Cardi B’s WAP music video, released in August 2020, has been hitting the billboard’s top list for quite some time now. Since its release, it has attracted various praises and even more criticisms for its display of female sexuality. While the majority of criticisms came from conservative figures such as Ben Shapiro, who was so triggered by the video that he termed it as “indecent” and “untoward,” WAP has also been widely celebrated by the liberal left as being a celebration of women’s sexuality.
In its totality, the spectrum of the audience enjoying the music and video ranges from those having difficulty saying the word “pussy” to those tauting sex-positivity. Both sides, however, blind themselves to the public sexual degradation of women in their opinions towards the hit single.
In a tweet, popular conservative commentator Ben Shapiro stated, “[M]y only real concern is that the women involved – who apparently require a “bucket and a mop’ – get the medical care they require. My doctor wife’s differential diagnosis: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, or trichomonas.” In addition to expressing how disturbed he was, he also managed to show just how little he knows about women’s sexualities. Like many other conservatives, Shapiro does not have a problem with the treatment of women as sexual objects, and yet, feels uncomfortable when they attempt to claim and own the narrative of being sexual beings.
In an article published by The Guardian, author Arwa Mahdawai writes, “this latest WAPisode is a reminder of how little the men who seek to regulate and police women’s reproductive rights know about women’s bodies.” For men like Shapiro, women are private properties that need to be privately sexualised within confined walls, where form of their labour can be fully exploited.
What both sides tend to miss in this discussion, however, is the extent to which women are both hypersexualized and sexually degraded by the public. The sexual politics that these groups base their arguments off of are not so different after all when one looks at the left taut sexual liberation of women, while at the same time hold a firm grasp on their position of women having to uphold the status quo through traditional roles such as cleaning, cooking, taking care, etc. In essence, the left, although seen as the side that supports and empowers women, is actually the side that fails to truly lift them up regardless of how sexual they are or are not.
The ideological cracks in the left’s argument revolves around their narrative that female exploitation is alright as long as it’s consensual on the woman’s end. Although the cultural discourse over male sexual dominance was started by women such as Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, the artists of the WAP song, it is necessary to understand that WAP inherently is a very classically patriarchal song that feeds and breed’s the notion that women are mere objects of sexual exploitation. The idea of choice promoted through songs like WAP fail to address the sexual politics prevalent in a capitalist society around women’s bodies. It is as though the word “choice” can blanket over the systematic and ruthless advancement this word has on reproching any further discussion on women’s rights and autonomy.
When dissecting the lyrics of WAP, one can find a plethora of provocative lyrics. “I’m looking for a beating, I wanna gag, I wanna choke, for example, sends a clear message that women should be working to please men and their sexual fantasies, ultimately boiling a woman’s existence down to being mere sexual objects of satisfaction for men. The lyrics in the song go on to portray males as being dominant and women as being submissive. The men, as shown here, can remain as emotionally distanced and detached as they wish and the women would still degrade themselves in the false guise of “liberation.”
For the longest time, our perceptions of heterosexual sex has been about a man “penetrating” a woman rather than a woman “consuming” a man. Through narratives such as these, society has managed to place sexual dominance in the hands of the male. If one were to switch the narrative to a woman “consuming” a man, the status quo would experience a shift, as the woman would now become the active initiator and the man, a passive receptor. This would make the masculinity a trait dependent on, and existing for the benefit of, the woman. In every narrative that exists today, sex ends when a man orgasms and so little importance is placed on the pleasures of a woman. Songs like WAP glorify the very same narrative.
The rampant promotion of violent sexual relations and the eroticisation of violence against women through means of media and porn has played a huge role in normalizing the degradation of women. The media, mainly owned by the ruling class, ensures the oppression and degradation of women in order to maintain the social structures that benefit them, the ruling class. The media reiterates the dominant ideology to such an extent that their depictions are taken as the truth by their audience. Women have, for centuries, faced economic, social and sexual oppression, and hence, these types of display from the media does very little to liberate them.
The people on the left and the liberals have long lauded themselves over their ideas of radically reordering the society and emancipating the women on the structural level, failing to understand that such structures are built on the personal relations men and women share and through the promotion and appreciation of songs like WAP, which throughout, has undertones of portraying women as commodities and glorification of female submission to men, a far cry from reality.
It is important to note that prevalent sexual hierarchies do not disappear with just consent from women, and it’s also not a sign of transgression when a woman benefits economically from her consent. The sexual liberation of women has to be one which is on a personal level, which does not seek to disregard or degrade their existence. Because women’s labour have always been controlled by the ruling class through limiting their existence to domestic arenas, it is time for such hierarchies to be dismantled in a manner that does not seem to degrade the true essence of a woman in the process.
Rose Singh is a Sub-editor and writer at Kathmandu Pati English, covering social justice, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a law student at Kathmandu School of Law, and has previously interned at The Kathmandu Post. Find her tweet at @_rosesingh