The Backlash To ‘WAP’ Proves How Uncomfortable We Still Are With Women’s Sexuality
Male artists are given the space to explore themselves and their sexual proclivities in a way women are not able to.
There are few things in this world more divisive than femme horniness. And ‘WAP’, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s bounding #1 hit, has predictably split the world right down the middle.
‘WAP’ (an acronym for “wet ass pussy”) provoked widespread praise and backlash when the music video dropped on August 7. As far as fans were concerned, ‘WAP’ is an instant classic that slips perfectly into the zeitgeist that praises itself on how far we’ve come. The Willy Wonka-themed twerk marathon doubled down on its message with a visual feast combining carnal choreography, female camaraderie, and athleticism with unabashed sexuality.
For a powerhouse collaboration between pop’s most sexually empowered and joyously candid rappers, ‘WAP’ isn’t exactly out of left field. A cursory glance at Megan and Cardi’s discographies reveals just that. In fact, on Meg’s most recent viral hit, ‘Savage’, the Houston rapper drops a line right out of ‘WAP’: “Pussy like water, I’m unbothered and relaxing.”
Just over a week on from the release of ‘WAP,’ the flagrantly frivolous track has garnered a level of condemnation that feels ridiculously excessive. Everyone from Republican politicians, right-wing pundits, washed-up actors, and even fellow hip-hop stars have weighed in on the song.
Out of all the song’s reactions, the most absurd comes from right-wing troll, Ben Shapiro. On his Daily Wire podcast, Shapiro dedicated a segment to reading through the lyrics of ‘WAP,’ before snidely remarking that “[this is] what feminists fought for.”
It feels futile to argue with Shapiro’s train of thought — that somehow sexual liberation isn’t part of modern feminist discourse — considering he lacks any credibility to begin with.
In the clip of this limp examination of ‘WAP,’ 36-year-old Shapiro censors the lyrics, opting to instead say, “wet ass p-word.” Naturally, the internet reacted by trolling the troll, forcing him to return with a followup tweet.
“As I also discussed on the show, my only real concern is that the women involved — who apparently require a ‘bucket and a mop’ — get the medical care they require,” he wrote in a tweet. “My doctor wife’s differential diagnosis: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, or trichomonis [sic].”
Shapiro’s curdled commentary on vaginas is at best, meme fodder. But ultimately, it’s a sad representation of how uncomfortable we still are with women’s sexuality.
Ultimately, it’s a sad representation of how uncomfortable we still are with women’s sexuality.
Similarly, conservative Republican activist Deanna Lorraine mirrored Shapiro’s thoughts on Twitter, writing: “Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion just set the entire female gender back by 100 years with their disgusting and vile ‘WAP’ song.”
And then there’s James P. Bradley. The Republican congressional candidate from California claimed to have “accidentally” listened to the song, though once he did “it made me want to pour holy water in my ears.” He also tweeted that Meg and Cardi are “what happens when children are raised without God and a strong father figure.”
Besides Shapiro, CeeLo Green — who once tweeted that it isn’t rape if a victim is unconscious — also condemned the video. “A lot of music today is very unfortunate and disappointing on a personal and moral level,” he said in an interview with Far Out. “There was once a time when we were savvy enough to code certain things. We could express to those it was meant for with the style of language we used. But now music is shameless; it is sheer savagery.”
While Green has since come out and apologised for his comments, him lamenting a loss of coded language speaks volumes.
Maddonas, Whores, And Rappers
Over the last few decades, as women have become increasingly prominent in music — and especially hip-hop — they’ve been plagued by the Madonna-whore dichotomy. This refers to the polarised perceptions of women and how they can only ever be one of two things: either innocent and pure virgins, or salacious and promiscuous whores.
And whether cognisant of this dichotomy or not, women often live coded lives, one that requires euphemisms and niceties to avoid upsetting all the good cisgender men. Basically, cisgender men, despite how appalled they are by women’s sexuality, aren’t required to code their carnal desires at all.
Men who sing, rap, and describe sex in their music don’t underplay the size of their penis in a “savvy” way. Most of the time, they describe positions, steamy nights, lurid affairs, and fleshy parts of the body in excruciating detail.
But when women break those codes and reverse these roles, they’re slut-shamed, brandished as bad role models and most of the time, accused of setting feminism back “100 years.”
For Black women and women of colour, the stigma is much worse. It’s there in James P. Bradley’s racialised comments that suggest Meg and Cardi have daddy issues. It’s been there for hundreds of years. And if you want to trace it back to one particular event, you can start with Saartjie Baartman, a woman who was nicknamed the “Hottentot Venus” during the 19th century. For most of her adult life, Saartije, a South African Khoikhoi woman, was exhibited in freak shows across Europe, objectified for her large breasts and buttocks.
While women have continued to fight on the fringes for the most basic rights, from the vote to pay equality, some battles need to happen on the world stage.
Sex Is A Weapon Only Some Can Wield
In 1996, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown changed hip-hop with their revolutionary vulgarity. The hip-hop pioneers set the tone for femme rappers; their debut releases were audacious, met with widespread criticism, but still they prevailed.
In 2002, Khia released ‘My Neck, My Back (Lick It).’ And despite its affectionate place in hip-hop history, it too ruffled feathers. Following its release, LA Weekly published a review of the single titled, “Khia’s ‘My Neck, My Back’: Why This Song Sucks”. “It sounds like a frown,” writer Shea Serrano suggested. “It sounds like the very best shift at a gentlemen’s club. It sounds like a rocky childhood.”
Similarly, when Nicki Minaj unveiled the ubiquitous covert art for ‘Anaconda,’ weeks before the release of the song and video, she was met with outrage and open letters. Minaj did what she does best, and pointed out the double standard Black women face that their white counterparts simply do not. In a series of Instagram posts, she uploaded photos of white bikini-clad models, captioning each one with “acceptable.” Then finally Minaj made her point by the cover art for ‘Anaconda’ with the caption, “UNACCEPTABLE”.
Cisgender men are given the space to explore themselves and their sexual proclivities in a way women are not able to.
“Lady Gaga sings about riding a ‘disco stick’ and having explicit sex dreams and she’s called ‘empowering,’ while Cardi and Megan are ‘disgusting and vile’” writes Teen Vogue senior identity editor Brittney McNamara.
So when Cardi and Meg articulate their own sexual agency on their own terms, it’s undeniably a powerful statement.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that men have always been the orators of sex. They have used it as a means of enforcing power and degradation. And when sex isn’t wielded as a weapon, cisgender men are given the space to explore themselves and their sexual proclivities in a way women are not able to. Well, unless they’re willing to withstand an avalanche of criticism.
As women have fought their way to the top, moments like ‘WAP’ are becoming more common. But why does this particular moment feel so important? Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B are the world’s two biggest stars, and for once women’s sexual agency, prowess and pleasure can’t be ignored.
Kish Lal is a writer and critic based in New York City. She is on Twitter.