On 7 August 2020, American superstars Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion released the song, ‘WAP’, which broke the record for the biggest 24-hour debut for an all-female collaboration on YouTube, gathering 26 million views in its first day of release. Sampling the 1993 Frank Ski single, Whores In This House, the X-rated track, which celebrates female sexual pleasure, was met with mixed emotions. Does the song represent women empowerment or objectification?
Although many female artists objectify themselves in the application of their trade (Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande and Madonna, etc), male artists are more likely to stereotype and objectify women. However, this article largely focuses on the analysis of the ‘WAP’ song because, although the degradation of women, using misogynistic and violent language by men is not justifiable, there is greater damage when promulgated by women because it denotes that some women may have embraced the patriarchal hip-hop culture, where they are predominantly portrayed as sexual objects, which fuels sexism, misogyny and harassment.
The fight for feminism has always had its challenges over the generations, and either liberal or conservative, ‘WAP’ is a setback for women and only reinforces the stereotypes and gross sexual objectification that they (women) continue to face today. That is overlooking the lyrical content and the cultural and subcultural values it represents.
According to Rhys Lindmark, founder of Roote, empowerment comes from self. e.g. “To actively decide to look sexy tonight.” While objectification comes from the other. e.g. “To see Cardi B as a sex object.” Then we can ask, how much power does each perspective hold? Who has power? He argues that if a woman objectifies herself, it strips men who objectify women of their power, therefore making WAP less objectifying.
However, the fact is that the objectifier and objectified can be the same person. Women in patriarchal societies feel constantly watched by men, this leads women to objectify themselves. How does a man’s prejudice amount to sexual objectification, yet a women’s amount to empowerment?
Keeping in mind that three male songwriters have been credited to ‘WAP’, and the video was directed by a man as well, does the song reflect empowerment or preconceived notions about womanhood and sexuality? The issue is not about men vs women, but the objectification of women, which is not justifiable even when it is, “locker room talk”.
Fair enough, but what does that mean for the girls and women in Uuthilindindi, Versteende, Mashare or Tsumkwe, who have no independence, choice, status, power and have been relegated to the back of the bus attributed to cultural and traditional norms? Or what about the Land Rover objectifying a Himba woman in an advertisement promoting its brand, in a nation that does not have an effective advertising standards association that can effectively defend their indigenous people’s rights.
WAP currently has 339 006 480 views on YouTube alone. What is the likelihood that it has also reached many misogynists who would feed their depraved minds and A-Ok their attitude towards the objectification of women?
The hip-hop culture is patriarchal by design, which is why it is easy for Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion to feel ‘empowered’ because the system rewards women when they conform to a narrow ideal of beauty and sexuality centred on the male gaze. Manipulation or conforming to the patriarchy system to one’s advantage without challenging the injustice thereof should not be confused with feminism, particularly when it translates to millions in profit.
“Using terms such as ‘empowerment’ and ‘modern female sexuality’ have become means of exploitation to sell goods and services. The problem is that sexually objectifying standards and images are masquerading around telling us all that its empowerment.” Lindmark. From the boardroom to the bedroom, from the track and field to the high school benches women have been objectified time and again and while it may be argued that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are somehow not condoning or promoting that kind of sexist narrative in their music video may be seen as sarcastic.
According to Cynthia Frisby, an associate professor of strategic communication in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, “The images coming from these music videos are very powerful and influential,” adding that, “Young audiences may interpret these sexually objectifying images as important ways to be seen as attractive and valuable to society, especially with how pervasive these videos are throughout our culture.”
Videos like ‘WAP’ encourage girls to self-objectify and strive to conform to a societal ideal of beauty and sexuality. The objectification culture is adequately disguised to appear as if it markets the empowering of women, but the truth is, it fundamentally disempowers them and undermine the content of their character. The song rather detracts from applaudable efforts by most feminism movements, seeing that it implores women to give men access to their bodies in exchange for commodities.
According to psychologists Barbara Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts, when women are treated as objects, they momentarily view their own bodies from the perspective of the person objectifying them. In turn, they become preoccupied with their physical appearance and sexual value to others. This process of “self-objectification” leads women to experience unpleasant feelings such as shame and anxiety. If repeated, it can eventually lead to long-term psychological harm.
As earlier stated, the song celebrates female sexual pleasure, and it was met with mixed emotions. It is important to protect the vulnerable, especially children from glamorizing ideas about sex and overlook their intelligence, creativity and that they can give so much to the world than just their bodies.