me to become what I never wanted to be — one of those people who marches in the street chanting slogans and carrying signs — it does not mean I have given up every impulse toward critical thinking. So when the pink posse announced a new fashion line, I flew into an anti-essentialist rage: “Code Pink: Women for Peace is a call to action to women everywhere to make their collective voices heard by wearing PINK — vivid and unmistakably feminine,” read the press release. I remain, as I always have, cynical about the direct-action set’s fashion trends, and always alert to the dangers of tailoring anything to those special qualities of womankind.
So it was with a snide sense of curiosity that I sought out Code Pink designer Sanni Diesner at her Marina del Rey studio, a Zen garden of spare wooden structures and meditation circles, adorned with warnings against wasting water. My cynicism was not immediately allayed. I have a hardened aversion to flowy clothes, and the drapey garments Diesner had created appeared to me on her shaded outdoor patio as a veritable deluge of pink. Rose-colored scarves, magenta dresses, pale blush jackets, pink pants, many of them just as “transmutable, transformable, comfortable and functional” as promised: A hooded scarf becomes a shopping bag when inverted; a poncho becomes a strapless blouse or, dropped a little lower, a skirt.
When Diesner showed me a smocklike object with a row of pockets like some sort of girlie tool belt, my disdain peaked: “Lorinda loves this one,” she said, referring to Code Pink organizer Lorinda Earl. “She calls it her ‘rally dress,’ because you can put literature in the pockets.” Its baggy look became a metaphor for everything that bugs me about activist art: Do women on the barricades really have to look frumpy?
Only when Earl walked in a few minutes later did my attitude begin to change. An animated woman with the body of a dancer and cascades of dreadlocks piled into a half-foot-high bun, she arrived like a perfect storm, enthusing wildly over a bias-cut slipdress made of hemp-silk, whose seams Diesner had molded to limn the curves of a feminine figure. “It feels so good,” Earl exclaimed, her hands patting her lap. “I keep stroking myself!”
Diesner approved. “That’s not a dress on you, Lorinda. It’s a weapon.”
I would like to report that I had some fun with a statement like that, that I made some wisecrack about the second chakra, or entered some snotty retort in my notes. But instead, something possessed me to try on the dress. Or, rather, not that dress, but a near-mauve number in satin, and a cotton gown with a train that can be gathered out of the way on a hook at the waist, and an “angel coat” in coarsely woven hemp that draped over my shoulders and gathered into a subtle bustle in back. If I immediately recognized that I’d been seduced, so did Earl, who watched with encouraging delight as my serious demeanor brightened into glee. I think I may have even jumped up and down.
I borrowed the coat and the satin dress for a night out, and wore them with silver platform sandals Diesner sold me for $25. The outfit went easily, as the cliché goes, from swanky lefty cocktail party to rave, even though, as you learn when you wear it, pink is a radical color. Nobody wears pink. Pink is ostentatious, confrontational, impossible to ignore. I felt like an exotic bird among sparrows, and I reveled in the attention. Close to dawn, I was still fielding questions about my pink clothes, each one an opportunity, as I saw it, to launch a harangue about how the Bush administration is embezzling the country by staging unnecessary wars and making sure its subsidiaries reap the profits. Everyone listened. Right on, I thought: Here’s to the power of pink.
“Isn’t it fun?” Earl exclaimed when I ran into her at the first party in her hemp-silk weapon. “Pink has such a sense of humor.” I can’t think of anything the peace movement needs more. Except perhaps money.
For more info, check out www.codepinkalert.org.