Rachel Carr, Octavia Clouston and Esme Edworthy discuss the cultural impact of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘WAP’, and the conversations it has sparked about female empowerment and oppression in the music industry and beyond.
“For some, whether or not gender equality is deserved is conditional on how ‘respectable’ or ‘professional’ women are” – Rachel Carr.
You’d think that in a society filled with sexually explicit rap music, widely available porn, and drawn-out scenes of sex and rape in almost every film and TV series, a song about consensual sex would barely cause a ripple. But two Black female artists rapping about their enjoyment of sex? Shut it down before it shatters our fragile patriarchal worldview!
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP has faced monumental backlash since the song and music video dropped on August 7th. Male artists like CeeLo Green, Republicans like James P. Bradley, and total irrelevants including Russell Brand have all mansplained exactly how the song is actually damaging to feminism (my favourite quote I found being Bradley’s – “Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion are what happens when children are raised without God and without a strong father figure.” Lack of strong male influence evidently = total moral depravity!)
Hilariously strong reactions like this, however, reveal the actual reason for resistance: women owning and enjoying their sexual autonomy threatens the place and power of the patriarchy. For some, whether or not gender equality is deserved is conditional on how ‘respectable’ or ‘professional’ women are, and so Cardi and Megan – in shrugging off this male-imposed moral standard – are blamed for being anti-feminist by those who only support female empowerment when it is quiet, palatable, non-threatening and still-pretty-oppressive.
Ultimately, Cardi and Megan are not responsible for promoting a conservative feminist agenda. For me, they represent a truer feminism which entails women having the freedom to choose how to feel empowered. They released a brilliant song, are enjoying their immense fame and success, and *thankfully* seem undaunted by the backlash from a society still uncomfortable with female liberation.
“If WAP highlights one thing, it is that empowerment and objectification are not mutually exclusive” – Octavia Clouston.
WAP stands apart from the mainstream as an unapologetically explicit statement of female sexuality and pleasure. Women rappers celebrating themselves, while unabashedly articulating their sexual desires the way male rappers have done since the formation of Hip Hop, represents a reclamation of sexual power. As Black Women, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion refuse to be limited or defined by their hyper-sexualisation at the hands of white patriarchy and instead reclaim their sexual identities and profit from them. WAP is an example of women being as aggressive as men in their approach to their sexual gratification and that is undoubtedly empowering. But if WAP highlights one thing, it is that empowerment and objectification are not mutually exclusive, and the expression of female sexuality is at the root of complex overlapping layers of oppression.
To interpret WAP simply as an empowering display of female sexuality is reductive. It is a reclamation of female sexuality and power, but it is simultaneously a female appropriation of the male sexual model in which women are sex objects that gratify men. The song is empowering because the artists involved have taken control of their sexual narrative, one generally defined by men and by male pleasure. They’re the ones behind the metaphorical camera manipulating the male gaze for profit; but taking control of a male metric of sexuality and profiting from it does not make that metric un-patriarchal.
Being in control of the presentation of your sexuality and presenting yourself as a sexualised object doesn’t mean that you have disengaged from the male gaze or dismantled the implicit necessity for sex appeal in female art and content. It just means you’ve reclaimed the production of it in order to control the concept of a ‘whore’ and who profits from it. And that is empowering. Seizing control of your sexualisation from your oppressors is empowering, sexualising yourself and enjoying it is empowering, exploiting a male-dominated art-form and replicating it through a pseudo-‘female gaze’ is empowering but it is also self-objectification and reinforcement of a patriarchal attitude towards female sexuality and its intersection with capitalism.
My criticism of WAP comes from discomfort over female sexualisation being so closely tied to the male gaze and to patriarchy rather than a female-led model of sexuality and gratification. Fundamentally, without broadening the cultural definition of female sexuality by disentangling it from its servitude to the male gaze, WAP is an example of taking control of a Patriarchal metric without transforming it.
“Clearly, the sexualisation of women is only okay when it is perpetuated by men” – Esme Edworthy.
If the patriarchy hates one thing, it’s women embracing and taking control of their own sexuality – therefore, it is no surprise that the latest release by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, ‘WAP’, an acronym for ‘Wet Ass Pussy’, has faced fierce criticism due to its explicit nature.
There is an intense irony in the fact that society is offended by two Black women rapping about their own sexual organs, when the hypersexualisation of these same women is so normalised. Age-old stereotypes about Black women and their sexual prowess can be seen within a few minutes on any porn website – they are fetishised as being ‘wild’ or ‘exotic’ and often degraded to ‘whores’. Men love to hypersexualise Black women but hate to see these women taking charge of their own sexuality. Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator in America, expressed his disdain for the song on his television show. Whilst watching the music video, he remarked ‘this is what feminists fought for’: this comment was clearly supposed to suggest that Cardi and Megan had done the feminist movement a disservice with their explicitly sexual lyrics, however, he fails to realise that these two successful Black women have no doubt become powerful inspirations for many girls, who find their sexual liberation empowering. Shapiro is not the only American conservative to take issue with WAP; James P Bradley tweeted “#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!” These men have no qualms in endorsing Donald Trump, a man who not only talks about women in an extremely degrading manner (‘grab ‘em by the pussy’), but also a man with at least 25 allegations of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment made against him. Clearly, the sexualisation of women is only okay when it is perpetuated by men.
Artwork by Liv Nowicka.