Weighing in on WAP

An animated gif from the music video WAP where Cardi B. is wearing a leopard print leotard, doing the splits between two ornate leopard print chairs, in a rich-looking room with leopard-print walls.

I have been thinking about Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion way too much lately, and I am finally ready to throw my belated weigh-in on WAP into the mix.

So. Here's the deal: I am totally down with everyone doing whatever they want in terms of their sex and bodies and love lives.

At the same time, I often wonder how many overt displays of sexuality from women aren't ultimately reinforcing a patriarchal male gaze. After all, when we "own our sexuality," aren't we often performing exactly in the way men have dictated we do for their pleasure for ages?

To my eye, the performances don't generally seem to undermine or challenge the beauty standards or sexual stereotypes that have been foisted on us, but revel in them. If that's true, could it be more of a display on how successfully we have been brainwashed by the hetero-patriarchy than anything else?

Is it really freedom to joyously choose to do exactly what your oppressor wants?

I ponder these questions every time a new super-sexual feminist liberation anthem emerges in pop culture. Then I wonder if I'm just a prude (probably) or overthinking things (always)?

Okay, so those are the questions, that's the discomfort. (And note that I'm truly not telling any women to tone it down lest the patriarchy wins--again, do whatever the heck you want and I'll do what I want and apparently what I want is to sit around and mull over the patriarchy, which is probably another way that it wins.)

This time, I had a good ponderance on the other side of things:

What is liberation anyways? What does it actually mean to celebrate your sexuality? What is empowerment?

I'm sure many scholars have come up with many definitions, but what I have landed on is simply: it is anything that makes you feel liberated, powerful, or celebratory.

It's the opposite of how we measure discrimination and harassment, where intent is meaningless and the only thing that matters is impact. When it comes to hurting someone else, it doesn't actually matter what you meant, just how it was received.

Empowerment, though, is all inside you. Whatever makes you feel good about who you are and what you are capable of is empowering, no matter what other people think of it.

From this lens, it's totally irrelevant what male desire Ms. B. and Ms. Thee Stallion are or are not feeding into. It's also, to a degree, totally irrelevant whether or not it really is setting feminism back or not. From this lens, all that matters is that they feel good about it.

Here's another thing: a celebration of sexuality is always going to celebrate things that are sexually appealing--or at least, things that make the person feel appealing. A big part of what makes us feel good about our sexuality is feeling like we are in control of our desirability.

So it shouldn't be a surprise, then, living in this here hetero-patriarchy, that if a woman owns her sexuality, some element of it might appeal to men.

It's still a bit unnerving that you can have two women side-by-side, one doing something because it makes her feel great and the other because she feels coerced, and from the outside, you may not even be able to tell the difference. And that a man could be equally degrading both in his mind.

But maybe the real win is just forgetting that dude even exists at all.

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