So this song by Cardi B, "WAP", is #1 on Spotify and Apple Music and the Youtube video has 60 million views and counting in just a couple days - i.e. this is a big deal in pop culture right now. The New York Times highlighted the song in its playlist, hailing it as "exuberant" and "sharp". Pitchfork says Cardi B and fellow songstress Megan Thee Stallion, "center themselves as women in order to freely celebrate their coveted power." And pop culture magazine Complex calls the song "the epitome of female empowerment."
A groundbreaking artistic moment in female empowerment! Women centering themselves! Hey, that sounds good to me, a feminist. Sign me up! Right?
I mean, it's **THE EPITOME OF FEMALE EMPOWERMENT. **
Except... it's not.
This supposedly feminist anthem centers on, as you might have predicted, Cardi B and crew writhing around in bodysuits and pasties, rapping about their female anatomy, selling themselves as sex objects for the delight of men and for the brainwashing of women.
I am eerily reminded of one of the things that "drove" me to radical feminism in the first place. In 2014, Nicki Minaj released the song "Anaconda", and the accompanying video was hailed as being an incredibly empowering, breakthrough expression of female sexuality. For literally YEARS I was gaslighted by libfem friends and the full spectrum of media - from niche to mainstream - which pressured me with the message that if I found this portrayal of women in media to be offensive and disempowering, that that makes me some kind of anti-progressive, conservative, pearl-clutching racist. I am, in fact, none of those things.
What I am, is a person who doesn't understand how a woman actively participating in her own degradation, actively participating in a misogynistic culture that oppresses women on the basis of their sex, is at all empowering. How does producing art, that exists for the sole purpose of provoking and titillating men help liberate and advance the roles of women in our society? What am I missing?
Cardi B no doubt is an active participant and making a mint off this music/video. Does the fact that she's benefitting monetarily from this song make it empowering? Can a person be a willing participant in their own exploitation? Does monetary gain from degradation negate the fact that she's being degraded? She's reinforcing a patriarchal power structure that holds ALL women back. How is that empowering? How is that **THE EPITOME OF FEMALE EMPOWERMENT. **
One aspect of this whole thing that comes up repeatedly is the race dynamic - that black women have always been sexualized but their "sexuality" has historically been seen as second class to white female "sexuality". And that women like Nicki and Cardi "owning" their sexuality is a challenge to that power structure. And anyone who has a problem with the media they're producing is somehow trying to police black/brown women's self-expression.
And this is where gaslighting comes in - when any woman who asks questions like I'm asking is immediately told she is racist. And it's easy to want to shy away and not comment on this stuff and not have an opinion because you're afraid of being called a racist. I'm not saying that black/brown women should be policed in their self-expression, should be told what they can/can't wear/say/talk about. Saying that this kind of media is offensive and ultimately bad for the cause of women is NOT the same as saying that these artists should have no voice at all. But some people will try to equate calling this form of expression regressive with saying that these artists should be shut up at home and only appear in public wearing niqab or something.
I'm saying that we as a society need to think critically about what this kind of artistic expression reinforces as far as our ideas of all women and women of color (apologies if there's a better phrase-lmk).
If it doesn't advance the cause of women, if it doesn't contribute to women's liberation from sex-based oppression, it really should not be promoted as "empowering".
Willful participation (if such a thing is even possible) in misogyny is not empowering. It sends a total garbage message to young girls that their value is in exploiting their beauty/bodies/sexuality. With this message sold to young girls as feminism, is it any wonder they are leaving womanhood in droves, now that the option to become "boys" exists? Who wouldn't take that escape route when hyper-sexualization is mainstreamed like this. Does this kind of media help girls who are struggling in puberty and young adulthood, uncomfortable with the male gaze and their increasingly emphasized role in society as hyper-sexualized objects?
Who wants to be degraded like this? Only the most brainwashed and indoctrinated - and that's the only other aim of this music besides getting men off.
Empowering? I don't think so.