A few days ago we heard from a mother who told us her 13-year-old daughter couldn’t stop crying after watching the music video for WAP, the chart-topping collaboration (56m views in 48 hours) by American female hip hop artists Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion.
All her friends were watching it and talking about it – of course she wanted to see what the fuss was about.
She wasn’t prepared for the pornified performance or the lyrics straight out of porn central. WAP is essentially high production porn set to music. And girls are told the duet is an 'empowering feminist anthem' (even when it makes them cry).
WAP stands for ‘Wet-Ass Pussy’. We won’t include the lyrics here. But they contain, for example, the refrain ‘whores in this house,' sampled from a 1993 track called 'Whores in this House,' mixed by Frank Ski and performed by Al “T” McLaran.
"Whore" is a word deeply rooted in misogyny, intended to degrade women and paint them as existing for men’s sexual gratification.
Following the release of WAP we received a message from a high school teacher who works at an all boys school. She said:
"the word Whore is making a comeback. I wonder where the boys are hearing this word? I HATE porn."
She hadn't been aware of WAP at the time.
The porn script with a hip hop beat also normalises the idea that women love to be brutalised – it turns them on. More young women expect to be bruised and choked during sex. No surprises there when they are groomed by the broader culture to see injury as sexy.
With surgically enhanced breasts and an abundance of leg-spread crotch shots and furiously twerking bare bums, this is not, in the words of the NYT, ‘Good, Raunchy Fun’. The video is another manifestation of the objectification, commodification and fetishisation of Black women (directed by a man - Colin Tilley).
At a time when young black women report racialized sexual harassment, and when racial stereotypes of black women as sexually voracious, insatiable and aggressive, are challenged elsewhere, WAP arrives with its jungle motifs - to blow thoughtful critiques to pieces.
But self-objectification (for profit) doesn’t erase the harm done. Women represented as embracing their own subordination/’whore’ status is hardly revolutionary.
WAP perpetuates male sexual dominance – men with big penises which cause pain, men tying women up, choking them, using handcuffs and leashes, women “looking for a beating”.
As US psychology professor, DV expert and cultural sensitivity trainer Dr Carolyn West asks in her new documentary -
"How do these images shape how you see black women, and how do these images shape how black women view ourselves?"
“Pornography tells us that its black women’s inherent nature to be out hustling, selling sex, and being on the stroll.”
WAP reinforces this idea.
As soon as WAP was released. the world’s largest porn platform Pornhub, was promoting it.
The video clip appeared there spliced with images of black women being brutalised by men.
Black feminist Sister Outrider @ClaireShrugged said on twitter:
“I wanted to like #WAP. I adore Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. But it’s bleak that two talented, powerful female artists at the top of their game still have to frame themselves as sex objects and cater to the male gaze in order to achieve commercial success.
"Two of the most celebrated Black female artists in the world did a collab. And throughout the track there was a constant refrain of “there’s some hoes in this house.” Which says so little for how Black women are valued in the music industry or wider society.
I don’t believe it’s empowering for women to describe themselves with misogynistic slurs. If there really was power to be found in this language, men would be calling themselves hoes and bitches in every single music video. But men’s careers don’t depend on objectification.”
We also came across this excellent analysis on the ‘On The Woman Question’ blog: ‘WAP: Women As Property’.
"The fact that it is women (Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion) reproducing the cultural discourse of male sexual dominance is used to shroud that WAP is a very classically patriarchal song. Women, of course, reproduce patriarchy (or it would fall apart), but liberal feminist approaches have confused the conversation around that by insisting that anything a woman does is a free ‘choice’ and somehow beyond reproach…Woke commentators also praise Wet-Ass Pussy as a celebration of women’s sexuality…WAP’s depiction of women’s sexuality entirely serves the male fantasy and perpetuates the pornified notion that a woman’s sexual pleasure is derived from the sexual gratification of men …
"A closer examination of WAP’s lyrics is revealing. The language of violence is prevalent: ‘beat it up baby, catch a charge’ and ‘never lost a fight, but I’m looking for a beating’. This banalisation of violence against women comes directly from porn: ‘I wanna gag, I wanna choke’; ‘spit in my mouth’. Not only do these lyrics depict acts of willing female submission, but they also suggest that, by willingly submitting to pain and degradation, a woman holds sexual power — a paradoxical line of argument if ever there was one…
"None of the WAP lyrics are subversive — these are standard ways to flatter men sexually. The approval of his large penis; the indication that his penis is so large that it hurts; the implication that his raw, domineering, red-blooded virility cannot be restrained; the notion of great male strength and athleticism: all are tropes which are frequently used to laud male sexual prowess.
"As sex has been increasingly commodified with the advent of internet pornography…the demands upon the porn market have become progressively more extreme, resulting in porn becoming more violent and the normalised use of sexually violent language in popular culture”.
If WAP is hailed as empowering and feminist, these words no longer have meaning.
Dr. Carolyn West presents, "Let Me Tell Ya 'Bout Black Chicks" (Mature Audiences, NSFW)
Dr. Carolyn West presents, "Let Me Tell Ya 'Bout Black Chicks" from University Washington Tacoma on Vimeo.