This piece needs no introduction. You know what WAP is. You’ve seen the video. Or you’ve heard people talk about it. Or you’ve seen hundreds of people almost break their legs/arms/much more sensitive parts trying to do the dance on Tik Tok. You might have your own opinions about it, and you certainly wouldn’t be alone. Some of them are really, really strong opinions, and often very negative. This is unsurprising, given that it’s a song about slick vaginas. Some people think that it’s the height of depravity. Not only is it perverse and “what happens when children are raised without God”, as one outraged American congressman put it, it’s also apparently a terrible influence on young women and girls in general. Noted right-wing wanker, political commentator Ben Shapiro lamented that WAP goes against the idea of treating women as “independent, well-rounded human beings”. Of course, their comments make a lot of sense. After all, these conservative white men are staunch advocates of women’s empowerment. They know that pussies should only be referred to when a President talks about grabbing them non-consensually.
On a more serious note, their opinions do kind of make sense, don’t they? I mean, isn’t feminism all about making sure women are respected? Feminists are always going on about how women are objectified and treated only as sex symbols and this way of thinking needs to change immediately, etc, etc. Surely a song that is entirely about vaginas accompanied by a video that has about 5 seconds of footage that isn’t boobs and/or butts would be cause for much outrage amongst feminists? In reality, however, the song is being hailed as an anthem of female empowerment and liberation. Why? Because there is a difference between objectification and sexual expression.
Picture a typical music video, especially one by a male musician. It probably has a man singing, partying, surrounded by scantily clad women. They drape themselves around him, dance with him, or just stand around looking hot. The camera focuses on their breasts, their tanned, bare waists, their endlessly long legs. You’ve seen this a thousand times and you probably know that this is objectification. The women in these music videos are just objects, just there to be admired, desired, and felt up by the man. They have no other purpose, they have no agency.
WAP is different. Yes, it also shows scantily clad women showcasing their bodies for the camera. The lyrics are explicit, their gestures clearly sexual. But there is a difference, and that difference is control. In WAP, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B are clearly in control. They’re twerking and doing splits and licking their lips, but it’s not for anyone else to see. Their gazes aren’t demure, sexy but coy, appealing to a man as he looks on with a smirk. There isn’t a single man in the music video. Their gazes are fierce and they pierce straight through the camera, bowing down for no one.
Now, of course, the song is addressed to a hypothetical man and is about how he would enjoy their WAPs. However, even in the lyrics, they show themselves to be in control. They want sex, but they want it on their terms. They want to be gagged and slapped and choked, but for their own pleasure. They aren’t asking or begging, they’re giving orders. There’s no mincing of words. They’re ‘certified freaks’ who know what they want and aren’t afraid to ask for it. They use degrading terms like ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’, but these terms have been reclaimed by women for a while now. I know what you’re thinking – “So if a man calls a woman a whore he’s terrible, but if a woman calls herself a whore it’s okay and maybe even empowering?” Yes, exactly. I’m glad you’re following. WAP is empowering instead of objectifying because women are in control of its narrative. It’s women rapping about their own sexuality, flaunting their bodies because they want to. They do not cater to a male gaze. That is the key difference.
But that is also the reason why it is so heavily criticized. The men criticizing WAP cannot stand women (particularly black women) taking control of their own bodies and being sexually liberated. Women aren’t allowed to be sexual, unless, of course, it’s for men. If Cardi and Megan were dancing as a man looked on, and it was a man talking about their pussy, I guarantee that the reactions would have been different. Women are meant to be under control. Women who deviate from this norm and exert power in whichever way, whether it’s by running for office or by making music, are punished – a tradition that dates from burning witches at the stake to writing terrible things about female artists on Twitter.
WAP does not solve patriarchy. But it does bring to the forefront a perspective of women where women are in control of their own bodies. You don’t have to like it to appreciate that. I’m not a huge fan of the song. Musically, it’s not my style. However, on a sociocultural level, I recognise what it does. It shows two black women unafraid of their sexuality, openly, explicitly flaunting their bodies and stating their desires. The power of that cannot be ignored.