WAP and the vilification of female sexuality

Earlier in August, two of the world’s most famous female rappers, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion released a song called WAP – standing for Wet Ass Pussy. On Youtube, the music video originally came out with the words “Wet and Gushy”. It is fair to say the success of the song has been raging; both in its global popularity, particularly through the app TikTok, and its ability to turn largely gawping men upside down. Their earth has been shaken – specifically Ben Shapiro and other conservative Americans.  

WAP entered at number 1 in America and was the most successful female Youtube debut ever (Holt, 2020), which is unsurprising if you’ve also seen the video. Sex-positive music from women, however, is no new enterprise.

Cardi is an ex-reality TV star, stripper, and mother. Megan is enrolled at university for a bachelor’s degree, cemented the phrase hot girl summer in urban dictionaries across the world, recently lost her mother and grandmother (and her father when she was younger), and got shot in the foot by Tory Lanez this summer (Wikipedia, 2020). Quite frankly, both women are already nothing short of remarkable.

Not only are they confident women and explicit in their sexuality; they are skillful and seemingly willing in seriously profiting from it. Particularly in a country where the president once said that it was acceptable to “grab ‘em by the pussy” (McClinton, 2020), medically accurate sex education is not mandatory in the majority of states, and even owning a sex toy can be a crime (alas, in Alabama), to be female and declare you’re a certified freak, 7 days a week, is quite something. 

Controversy 

It seems that the ‘explicit’ lyrics are the predominant cause for concern, at least amongst those who call the song ‘Wet Ass P-word’.

My personal favs, aside from the obvious ”bring a bucket and a mop for this wet-ass pussy” are: “swipe your nose like a credit card” and “you really ain’t never gotta fuck him for a thang”. Iconic.

Is it technically explicit? Yes. Admittedly, the song may not suitable for all listeners – Cardi herself has said that she wouldn’t want her two-year-old daughter to listen to the song. Does it speak for all women? Of course not (the song is pretty heteronormative, although Megan Thee Stallion hints at bisexuality in some of her other music); obviously not all vulva owners can get that ‘wet’ etc. 

These facts, nonetheless, do not warrant the global backlash the song has received. An even wilder response to the song (at least to me) was Ben Shapiro’s later concern, that the song indicated Cardi and Megan’s STI status. Nope, you can’t make this stuff up. 

WAP power

An important lens to take regarding the song, and the backlash towards it, is that sexuality and sex-positivity does look different for everyone. What is shouldn’t look like, is policed by the supposed gatekeepers of sexuality: specifically, white, heterosexual men. Controversy sprung up on TikTok, when military women were accused of ‘shaming’ the army and using the WAP dance to be ‘thirst-traps’ (Sicard, 2020). Apparently, you can’t work in uniform and post a ‘thirst trap’, especially if you’re female (similar outrage has, of course, not been thrown at military men on the app).

Going further, many of us can think of a plethora of music, lyrics and videos that display an overwhelming hegemonic male display of sexuality – whether these are ‘explicit’ or not. Blurred Lines, a song by Robin Thicke, is literally beyond sexually explicit, it is nonconsensual – “I hate these blurred lines, I know you want it”. 

Russell Brand argued that hip hop music has long been subjected to demonisation because of lyrical content; although when concluding said that he wasn’t sure the song presented much ‘progress’ for women if they were commoditising their bodies through mainstream mediums (Brand, 2020). 

Additionally, it cannot be ignored that “the video is a vibrant celebration of women of color — barring the white woman with a spray tan — notably devoid of any men” (Jenkins, 2020). Cardi and Meg build on their predecessors here.

How did WAP make you feel?

Poll conducted on Instagram on 25/08/2020

Like a baaadddddd bitch, so SUPER hyped

Sexxxyyyyyyy 

Empowered. Felt good to see women celebrated their sexuality without any shame! As it should be

Gasssssed

Empowerrreeeed & horny

I am so conflicted. I think we need some more songs about women’s sexuality but I’m not sure if this is motivated more by shock factor than women’s sexuality

Hyped for sure! It’s just fun y’all

IT’S DANGEROUS (tongue out emoji lol)

Initially shocked. Then HYPE AS FUCK 

(All comment’s Instagram followers own words, all identifying as women)

These reactions generally speak to the fact that this song was made FOR women, and BY women. The male opinion or validation is not valid here, although concern was expressed.

Is this song playing up to a pornographic/male gaze? Although this is something to consider here, to imagine that women, having been subject to patriarchy and the policing of their sexuality throughout time, can exist in a parallel, non-patriarchal or non-heteronormative universe is futile. Songs by more LGBTQ rappers reaching the mainstream might serve to open up this dimension. In the same vein, music that explores low desire, self-pleasure, more subtle lyrics with the same themes could also be welcomed (speculating here; I haven’t seen much criticism about what the song might have left out).

The vilification of female sexuality

Thus: what is the backlash about the song really concerned with? 

Is it the shock that a) women can articulate their sexuality in an explicit way and be multifaceted, taking back their objectification by men into their own hands? Or b) that some women like sex and want to rap about it, especially not in the presence of men? 

Female sexuality, for centuries, has been shamed, subjugated, removed, and even considered an example of mental illness. In the 1800s, removing the uterus and/or the clitoris was used as a treatment for hysteria (Rosenhek, 2014). Women’s bodies have been exploited since the birth of capitalism (Federici, 2019), particularly for their sexuality, although punished/witch-hunted when choosing to engage with it. The use of and discovering true pussy power (from the clitoris) supposedly “makes women lustful and take delight in copulation” (as written by a midwife in 1671) (Share, 2019), a privilege that has been offered to and excused men for centuries. We should celebrate and support female creators who are taking the stage and reclaiming what has been taken from women.

Ultimately, the driving force of feminism is that individual women deserve to make a choice about how they express themselves. If they want to ‘objectify’ themselves (note I actually think Cardi and Megan encourage women to subjectify themselves, as in rap loudly about your own WAP) and dance ‘provocatively’ or ‘scantily’ clad, honestly let them. Given that in the 1400s, part of the ‘pussy’, the clitoris, was referred to as ‘the devils teat’; women are long overdue their stage to discuss sexuality.

As bell hooks said when interviewing Lil Kim in 1997: “I think real sexual liberation means that you’re in charge of your pussy” (hooks, 1997). 

Resources 

Reading:

Hardcore Honey: bell hooks Goes on the Down Low with Lil’ Kim

Love “WAP”? Here’s a History of Sex-Positive Women in Rap

Russell Brand accused of “mansplaining” feminism following ‘WAP’ critique

The enduring enigma of female sexual desire

Watching: 

The uncomplicated truth about women’s sexuality | Sarah Barmak

WAP with Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion: Feminist Masterpiece Or P*rn?

Cover image retrieved from Atlantic Records.

References 

Brand, R. (2020). WAP with Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion: Feminist Masterpiece Or P*rn? (Accessed online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdP9H60N2l8 28/08/2020)

Federici, S. (2019). Silvia Federici On Witch Hunts, Body Politics & Rituals of Resistance. Slutist Webpage. (Accessed online: http://slutist.com/silvia-federici-on-witch-hunts-body-politics-rituals-of-resistance/ 28/08/2020)

Holt, B. (2020). Why Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s Empowering Anthem “WAP” Is So Important. Music Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.complex.com/music/2020/08/cardi-b-megan-thee-stallion-wap-essay 28/08/2020)

hooks, b. (1997). Hardcore Honey: bell hooks Goes on the Down Low with Lil’ Kim. Music Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.papermag.com/lil-kim-bell-hooks1-1427357106.html?rebelltitem=62#rebelltitem62 28/08/2020)

Jenkins, C. (2020). Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘WAP’ Is Class-A Filth for the Ages. Song Review Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.vulture.com/2020/08/cardi-b-megan-thee-stallion-wap-song-review.html 28/08/2020)

McClinton, D. (2020). Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP should be celebrated, not scolded. Music Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/aug/12/cardi-b-megan-thee-stallion-wap-celebrated-not-scolded 28/08/2020)

Rosenhek, J. (2014). Mad with menopause. History Webpage. (Accessed online: http://www.doctorsreview.com/history/mad-menopause/ 28/08/2020)

Share, S. (2019). Cliteracy 1.01 — Clitoral History. @sistazshare webpage. (Accessed online: https://medium.com/@sistazshare/cliteracy-1-01-clitoral-history-c8437ae4eafb 28/08/2020)

Sicard, S. (2020). Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ causes controversy on military TikTok. Military Culture Webpage. (Accessed online: https://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/military-culture/2020/08/27/cardi-bs-wap-causes-controversy-on-military-tiktok/ 27/08/2020)


Wikipedia. (2020). Megan Thee Stallion. Wiki Webpage. (Accessed online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megan_Thee_Stallion 27/08/2020)

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