Nina Friars interrogates the patriarchal and racial structures that underlie the criticism of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s hit record ‘WAP’ (Wet A*s P***y).
WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
Guess who back in the mother***in house / With a fat d**k for your mother***in mouth
I had respect for ya lady / But now I take it all back / Cause you gave me all your p***y / And ya even licked my b***s
We’ve accepted lyrics like this for decades. And yet, everyone is getting wound up about “Wet A*s P***y”. Doesn’t that say it all?
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s hit record ‘WAP’ (an acronym for ‘Wet A*s P***y’) is everywhere.
IIt has dominated social media and streaming platforms since its release in early August. However, despite the song’s indisputable success, it has also garnered immense critical backlash.
With its explicit lyricism celebrating female sexual pleasure, some consider WAP an empowering feminist anthem while others believe it to be objectifying, degrading and backwards for the feminist movement.
Horrified critics include the likes of California Republican congressional candidate, James P. Bradley, who claimed that “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion is what happens when children are raised without God and a strong father figure. Their new ‘song’ The #WAP (which I heard accidentally) made me want to pour holy water in my ears, and I feel sorry for future girls if this is their role model!”. And, my personal favourite, a tweet from Republican ‘activist’ Deanna Lorraine reading, “Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion just set the entire female gender back by 100 years with their disgusting and vile ‘WAP’ song.”.
To say that some people (predominantly cisgender, straight, White men) were less than thrilled with the release of WAP would be the understatement of the year. But why? Since when was sexual empowerment and liberation such a threat to the feminist movement?
Considering society has historically suppressed and condemned women who embrace their sexuality, these criticisms are unsurprising and, unfortunately, even expected in a world where ‘slut-shaming’ is alive and well. They are a sad indictment of how there is nothing more dangerous or disconcerting than a sexually liberated woman – especially a sexually liberated Black woman.
Sex and pleasure, particularly female pleasure, seem to only be taboo when it is females themselves who lead such discourse. Are we not used to listening to songs that depict sex just as provocatively as WAP but from a male point of view? You can read just a few examples of this above.
However, if you think they are the exception, you are kidding yourself. Male rappers have built their entire industry around the degradation and demeaning of women through sexually explicit music and no one has batted an eyelash. But, surprise surprise, now the tables have turned and the patriarchy is up in arms.
When female artists like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion reverse these roles and reclaim the same language utilised to degrade women, they are slut-shamed. They are branded as illegitimate role models. They are blamed for setting “the entire female gender back by 100 years”. Now, have a think about what grounds this.
So yes, women’s sexuality is all fine and good – as long as it is controlled by the patriarchy. This double standard within the music industry in which men are celebrated for owning their sexual prowess while women are punished, emphasises the importance of songs like WAP for the advancement of modern-day feminism.
One of the central critiques about WAP is that the song is disempowering as it promotes the oversexualization of female bodies. But it’s regressive to suggest that in dressing a certain way and making a graphic song about sex, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are condoning the sexist narrative that females should be perceived as a piece of meat. Women must not be held responsible for this objectifying male gaze we are socialised to adopt.
Shaming women for expressing their sexuality on the basis that it may lead to objectification follows the same problematic logic that forbids schoolgirls from wearing clothing that exposes their shoulders, as it may be ‘too distracting’ for their male peers.
Don’t get me wrong – this is not to say we should simply just ‘accept’ the male gaze. Instead, through realising it as socially constructed, we should begin to look at the oppressive mechanisms behind this gaze and work to unlearn them, destigmatising female bodies as inherently sexual.
Additionally, it is common knowledge that sex sells like no other. It is a currency the patriarchy has made sure to establish. So, when women are agents in their commodification and capitalise on their sexuality like their male counterparts, they are making misogyny work for them instead of against them, and perhaps that in itself is a sign of protest.
This is why WAP is so different to songs by male artists who similarly ‘sexualise’ women – because it is done on Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s own terms with their own bodies. Females operating within the male gaze are not merely passive and ineffective in the face of sexism, but rather are attempting to take back power and control.
This notion of taking back power is especially important when considering the history of the hyper sexualisation of Black female bodies. From the beginning of slavery, Black women have been stereotyped as hypersexual beings as a means to further oppress and sexually exploit them. Take the ‘Jezebel’ stereotype, for example. The Jezebel was portrayed as an innately promiscuous Black woman with an insatiable desire for sex and was manipulated to rationalise non-consensual sex with white colonisers.
Therefore, we cannot disregard that the criticism of WAP as overtly sexual may come from a deeper, more insidious issue grounded in racism. Just think how White women like Lady Gaga can write a song about riding a ‘disco stick’ and having explicit sex dreams while being subject to almost exclusively positive feedback for her sexually liberating lyrics.
The power of WAP in feminist and racial discourse lies in Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion reclaiming and profiting off a racist stereotype weaponised to depict Black female bodies as subhuman, as they take ownership of their sexuality for no one’s pleasure but their own. And no, they are not asking for male approval or permission to wield their sexuality in such a way. It is their choice and their choice only and that is empowering for Black women everywhere.
Despite sexual liberation being a legitimate feminist endeavour, critics of WAP struggle to comprehend sexual empowerment as synonymous with female empowerment. This prevailing, disconnected view of feminism can be blamed on the misogynist sentiment that perpetuates sex as shameful for women. Patriarchal standards of sexual purity which conflate virginity with ‘morality’ and ‘honour’ are so embedded in our social structures that it’s no surprise society continues to demonise women’s sexuality.
However, WAP works to dismantle this oppressive narrative in its expression of sexual freedom women have historically been deprived of. Girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies, to be ashamed of sex and this song is empowering as it expresses a message of the opposite: that our sexuality and body is something worthy of celebration.
The bottom line is women should not be ashamed of sex! This may come as a shocker, but women like sex. And they can like it just as much, if not more, than men do. Why is this concept so horrifying? Women should be able to talk about sex, rap about sex, sing about sex without being accused of ‘undermining’ feminist ideologies. In fact, them doing so actually challenges patriarchal norms. Hence, WAP is valuable in a society that punishes women for talking about their body parts or sexual experiences and is a step forward in normalising conversations that need to be had.
WAP opens a long-awaited dialogue about sex that is liberating for women. The song is a sex-positive beacon of light within a society that tries so hard to keep women’s sexuality in the dark. Men have controlled the sexualisation, objectification and overall policing of female bodies for far too long so there is something powerful in regaining control over how one’s body is depicted, in having bodily autonomy.
As Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion set their own boundaries and identities around sexuality, WAP undercuts this sense of male dominance. I mean, no wonder people are upset. Yes, women can maintain dignity, agency and power while embracing sexual pleasure. Yes, women can be valuable, productive members of society whilst being proud of their sexuality. Not only is it human but it is feminist to unapologetically own your sexuality and display it on your own terms.
So, if you take issue with WAP, ask yourself what is it that truly offends you? Why does it make you so angry? And honestly, if it angers the likes of Bradley and Lorraine, conservatives that openly support a president who desires to “grab” women “by the p***y”, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion must be doing something right. There is ultimately no cookie cutter approach for feminist liberation, no objective mould for what it looks like to attempt to destabilise the patriarchy but, in my opinion, WAP is a start.
B. Arts (Philosophy) / B. Advanced Studies
Nina is studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney. She’s always down for a chat about all things philosophy, literature, politics and culture.