WAP: An Anthem Of Female Empowerment Or A Step Back For Feminism?

In a year when nothing much seems to have happened but everything has changed Cardi B’s WAP burst onto the airwaves bringing the unfiltered female into the mainstream like never before and dividing sensibilities in the process.

Featuring Megan Thee Stallion this three minute celebration of female pleasure is catchy and unapologetically filthy but is the track an empowering anthem or a kick in the teeth to feminism?  

Two power players in a male dominated genre both Cardi and Megan have sex appeal in abundance – and they’re not afraid to use it as the accompanying video so clearly demonstrates but opinion seems divided with this, as to whether they are bowing down to misogynistic stereotypes or taking back the narrative.

c/o: YouTube

One female TSE reader believes it’s very much the former stating: “This is not a victory for women. And I’m heartbroken if this is the best we have to offer generations coming behind us. In the name of supposedly celebrating women’s sexuality, I’m afraid it actually reinforces the misogynistic view of women as sexual objects and commodities. It’s degrading, not empowering.”

“Let’s be honest, sex sells. The shock factor sells. This song isn’t popular because it’s a groundbreaking masterpiece for women’s progress. It’s popular because it’s soft porn. Personally I think it’s just another disaster to come out of 2020 and we as women can do so much better – especially for the 12 year old girls coming behind us,” she adds.

There are none of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines here; this is consensual and Cardi and Megan are in the driving seat.

Paving the way for artists like Cardi and Megan were acts like Salt-N-Peppa, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, who, with their no-nonsense, no holds barred approach to sex and sexuality, were hailed as both feminist pioneers and vulgar in equal measure

There was outrage in 2002 when Khia sang about where and how she wanted it (My Neck, My Back…) but when Lil Wayne wanted to be licked like a Lollipop barely an eye was batted, not to mention Akinyele’s Put it in Your Mouth

Picking up on this notion, one of our male respondents writes: “I think for years we have accepted male singers and rappers degrading women and letting their vulgarity slide without question. Now that two black females are taking ownership of their sexuality in a song, everyone is piping up when they weren’t before. I will admit that some of the lyrics are very direct and intense but many singers like Lana Del Rey, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande sing about their sex lives albeit in a more subtle way. I adore the brash and intense lyrics and feel that Cardi B and Meghan are paving the way for women to sing and rap about their sexuality more often. I am here for it!”

c/o: YouTube

However, if we’re talking gender roles then why is it on women to do better? If it was two men singing about sexual gratification would the outcry have been the same? Because let’s face it as a genre rap has been long known for pushing boundaries and breaking down taboos, while hip hop has become synonymous with sex and from LL Cool J’s Doin It, to Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back and Ludacris’ What’s Your Fantasy it’s not difficult to name a provocative hit from a male artist. So is it only inappropriate for women to sing about sex? And is it ok for sex to sell as long as it is the men making the money?

For decades mainstream male artists have been encouraged to sing about how they want their women to look and what they want to do to them but when women retaliate it seems to make some people uncomfortable. If Cardi, Megan and their WAP video (female) posse were simply backing  dancers to a man, rather than the stars of the show, would their gyrating and sexual provocation have even been questioned? 

For decades mainstream male artists have been encouraged to sing about how they want their women to look and what they want to do to them but when women retaliate it seems to make some people uncomfortable. 

WAP broke not only the record for the most streams for a song in its first week of release in the US with 93 million but also YouTube’s record for the most views in 24 hours for an all-female collaboration. There are none of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines here; this is consensual and Cardi and Megan are in the driving seat.

There’s also a certain irony in taking the track of a relatively unknown (male) DJ with Frank Ski’s, Whores in this House and using it as the hook for what is now undeniably one of the biggest hits of the year but none of this has been accidental. These are two women who know what they are doing.

Recognised by Forbes as one of the most influential female rappers of all time, before pursuing a career in music Cardi worked as a stripper, a move she claims helped her escape poverty and domestic abuse. The 28 year old’s debut album Invasion of Privacy saw her become the first female solo artist to win Best Rap Album at the Grammy’s and the first female in 15 years to be nominated in the Album of the Year category.

Her track-mate Megan is no stranger to success either, earlier this year she tied with Justin Bieber as the most nominated musician at the 2020 People’s Choice Awards, earning six nominations each. Last year the Houston native returned to college to continue her studies in Health Administration.

Are they trying to be role models? Maybe not. Did anyone ask if 50 Cent was a suitable role model when he was trying to take us to the Candy Shop? Are they trying, and succeeding, to smash glass ceilings within their industry? Absolutely. And on the issue of role models, if we can have world leaders who brag about grabbing women by their private parts then surely we have bigger concerns than adult females proclaiming their own sexuality.

The song’s controversy is tied up with its popularity with many expressing concern at the impact it may have on younger ears. It’s undoubtedly not child friendly but then why should it be?

Cardi and Megan are not responsible for the evolution of how music is accessed so should they really be held accountable? Surely it is the responsibility of radio stations, media platforms, parents and guardians to provide censorship and not the artist? 

Echoing this one reader said: “I’m pro it for the right audience. At the end of the day it’s made to be consumed by adults, it being accessible to children is wildly inappropriate but I believe 90% of the content on tik tok is inappropriate for under 18s – but hey the normalisation of sex to under 18s is another article in itself!”

Love it or hate it, sentiments have been strong both ways with everyone from Republican Party candidates to Russell Brand weighing in on the matter. 

And on the issue of role models, if we can have world leaders who brag about grabbing women by their private parts then, surely we have bigger concerns than adult females proclaiming their own sexuality.

Singer CeeLo Green who was accused of sexual assault in 2012, and once claimed that having sex with an unconscious woman isn’t rape, accused the pair of “salacious gesturing to kinda get into position” and denounced it as “sheer savagery” while Blondie’s Debbie Harry applauded the pair, telling NME:“It’s very sexy and hot and naughty – perhaps even dirty – and the good thing is it hasn’t been censored.”

And with this Harry makes a good point. The arts are meant to be subjective and not everyone is meant to enjoy the same things – nor should children have access to the same material as adults. Attempting to censor the arts into a ‘one size fits all, suitable for all ages’ category is a slippery slope into the mundane.

Maybe WAP raises bigger questions surrounding gender expectation, double standards and content moderation but that’s not on Cardi and Megan – they just happen to have written a song about women who like having sex.

c/o: YouTube
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