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What’s the big deal with WAP?

On August 7th, 2020, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion graced our ears with the now infamous song “WAP.” While I personally thought it was a banger, not everyone was on board with it. In fact, shortly after the release of the music video, some notable people on Twitter had a lot to say. Here are some of my favorites:

Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion are what happens when children are raised without God and without a strong father figure. Their new “song” The #WAP (which i heard accidentally) made me want to pour holy water in my ears and I feel sorry for future girls if this is their role model!

  • James P. Bradley, California US House Candidate (@BradleyCongress), August 7, 2020

If @iamcardib & @theestallion think that their vile #WAP song did anything to empower women they are completely wrong. 

No radio station should play that trash, censored or uncensored. 

Aside from the content, the actual song is horrible too and Cardi B cannot rap.

  • DeAnna Lorraine, former Republican Congressional candidate (@DeAnna4Congress), August 7, 2020

And for me, the pièce de résistance, the creme de la creme, the absolute cherry on the cake has to be:

Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion just set the entire female gender back by 100 years with their disgusting & vile “WAP” song.

  • DeAnna Lorraine, again. 

As you can see, WAP was not a hit for everyone, and that’s honestly okay—people are entitled to their opinions and musical preferences. But nevertheless, I think the conservative outrage about WAP highlights some important issues regarding mainstream representations and commodification of women’s sexuality, particularly that of Black women.

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But wait. Let’s pause.

Before I get into this in-depth discussion about the WAP controversy, I want to remind everyone reading this that vaginas do indeed get “wet.” Some notable critics (read: Ben Shapiro) have called out the song for “describing a serious gynecological condition” that is “not biologically normal” and “requires the care of a doctor.” Now, if your body is simply doing something that it should be doing (i.e., self-lubricating, self-cleaning), I don’t think many physicians would consider that a serious problem. In fact, numerous gynecologists and medical experts have come out to defend “WAP,” including Dr. Daniel Grossman, a leading expert in women’s reproductive health, who stated on Twitter that, “it’s normal—even important—for women to have a WAP.”

So what exactly causes WAP and why is it important?

WAP is the result of vaginal discharge, which is a mix of fluid produced by glands in the vagina and cervix, dead cells and bacteria. This fluid plays an important role in maintaining the physiological well being of one’s reproductive system by

  1. Expelling dead cells and potentially harmful bacteria, and thus keeping the vagina clean and healthy; and
  2. Reducing friction during vaginal sex to ensure a safe and pleasurable experience.

For people with vaginas, you may notice that your discharge may vary throughout the month in terms of amount, color, texture and even odor. These changes generally coincide with your menstrual cycle, but can also be triggered by ovulation, breastfeeding, sexual arousal and pregnancy. (If you want to learn more about vaginal discharge, check out this link!)

Vaginal discharge shouldn’t be concerning unless you notice a significant deviation from your normal. Some things to look out for would be changes in texture (especially one that resembles cottage-cheese), changes in color (like brown, green, or yellow) and changes in odor (fishy, bad or coppery). If you notice anything unusual about your discharge, it’s best to hit up Student Health and go get it checked out because there are many possible causes of abnormal discharge.

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With that brief sex ed lesson out of the way, let’s get back to the WAP controversy.

One of the central critiques about “WAP” is that the song is degrading and disempowering to women due to its sexually explicit lyrics and overt sexualization of women’s bodies. To counter this specific critique, some people have argued that WAP is an empowerment anthem, which I think it can be. However, songs like “WAP” shouldn’t have to be labeled as empowering to justify their existence—sometimes a song can just exist because it’s fun. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion probably didn’t release this song with the intention of it being an feminist anthem. Truthfully, it seems like they released “WAP” because they thought it would be a fun relief from all the doom and gloom of the pandemic, which is a perfectly valid reason. It is okay for you to like raunchy  songs like “WAP” simply because you think they’re fun and catchy. Not all the work of women in the music industry has to be empowering—and if a single song like this can “set the entire female gender back 100 years” then we, honestly, haven’t made enough progress.

In fact when it comes to the ways in which Black women have to navigate the music and entertainment industries, it’s clear that we haven’t made as much progress as we’ve hoped. In a 2019 video response to criticism about the explicit nature of her songs, Cardi explained why she keeps rapping about her punani, stating that “it seems like that’s what people want to hear.” She also importantly called out her fans and critics about their lack of support for female rappers who “don’t be talking about their p*ssy and don’t be talking about, you know, getting down and dirty.” Though she made those comments almost a year before “WAP” was released, her words still ring true—Black female rappers who don’t talk about sex aren’t being supported and given the recognition and attention they deserve. 

At the end of the day, Cardi B is telling us what we’ve all known: sex sells. 

Sex and sex appeal are notoriously “easy” ways to make it to the top of the music industry, with Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion being prime examples of talented Black women who have capitalized on their sexuality to secure their coin. But it’s not just Black women who capitalize on their sex appeal—other women of color and white women do it too. The notable difference, however, is that Black women are expected to perform their sexuality in specific and racialized ways that perpetuate long-standing and harmful stereotypes about Black women.

The success of Black women in the entertainment industry is often contingent upon their ability to perform hypersexuality, that is, an exaggerated form of sexuality that is ultimately performative and unrealistic. The history of the hypersexualization and sexual exploitation of Black women (and men) is a long and complicated one. One of the most pervasive stereotypes about Black women is that of the “Jezebel” which envisions Black women as sexually promiscuous and insatiable by nature. During slavery, this perception of Black women was used to rationalize often times unconsentual (or at the very least dubiously consentual) sexual relations between Black women and white men. The “Jezebel” stereotype continues to haunt Black women today, and nowhere is it clearer to see than in the entertainment industry.

If you were to look at The Hot 100 Chart (as of October 17, 2020), you would find some interesting patterns. The most obvious is that the chart is dominated by male performers, with a fifth of songs with women as the main artist(s). Another observation is that there are only eight Black women on the chart (including features and duos) accounting for seven songs. If you were to look at the lyrics and music videos for each of their chart-toppers, you’ll see that most of the lyrics are sexually explicit or suggestive, and almost all of the music videos feature Black women in suggestive or overtly sexual poses or dances. Meanwhile, for the non-Black women on the chart, only a small percentage of songs and music videos are sexual. It is not a coincidence that the vast majority of songs by Black female artists are sexual in nature, while the songs of non-Black women are more varied in their content and style. 

While it may be easy to point a finger at Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, and criticize them for their artistic choices, their music reflects the complicated relationship between entertainment and Black women. It’s great that Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B can release a song like “WAP” and have it be so successful, but it’s also bittersweet in that it highlights how Black female artists, especially rappers, often need to perform hypersexuality to make it big in the industry. At the end of the day, it’s about what’s profitable, and Cardi and Megan are just giving us what we want because sex sells. 

PASH is a student-run organization providing resources for sexual health and relationship-building. Their column, “let’s talk about ‘it,’” runs on alternate Mondays. To ask them a question about sex or relationships, submit to this form. This column was written by Michelle Katemauswa, a Trinity senior and the President of PASH.

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