Female Sexual Freedom in Cardi B’s ‘WAP’: An Indian Perspective

It’s been a couple of weeks since Cardi B’s new song ‘WAP’ dropped. I happened to chance upon it two days after it had. Cardi B’s cut-out clothes, revealing her breasts with nipple-pasties stuck on, the sensuous dance of Megan Thee Stallion, the twerking, the nipple-water fountains, the play with snakes and the glare of the tiger towards an approaching Kylie Jenner — all of it invoked an excessive sensuality.

If the visuals titillate, then the continual rap of ‘there’s some whores in this house’ and an overflowing, addictive, illegal, sexually charged lyric revolted the patriarchal assumptions in me. I felt a familiar contempt, one I’ve been taught over the years by society, towards ‘those’ women who ‘use their sexuality’ for monetary gain and to get ahead in their careers.

After speaking with many male and female friends, I realised we had all had a similar knee-jerk reaction to the song – and a negative one at that. But lengthy conversations slowly sensitised us to Cardi B’s no-holds-barred challenge to patriarchy and the song’s view of female sexuality. We came speak of how the dominant male gaze has gagged female freedom to such an extent that a woman is allowed to express her sexual urges, desires and aspirations only at the dictates of the phallus.

In fact, it was through the lens of the penis that I viewed the video for the first time.

My negative reaction was neither an exception nor was it borne out of a third-world upbringing. On social media, you can see that the video has been received both negatively and positively across the world. The song has especially put Republicans, who appear incensed by two women of colour rapping a sexually explicit song, in a tizzy in the US. Prominent right-wing conservative Ben Shapiro read out a censored version of the lyrics to his audience to mansplain how Cardi B’s feminism fails to live up to his ideal of women.

Also read: The History of ‘WAP’ Goes Way Back

“This is what feminists fought for,” Shapiro said. “This is what the feminist movement was all about. It’s not really about women being treated as independent, full rounded human beings. It’s about wet-ass p-word. And if you say anything different you’re a misogynist.”

He rightly predicted his misogyny to be labelled as such. His video set the internet ablaze and became the centre of a flurry of texts, dance-videos, music, photos, gifs and memes, celebrating the song music and, more so, the message. Women across the spectrum, from the world of glitz and glamour to more distant consumers like me were motivated to join the chorus. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez also responded to Cardi B’s presidential endorsement with a ‘WAP’ reference.

This debate may just yet warm up some more as the US heads to the polls. Yet, what the narrative often seems to miss is how Cardi B and Megan are contributing to a larger conversation on female sexual freedom in the music industry. ‘WAP’ isn’t Cardi B’s first foray into music celebrating women and their genitalia. Her discography reminds us of several other musicians who have been trying to upend patriarchy for decades — think Madonna, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj. The list is endless.

Unfortunately, the lineage of artists using their art to champion the feminist cause fall flat when we uncritically reproduce the age-old male-centric narrative.

Now that the debate has been triggered, perhaps it comes guided as a golden opportunity to re-think how we view female sexuality.

As I write this, I am reminded how a male friend, a few days back, was ridiculing and mocking an ex-girlfriend for being ‘desperate’ and ‘sex-crazed’. I was uncomfortable with the labels but, at the time, it did not ring any alarm bells in my head.

Perhaps this contemplation on ‘Wet Ass Pussy’ is a form of atonement.

Udita Das is a doctoral student in Ancient Indian History in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.