Written by Stephanie Kleanthous
Illustrated by BeeIllustrates
Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion dropped their mind-blowing video WAP last week. It broke the record for the most views in 24 hours by an all-female collaboration on YouTube. It has now debuted at number one on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart and is the first female rap collaboration in history to do this. While many of us have been loving the message of women owning their sexual desires and making chart history, they received a lot of backlash.
In Ben Shapiro’s viral video on the song where he reads out the lyrics, repulsed by how “vulgar” they are, he states sarcastically, “this is what feminists fought for”. Well, yes, this is part of what we are fighting for: to own what the patriarchy and capitalism stole from us and make our own profit.
Our sex appeal seems to only be allowed when it is for men and about pleasing men. Once we make it about us, what we expect from sex and receive the profits ourselves, it’s anarchy.
Growing up, I watched a lot of music videos which infiltrated my brain into believing women were there to be in very little clothing to entertain the male gaze. They were props to be desired without ever owning or vocalising their desires.
I don’t think it’s wrong for women to be in these videos, get your money and make money in a society that puts so much value on your sex appeal. It’s just a shame the male rappers, singers and producers are the main ones financially benefiting.
We seemed to have normalised boys watching pornography or looking through nude magazines from a young age, yet we haven’t even normalised women owning their pleasure or touching themselves. I didn’t orgasm until I was sixteen and when it happened, I didn’t even know what it was.
We lack so much education in school but it would have been great to listen to more women rap or sing about enjoying sex, climaxing and being in control if they want to.
From male rappers to teen heartthrobs, we were never pushed to own our attractiveness. As a teenager I internalised every lyric that left Zayn Malik’s and Harry Styles’ lips. Take a seemingly innocent song, What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction and see what we were influenced to believe: “You don’t know you’re beautiful, that’s what makes you beautiful”.
What lyrics like these perpetuate is the idea that confident girls and women who know who they are, are not beautiful or do not fit into the male gaze. We must “act shy”, deny compliments, have our confidence in their hands. We are allowed to and should know that we are beautiful – and also much more than our looks.
For centuries the male gaze has permeated our existence. The below painting, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid by Bronzino, dates back to around 1545.
In Ways of Seeing, John Berger wrote: “The way her body is arranged has nothing to do with their kissing. Her body is arranged in the way it is, to display it to the man looking at the picture. This picture is made to appeal to his sexuality. It has nothing to do with her sexuality. (Here and in the European tradition generally, the convention of not painting the hair on a woman’s body helps towards the same end. Hair is associated with sexual power, with passion. The woman’s sexual passion needs to be minimized so that the spectator may feel that he has the monopoly of such passion.) Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own.”
This has not only been prominent in historical paintings but in music videos too.
We’d always hear men talk about what they’re going to do to us or demanding what we do, consent is rarely mentioned. Let us never forget when Robin Thicke dropped his Blurred Lines single which was deemed “rapey”. When it comes to sex, there are no blurred lines. It’s either an enthusiastic “yes” or it’s a “no”. If someone seems unsure, unresponsive or too drunk, that is also a no. It is not your goal to convince. He sang, “I know you want it”. How? It seems he isn’t asking, he’s telling her what she desires.
Consent seems rare in songs where men discuss a woman’s desirability and what they want to do to them. So if consent is rare, female pleasure seems to be too. Biggie Smalls rapped: “And I don’t stop until I squirt”, it makes you wonder, does the woman ever get to? It’s all about what men need, rarely what they can give in return.
They keep us tethered to whether we’re “good girls”, “wifey material” or “naughty” – naughty often meaning we don’t meet the criteria to be anything more than sex, stripping us of our multifaceted nature. I was once told by an ex-boyfriend that he was glad I didn’t have huge breasts or bum, that way people could be sure he was with me for who I am inside. God forbid we have breasts and intelligence.
Due to a fear of labels, women were previously not as direct as Cardi B and Megan and often resorted to innuendos or hidden meanings. For example, Britney Spears’ If You Seek Amy (2008) and Sugababes’ Push the Button (2005).
Sugababes taught us to “drop hints” but “wait patiently for him to come and get it”. While the video does show them interacting with men, it appears they’re in an elevator, quite literally waiting for him to push the button and choose one of them.
The song is empowering in some ways as they express their sexuality, though I feel we should teach women to be direct with what they want. If it’s not reciprocated then it can be left there. Why must we wait patiently in limbo, or an elevator, scared to be labelled a slut for knowing what we want? Or frigid if we don’t want anything at all?
Summer Walker spoke on this powerfully on her Fun Girl track: “I don’t understand it, takes me out of the categories of marriage. Is it ’cause I know what I want just like you? … Love who I want and f**k who I choose to, don’t take no sh*t and won’t be used”.
Her song Girls Need Love (2018) spoke on the issue of women being silenced when it comes to expressing their sexuality. She sang: “girls can’t ever say they want it, girls can’t ever say how, girls can’t ever say they need it, girls can’t ever say now”.
More female artists who are owning their sexuality without innuendos are emerging such as Mae Muller, telling us how her ex was just an “Anticlimax” (2019), “sh*t in the sack” and she now has “a new man that’s making [her] moan”. Men being selfish in the bedroom is becoming a much more centered issue and rightfully so. Shygirl told us in her Uckers (2019) track, “I be running on your mind but to me you’re just a beat. I don’t give a f**k about you, but I really keep on f**king ’til I f**k all of you.”
I believe this momentum should be supported and female artists should continue to fight against conservative ideals. They stem from the same men who watch pornography but can’t stand OnlyFans. The same men who will have women dance around them in their music videos but hate women doing the same in their own videos and making a profit.
This rhetoric screams: adhere to the male gaze, but only when it suits men. The double standards are poignant.