To receive from an Indian academic friend the YouTube video of a newly released hit single by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, followed by a column on the song’s subject in The Guardian tickled my interest. The song’s video and the commentary struck me immediately. WAP! The rap collaboration by these two young American artistes has debuted at number 1 at different billboard charts, garnered millions of views on YouTube, the top spot on Spotify, iTunes and other platforms.
What is WAP and what is it supposedly telling through its lyrics? An acronym for Wet-Ass Pu…y, the song is a celebration of female sexuality, says one writer. Another states that it is an ‘ode to female sexual pleasure’. And a ‘loud articulation of female desire for sex’. It speaks, among other things relating to sex, vaginal lubrication, and has an ample use of swearwords. Since its release, the song and the artistes have been receiving a lot of flak from conservative commentators abroad, one deriding that the song is what the feminist movement was all about and what the feminists fought for. Others have taken personal jibes at the two women, pointing to their lack of religion and upbringing. Some women point out that the song promotes sex positivity and challenges men’s domination of women’s pleasure.
Now to the song’s video. It’s carnal in content, crass and bold. But, it’s no better or worse than so many others done by male artistes, present and past; in both, women cavort and gambol, topless and in leather bodysuits, mere props engaged in downright crude moves with sexual nuances, that, it makes one cringe from its utter sense of tawdriness. But the ratings are good!
Popular culture is all about freefalling entertainment that symbolizes a liberal world’s primary ethos of self-expression in all areas of life. The liberal being cannot be policed into a socially prescribed and sanctioned system of instructions on living, that are, essentially stifling one’s freedom of expression, vis a vis, sex and sexuality need to be celebrated for all its goodness and liberated from the limitations of conservatism. No one says that it is a bad thing. It’s good to build a discourse around the expression of sex and sexuality in order to make it a liberating experience for women and men, rather than it being looked upon as an act of oppression and offensiveness. And WAP is an attempt, apparently, of women demanding to take control of their sexuality and how they express it. Good. If only women’s problems are just that.
The entertainment industry around the world has been the flag bearer for many a cause. Art has seen beautiful expression, even nudity has been aesthetically expressed, with depth and detail. But WAP is more of a depraved version by two young artistes, encouraging women to reclaim their right to regulate their sexual pleasure. In their 20 something ages, these two women may have a very different worldview of what women grapple with, but as one matures, the gamut of knowledge on women’s experiences in the real world expands to encompass areas that go beyond the titillating subject of sex and women’s desire for it, vaginal lubrication and others. The problem is with the direction that the feminist discourse is veering towards today, which at times is displaced, rather than empowering. Claimed by so many, it tends to emphasize too much on taking control of how we express ourselves. It has been a perennial battle for women, who have not been asking for vaginal lubricants as a mark of equality, but the right to control one’s reproductive health, like in Sri Lanka, where the system refuses to perform a LRT surgery without the consent of the partner, even if the woman meets the criteria. Then the everyday non-consensual acts of sexual violence against women, in and outside relationships, abuse in the workplace to inequality at work, disgusting encounters by women who seek the services of the system and overtures and lurid speech targeting women’s bodies. This is, the lived reality of the majority who try to get through the day with sanity. Freedom on a daily basis is to live without hindrance, to be treated with respect and not be given an assessment in public spaces on one’s body image. In the pandemic present, the reality of women and men may be the same, struggling to keep a job, trying to cope with the loss of employment and make ends meet. And we have Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion telling us about sexual enlightenment defined in their style as liberation. For men to critique their work is sad, because it belittles the struggle of women in the centuries past, the heavy cost they paid to be treated with respect, and be given the rights that were reserved for men.
So then, the problem is making the women’s liberation movement and feminism relevant today, when showbiz and reality television is trivializing the agenda. What we must aspire for, as I believe, is to make men partners in any conversation and change implementation, rather than having them as arbiters and detractors, so that change becomes deliberate, taken with awareness and education. This could be a challenge when people with visibility, influence and millions of adoring fans define women’s struggles as frivolous as their desire for sex and vaginal lubrication.
Of course the discourse on sexuality is so skewed that men can getaway projecting anything. It’s true that society tends to ignore many things as typically macho behaviour, while women’s expression is regarded as being too risqué. It’s difficult to imagine how this trend could be stopped, given the onslaught of explicit visuals from pop culture and reality television that seem to define women’s rights as the ability to express oneself in anyway, nudity being one of them; and men too feature very prominently in this parody called entertainment.
With one camp celebrating the rap collaboration, while another criticising it, today, the message about women and their roles seem to be in conflict. They are so contradictory in presentation that it is most likely to create, rather than solve, anxiety surrounding gender roles.
I guess it was long ago that artistes like Jermaine Stewart sang ‘we don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time’. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s rendition of a liberating moment for women is worth watching; it can be infectious too, that’s a caution; unknowingly you might soon be humming its tune!
Jennifer Paldano Goonewardane