WAP and the Reclamation of Female Sexuality

The backlash against Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s new single WAP was somewhat inevitable. As women of colour in the music industry, specifically the male-dominated genre hip-hop, it comes as no surprise that there is greater objection to the music that they release than there is for their male counterparts. The combined racism and sexism which drives much of this criticism is insidiously clear, while the hypocrisy and double standards that underlies it once again affirms a fundamental truth of the patriarchal society we live in: people are only comfortable with an expression of female sexuality when it is controlled by men.

WAP debuted at No. 1 on US Spotify and No. 6 on Global Spotify, and the music video reached 26 million views in its first 24 hours on YouTube, making it the biggest debut for an all-female collaboration on the platform. Its popularity is evident, yet the outcry against both the song and these artists suggests that we as a society are still unable to consider female success as anything other than outrageous. Perhaps some of the views stemmed from the song being deemed ‘controversial’, but this too affirms the way in which we are more shocked by a woman’s own expression of her sexuality than when it is coming from a male perspective. 

Male rap and hip-hop artists have been singing about sex and the female body since the genre was invented, but as soon as women themselves take back control of the narrative, it is viewed as problematic. Megan Thee Stallion pointed out this contradictory phenomenon by tweeting: ‘Lol dudes will scream “slob on my knob” word for word and crying abt WAP 😂 bye lil boy’. When an instagram video showing Trump supporters at a boat party used WAP as the background song, Cardi B responded on Twitter: ‘Wasn’t republican conservative throwing a little fit bout this song ?😒’ Both of these responses reiterate a standpoint which we should all acknowledge. Perhaps WAP wasn’t written with the intention to anger a male audience; maybe the demographic is in fact women who have consistently seen their own realities only represented by those who do not understand it. 

Predictably, many people (particularly prominent white male figures who have already proved that they do not respect women) have publicly expressed their contempt for this song. My question for these critics is: if you have such an issue with an expression of female sexuality in music, why do you not articulate the same disapproval for male artists that do the same? If you genuinely believe that a vocal and visual depiction of sexuality is as disgusting as society has made it out to be, then you undermine this entire premise when you fail to scrutinise male artists in the same way. 

Russel Brand asks us, appearing in a physical state which would have no doubt warranted dismissal of his voice had he been female, ‘do we achieve equality by aspiring to the values established by the forces, or authors, of the hierarchy and system itself?’ In this, I can’t help but wonder whether he is making the point he thinks he is. By suggesting that sexuality is an inherently, and even exclusively, male phenomenon, is he not reinforcing the necessity of a long overdue realisation that perhaps this is not the case? Brand’s disregard for women’s independent voice and bodily autonomy is representative of a much wider issue which seems to have brainwashed a large majority of people into believing there is something fundamentally disturbing about female sexuality in its own right. 

When we criticise these women for doing exactly what men in the industry do the whole time, we are simply reinforcing the narrative that men do not need to be held to the same standards as women, thus undermining the argument that we have already achieved a level of equality that would render this comparison unnecessary. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, ‘if you criticise X in women but do not criticise X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women.’ In this case ‘X’ would stand for the balance between the internal existence and external expression of female sexuality. This song is an embodiment of what happens when a woman personally confronts the reality of her own sexuality, rather than hiding it behind the walls created by her male oppressors. 

Fortunately, alongside the numerous complaints that have been made against WAP, there is a universal acknowledgement that a radical rethinking of female expression in the music industry is exactly what we need. Brianna Holt writes in Complex: ‘In a male-dominated genre that is often criticized for misogynistic wordplay toward women, the two rappers have never shied away from taking back the narrative of femininity in hip-hop.’ In some ways, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion have done something radical in forcing people to acknowledge their unconscious bias against female music artists. For every person who decides it is up to them to determine what should and should not be allowed in popular culture, there is someone who is coming to terms with and subsequently overcoming their own internalised discrimination.

Ultimately, WAP is a good song that is worthy of its commercial success, but it is also a pertinent reminder that we have a long way to go in our battle against the racism and sexism which have contaminated our society for too long. A reclamation of female sexuality, on our terms rather than those which have been established for us, is an integral aspect of fighting against the patriarchal expectations which continue to categorise us against our best interests. I urge you to ignore the learned critical voice, which potentially exists inside all of us, telling you that femininity and sexuality are mutually exclusive.

Instead, try to enjoy WAP for the musical masterpiece that it is.

Photo courtesy of Klara Kulikova

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