The release of Cardi B and Megan thee Stallion’s new single WAP on August 7th resulted in waves of controversy online. This single embodied every parent’s nightmare, with derogatory and explicit sexual lyrics made by both these huge artists, expressing their femininity and in more ways than some, by choosing to sexualize themselves in a fierce statement for female sexual expression. In modern day pop culture, sex sells, however why is it perceived as so much more offensive and obscure when women rap about sex than when men do?
[WAP] made him want to “pour holy water in his eyes”.
This track topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts for several weeks. Megan Thee Stallion, a newcomer to the rap scene has previously received backlash for her sexually explicit lyrics, yet makes it clear she believes the reason for this response is her gender. WAP is not only provocative and unapologetic, it goes seemingly 5 steps further than any other erotically charged female rap song has until now. James Bradley, an American candidate for congress, tweeted that the song made him want to “pour holy water in his eyes”.
Cardi and Megan make it clear that in this song, they are the ones in a position of power. For decades now, it has been an expression of male dominance to convey sexual interest in male artists music. Music videos tend to portray women in objectified positions, where they have little role to play other than being attractive and available. Misogyny in rap music and the glorification of female objectification has become so normalized that it fails to cause outrage. As an example of this misogynistic rap, Dr Dre, a famous American rapper, states in one of his songs off his album ‘The Chronic’: “Bitches ain’t sh*t but hoes and tricks, lick on these nuts and suck the d*ck”. This song specifically was never released as a single however was seen as one the album’s “unheralded favorites”, “notorious”, and ultimately “was one of the things that helped sell ‘The Chronic’ the most.“
Double standards in society
The issue with WAP that so many people are having is their belief that a woman speaking about her body in an outrageous, sexual way is a form of self-dishonor. Claiming their femininity in a song while singing about their own body is seen as indecent. A well-known icon in the music industry that consistently advocated for sexual freedom and expression is Madonna. Her music and videos often depicted explicit views on sex and femininity, which even got one of her videos banned from being shown on MTV. This video for the song ‘Justify my Love’ released in 1990, showcased sexually fueled scenes and lyrics which were deemed as too raunchy to be shown on television.
It is not viewed as a woman’s place to praise herself or express her sexual desires, whereas a man can boast and brag, all the while also degrading her, with no consequences.
Comparing this to the reaction that male rap artists receive when singing about women this way, there are worlds of difference. Although men and women partake in sex to the same extent, it is not viewed as a woman’s place to praise herself or express her sexual desires, whereas a man can boast and brag, all the while also degrading her, with no consequences.
Undoubtedly, this isn’t a song that you would be quick to play at a children’s birthday party. However, it is important to realize the triggers as to why such a large audience of people are so insulted by Cardi B and Megan thee Stallion’s portrait of female lust and sexuality.
Damaging ‘traditional’ gender roles
There are specific paradigms in place for women that are still prevalent nowadays that affect the perception of women in their careers, their families and in the media. There is a large portion of society that still sees a woman as needing to act stereotypically ladylike, instead of open to speaking about her sexuality. In everyday life, paradigms about how women should act unobtrusively in leadership positions affect the freedom women have to express themselves without being labeled negatively compared to their male peers.
Adjectives used by managers to describe women’s behavior in leadership positions in the workplace tend to be more negative than men’s.
For example, a study conducted by Pew Research showed that being assertive, decisive and ambitious helps men a great deal in their careers, whereas women benefit more from being compassionate, physically attractive and approachable. Furthermore, the adjectives used by managers to describe women’s behavior in leadership positions in the workplace tend to be more negative than men’s. Where men are called confident and competent, women are commonly called temperamental and excitable. When women are given the clichéd role of having to be modest and proper, it holds them back. In a modern world where we have come so far in terms of self-expression and freedom in our sexuality, it is crucial to dismantle the gender roles we have established in our daily lives, alongside those in the music industry.
Let women talk about sex
Questioning the misogyny in the music industry that we blindly accept and the internalized paradigms we have about women is what can create a difference.
It is evident that WAP is an exaggerated depiction of successful women proclaiming their bodies, and precisely that is what causes such shock in viewers. It is the conversation that this disputed song and video created, that is the real impact WAP has made. Questioning the misogyny in the music industry that we blindly accept and the internalized paradigms we have about women is what can create a difference in how we perceive a woman’s public depiction of lust. Katrina Pereira, an assistant professor of communication who conducted a study on women’s communication about sex, states that society would benefit from better examples of female sexual expression in the media, to slowly deconstruct these paradigms about women speaking openly about sex.
To tolerate male artists for singing about sex while explicitly objectifying women creates a mistaken assumption that this behavior can be condoned in our daily life. Apart from the fact it should be rejected and condemned when men speak about women’s bodies degradingly in music, allowing women to express their sexuality publicly is an important step in recognizing that they do not have to fit the outdated criteria for being exclusively moral, agreeable and modest.