The History of ‘WAP’ Goes Way Back

Conservative folks have been losing it over Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s new hit song ‘WAP’ and its video, which released last week.

Ben Shapiro, a conservative critic, was trending on Twitter for a day or so after reading aloud some of the song’s lyrics on air:

Beat it up, n****, catch a charge
Extra large and extra hard
Put this pussy right in your face
Swipe your nose like a credit card

This is what feminism has brought us, they were saying. Implicit was a critique that Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion were taking the movement a step backward. Haven’t you all been trying not to be sexualised and objectified for years, they asked. Indeed, the line between feminism and anti-feminism is blurry sometimes.

In fact, I spent seven years of my life thinking about precisely the relationship between anti-feminist culture and feminist art, or as I state in my dissertation title, between “gender, genre, and genital poetics”.

When folks would ask what I was studying, rather than launch into a whole thing about miscellany manuscripts and women readers and literacy and patronage and “bodytalk”, I would just say “medieval vaginas”. Usually, that stopped the conversation.

I wrote about how figures of female genitalia – represented as a talking “cun” or empty purse or vulnerable castle – are taken up as locations of resistance to the patriarchal order, as well as loci of creative and artistic fecundity. Most famous perhaps is the Wife of Bath’s profuse representation of her own genitalia:

The sexually experienced woman euphemistically describes “her ‘flower’ which she puts to use in the bedroom; she talks explicitly of the ‘members’ that urinate and procreate; she refers dismissively to the genitalia as ‘small things’; she claims that by using his ‘silly instrument’ a man can pay his marriage debt; she employs the common genital reference to a ‘harness’; she boasts of having ‘queynte right enough at eve’ for her old husband whether or not she has another lover; she promises to keep her ‘pretty thing’ for her partner’s ‘tooth’; she brags about having ‘the best quoniam there might be’; and she alludes to her ‘private place’ as a ‘chamber of Venus’.”

Defenders of Cardi B’s flavour of feminism, including Dr. Yaba Blay, have argued that the artist is drawing on a tradition of dirty-mouthed African-American women singers like Lucille Bogan, who crooned:

“Every time I fu** them mens / I give ’em the doggone clap.”

But Bogan was not the first and won’t be the last woman to be called “nasty” for bucking patriarchal and white supremacist conventions for women’s language and behaviour.

If you are a woman, but don’t fit neatly into the Mary/Magdelene dichotomy; if you burst the seams of the virgin/wife/widow categories; if you won’t play the neat and tidy role of mother or mistress or mammy, then beware. You will be called a “fu**ing bitch,” as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez so poignantly described recently on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, among other choice terms of endearment.

Like AOC, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are having none of it. They are centring the female body — and the bodies of women of colour — in all its visceral, physical, and genital glory. A former erotic dancer, Cardi B isn’t working in dark rooms anymore. She turns the underbelly of our society’s capitalist and misogynist exploitation of sex inside out. You’re not allowed to secretly visit the strip club or the whore house, and then talk shit about the women who work there anymore.

The WAP video opens with a sweeping shot of the landscaping and front elevation of an enormous estate, the likes of which Cardi B can buy with her own money now. Meanwhile, the hype men rap, “There’s some whores in this house. There’s some whores in this house”. The domestic goddess is no longer an “angel in the house”. Maybe she never was.

In an empowering inversion of anti-feminist language and tropes, like the proto-feminists way back in the medieval period and the long line of women warriors who have followed, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion sterilise the attacks against them. They use the oppressor’s language as resistance. (You think I’m a whore? Watch this.) They explode the sexualisation and objectification of women by claiming power as sexual subjects in their own rights.

Damn right.

Dr. Jennifer Sapio is Adjunct Associate Professor at the Department of English and Journalism, Austin Community College. You can find more on her website here and more writings on Medium here. She can also be found on Instagram @jenni.sapio and Twitter @jennisapio

This article was first published on Medium. Read the original here.