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why we won't stop talking about wap and the reclamation of carnal autonomy

By Emma Wallace

Firstly, let's set the scene...

The camera barely pans down fully before we are thrust through the gilded gates, embossed with the acronym WAP. Within the spate of 15 seconds, we have glided past a fountain of spurting breasts and arrived at a white palatial manor house.

The speed distorts our perception, seemingly blurring reality with a visual playfulness which will continue to colour the aesthetics. Passing through the threshold, we are transported into a long, pastel-blue corridor, lined with a row of unopened doors and decorated with busts of bottoms and breasts.

Frank Ski’s 1993 single, “Whores in this House”, plays in the background, while Megan and Cardi slowly strut up the corridor. We hear the opening lines, “I said certified freak/ Seven days a week/ Wet ass pussy/ Make that pull-out game weak”, signalling what we are about to bear witness to: the celebration of sex as a potent vehicle for personal expression.

I am, of course, referencing the music video for the phenomenally successful single, WAP, by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. The song currently totals almost 250 million views on YouTube alone and yet, over one month on from it's initial release, is still as potent as ever in the minds of its viewers.

Standing for “Wet Ass Pussy”, a phrase that is habitually repeated throughout, WAP is a song that revels in all the subversive implications of its centralisation of female sexual appetite. Cardi and Megan do not settle for thinly coded phrases to describe sex, as is often found in songs touted by male singers; “Macaroni in a pot”, “bottom-feeder”, and “I want you to park that big Mack truck/ Right in this little garage” litter the lyrics instead, not scrimping away from the obvious sexual connotations.

Naturally, such a song has drawn both the attention and criticism of a range of (often conservative) cultural commentators.

James P. Bradley, the congressional candidate from California, has stated that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are “what happens when children are raised without God and without a father figure”, claiming that- upon hearing it- he had wanted to “pour holy water in [his] ears”.

Carole Baskin of Tiger King denounced it as “lurid”, while Ben Shapiro, not to be outdone, ironically claimed that “WAP is what the feminist movement is all about; it’s not really about women being treated as independent, full-rounded human beings. It’s about wet-ass p*word”.

The fact that two of the aforementioned men in this catalogue have previously failed to denounce a political figure for his history of sexual misconduct towards women adds just a little extra hypocrisy to these statements...

Even among those who like to hold themselves as “liberals” the song has proved divisive, and is as often derided as mere pornography that is being hailed as a feminist masterpiece. WAP’s brilliance perhaps lies not just in its explicit confrontation of our idiosyncratic attitude towards (especially black) female sexuality, but how it functions as an expository device through which our own deep-seated patriarchal pre-conceptions of sex are brought to the surface.

As highlighted by Cardi B when responding to the backlash: “my thing is that… I grew up listening to this type of music, so other people might [think it’s] strange and vulgar but to me it’s like really normal”; “it’s what people want to hear”. Infact, the frank discussion of sex, the desire for it, and the pleasure that one can acquire from it is not new within the music world- really it makes up a good amount of the corpus of male music. So, what's the real issue here?

Our society does not excise sex from its cultural output and, for all of our pretence that singles such as WAP are corruptive influences, it is a fundamental misconception that sexuality and sex roles do not make themselves evident to us from a very young age. From children’s clothes blazoned with the mottoes ‘lady killer’ to a string of movies and TV shows, such as Transformers and Diary of a Wimpy Kid to name just two, which centralise a beige white boy slathering over an indescribably beautiful girl who sometimes (as in Megan Fox’s case) finds herself draped across a motorcycle in what is essentially a sequence taken straight from a 16 year old boy’s wet dream, sexuality is embedded within our formative years. What makes WAP different is that it foregrounds the often elided female experience of sex. Men are absent from the music video, their only presence being gestured towards by the coded reference to genitalia- a metonymy which very much mirrors the frequent reduction of women to their body parts.

To say, as Russell Brand does, that WAP is merely the “emulation of a template that already exists and is established by males” is demonstrably reductive, overlooking the fact that WAP does not only revel in its joyful role reversal but its direct reappropriation of the hyper-sexualised stereotypes that often lambast black women. Starting with the commodification of African captives in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and continuing with the non-consensual use of black women’s bodies for gynaecological research, to even the reluctance to herald Beyonce’s music as a valuable contribution to feminism, society is rife with instances wherein black women are consistently objectified, exploited, and rendered into consumable commodities. As evidenced by our failure to treat the survivors of R. Kelly’s abuse with the empathy and support that they deserved, black women become hyper-sexualised entities who face endless assumptions of promiscuity which directly inhibit their ability to access the appropriate sexual health support. For all that the ‘Me Too’ movement was founded by Tarana Burke, a black woman, mainstream conversations around Harvey Weinstein’s prolific history of sexual abuse and harassment largely silenced black women such as Lupita Nyong’o, an erasure that continues to mark our tackling of sexual misconduct in all kinds of industries.

We ultimately contain black women to a sexual paradigm that strips them of agency and yet, perversely, renders them apparent agents in their own oppression. Even within apparent feminist circles which are ostensibly concerned with female emancipation, black women’s agency and sexual liberty is perceived as a threat. In her perplexing tirade about her ‘misrepresentation’, Lana Del Rey, for instance, decided to pitch her own ‘beautiful self-embodiment’ against the music of black women such as Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Beyonce who- according to Del Ray’s assessments- merely talk about “wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating etc”.

In much the same way that Brand reads WAP as a mere replication of male tropes about sexual potency, Del Ray fixates upon the sexual content of black female music and seemingly implies that such a celebration of sexuality automatically diminishes the quality of their music. Not forgetting the fact that all three women mentioned above, as well as Megan Thee Stallion, have used their platform to draw attention to issues affecting marginalised communities, such as police brutality and sexual assault, Lana’s reductive reading reflects a wider inability to reconcile sexuality with respect and professionalism.

Perhaps what is most threatening is exactly what WAP does best: the direct confrontation of sex and the unapologetic celebration of female sexual pleasure which entirely does without the gendered power dynamics of submission and dominance that Lana so habitually idolises.

As summarised by DaLyah Jones in her article examining WAP and the pleasure politics revolution, “by brandishing their honey pots like ‘weapons’, female rappers are exploring the sometimes murky waters of carnal authority- and reviling in them”.

Cardi and Megan only look at the camera half the time- they are too busy enjoying themselves and their exploration of their world of sexual emancipation to always acknowledge the camera and its audience. They are joyful, smiling, almost laughing, as if they are sharing an inside joke that only they are privy to; they are agents in their own commodification, their ability to provoke outrage exposing the culture that they are dismantling.

The world's reaction to WAP has been undeniably divided. In a world where a man can still be elected president in spite of gloating that you should “grab’em by the pussy”, where our discussion of sex neglects the importance of consent, and we are witnessing a growing tide of racist and sexist sentiment, I can only agree with Cardi B that singles such as WAP is exactly what we want and need.


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