The majority of the sex and sexual experiences referenced in this article are referring to heterosexual sex. This is not intended to erase the experiences of people who take part in non-heteronormative sexual acts; however, most of the issues being covered, as well as the song used for the article, are predominantly an issue between the relationship of a male-identifying person and a female-identifying person.
During last week’s All-School Meeting (ASM), which focused on sex, consent, and hook-up culture, speaker Peggy Orenstein ended up answering a question on the topic of “WAP,” a song by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, with a clear focus on women’s sexual expression. Recently, WAP has gained a lot of popularity, but its fame has also been riddled with controversy. Orenstein described her opinion that the lyrics actually reinforce a toxic culture of male-dominated porn and sex that is intended for the male gaze. At the same time, these trailblazing artists are also gaining unprecedented amounts of popularity for releasing a song detailing female sexuality from the direct viewpoint of two women. Though “WAP” certainly doesn’t represent a universal sexual experience for women, it is a significant milestone in the journey towards female sexual empowerment. Through “WAP,” Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B take control of their narrative and prove to the world that women have the power to dictate our sexuality.
There are countless male artists in the rap and hip hop world who have built entire careers around singing, rapping, or producing sex-focused music. Many of these songs create images of women as empty vessels or obedient servants for the man to control, manipulate, and make choices for. Because of this, realistic representations of female sexuality are desperately needed in the mainstream media, especially within the world of music. Many men and boys use the media available to them—porn and music—to prepare themselves for what they believe will be “successful” sex. Yet for women, this definition of sex is something closer to a performance; a charade of feigned pleasure devoted to the man’s enagement. Women deserve access to media that connects them to sex independently of the male gaze and experience. Yet time and time again, women are condemned, criticized, and slut-shamed for telling their side of the story—think Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” or Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” “WAP” is no different; the more popular it’s gotten, the more outrage it’s garnered: DeAnna Lorraine called it “disgusting & vile” in a tweet, while Fox News host Tucker Carlson demanded, “What is it doing to [your girls]?” This double standard is appalling. It’s not right that men get to decide what women want from sex in pop culture, yet women are expected to stay quiet and appeal to male expectations.
Let’s talk about the actual experiences that are explained in songs like this— “Doin’ It,” “Strip That Down,” “Baby Got Back,” “Hot in Here”—tracks with thumping beats, gruff men rapping, and maybe a couple audio clips of a woman agreeing with the man or providing backup music. Many of these accounts are unrealistic: a fantasy-tinged, primal burst of idealistic sex standards. And of course, there’s no regard for what the other half of the sexual encounter, the woman, might be thinking, feeling, or desiring, independent from the man. Interestingly, “WAP” carries a somewhat similar image of women’s sexual desires, with one popular lyric saying “Make me scream… I wanna gag, I wanna choke.” It implies that the narrators desire discomfort and want to be controlled. This brings up the dilemma that “WAP” could potentially validate that what men see represented in porn and the media is actually what women want in bed. Obviously, though the experience of sex described in “WAP” may be true for the singers of the song, this isn’t a universal perspective, implied in the numerous “I” statements sung by the artists. All women have a different experience, and we are not subordinate sexual objects for a man to toss around.
“WAP” is one of few expressions of sexual desire in mainstream culture that is truly from the perspective of the woman. This standalone narrative could possibly cause men to assume that, because these specific women want the same things that they’ve seen reinforced time and time again, including violent, seemingly uncomfortable sex and fast-paced action, this is what all women want. But maybe this possibility is just this—a possibility. After all, these women are just sharing what pleases them, and the interpretations are up to the listener. If a man uses “WAP” as his one and only source of information about what a woman wants in sex, that would be a problem with him rather than with than the song itself. Men should be seeking out many perspectives, believing women whenever they express their desires, or better yet, simply asking women directly what they want. Thinking back to ASM, Ms. Orenstein was quick to explain what she believed were the most powerful words related to sex: “What are you into?” This simple question can go far. Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s ability to express so clearly what kind of sexual experience they desire should stand as proof that not all women want a life of subjection to a man’s needs and that we have countless opinions and narratives of our own.
“WAP” is a strong, independent song, sung and rapped by strong, independent women. It proves that women have their own ideas and standards for sex, and don’t necessarily desire the approval or control of a man. However, it can’t stand alone. We need more representation and more perspectives. We need more women—more people—to share their experiences with the same confidence and fierceness as Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B. “WAP” is a step in the right direction, but it’s just the beginning. There is so much more to be added to the story.