Can we unpack this?
I am not a parent, but I did used to teach 5th grade. And let me tell you — elementary students LOVE Cardi B.
I’m talking as young as kindergarten. Not only have they seen her music videos, but they follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok (the ones with smartphones have secret fake accounts where they lie about their age). They can recite the lyrics to “Bodak Yellow” more fluidly than their 2 times tables, and they know the chorus to “I like It” as well as they know the Pledge of Allegiance.
So with that awareness, watching “WAP” all I could think was, My students are DEFINITELY watching this. And yes — I was appalled.
Before Bardi Gang comes for me, let me just say that I have nothing against either Cardi or Megan Thee Stallion, as people or as artists. I think they are both bold, beautiful, creative women who have made some really positive contributions.
That being said, WAP is an objectively vulgar (if not catchy) song. And while Cardi and Megan’s sexual proclivities may not be my own cup of tea, the sex acts they describe are not in and of themselves what I have a problem with (far be it from me to judge what is appropriate for consenting adults to do with their bodies). My biggest problem is the context.
There’s some whores in this house
Really? Not just ho’s, but “whores”? I could have dismissed this as hyperbole if its literal meaning wasn’t reflected in the following lines:
Put this pussy right in your face
Swipe your nose like a credit card
Ask for a car while you ride that dick
He got some money, then that’s where I’m headed
Pussy A1 just like his credit
Pay my tuition just to kiss me on this wet-ass pussy
No, Cardi and Megan are not outright endorsing prostitution, but the implications are clear: women can, and should, give men access to their bodies in exchange for commodities.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s a great message for two of the world’s most influential women to be sending young girls and women. Nor do I think it is beneficial to women for boys and men to see us in that light.
What astonished me is that, almost immediately after WAP dropped, I saw women across social media clapping back HARD at any criticism of its content.
I’m open to discussion, and to nuance. You want to talk about WAP’s flow? I thought the rhythm was addictive, the rhyme scheme respectable. I also adore Megan Thee Stallion’s Texan drawl and cadence. Lyricism? Clever wordplay. Choreography? If someone gets a tutorial up on YouTube, best believe I’m gonna spend a weekend twerking along in the mirror.
But when it comes to criticizing aspects of the song’s content as damaging to women, it seems there’s no room for consideration. Any concerns get roadblocked by arguments which, when examined side-by-side, are full of contradictions and faulty reasoning.
Let’s take a look at the most prevalent premises I came across.
1. When men rap raunchy lyrics, it’s not a problem — only when women do it
Seriously? Sexually explicit, demeaning lyrics have never before been criticized in rap music? Black women AND men have been voicing concerns about how misogyny in hip hop degrades the culture for decades. Let’s not pretend like this is something new.
Defending WAP by comparing it to “Slob on My Knob” doesn’t do this stance any favors — the reverse, actually. Just because something shameful exists does not mean the public approves of it, and just because there are dirtier songs out there doesn’t make this one virtuous.
2. I grew up with [insert raunchy song] and I turned out fine
And was OnlyFans a thing when you were 10 years old? When I was a teenager, Netflix was a mail-in service, so can we agree that technology has changed things quite a bit since Millennials and older generations were kids?
No, hearing Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” did not single-handedly transform my generation into teen moms and prostitutes. But also, that song didn’t promote sex in an explicitly unprotected or transactional context. Also, “My Neck, My Back” had far less exposure. Its peak position on Billboard was #42, while WAP debuted on music charts’ top 5.
And no, one raunchy song isn’t going to make a girl become a stripper or a prostitute. But when that song perpetuates themes that are already prevalent in the culture, amplified by easy access to technology and tools for selling sex online, and espoused by charismatic public figures with far more fame and influence than even the biggest 90’s pop stars — it surely might make her consider it.
Can we not pretend that media doesn’t have an effect on people, especially children? If that were true, there wouldn’t have been calls to cancel Paw Patrol. Let’s also stop pretending like none of the portrayals of sex that we were exposed to growing up weren’t damaging themselves. Just because many of us have managed to come out relatively okay doesn’t mean we don’t still carry imprints that manifest subtly in toxic attitudes toward sex and relationships. Any therapist can tell you that.
3. It’s not their job to be role models; it’s a parent’s job to raise their kids
I’m confused; when did being a role model become a job that you apply for? Whether they want to the job or not, anyone with a following on social media is a role model —it just is what it is. The variable is whether or not you are a good one.
For sure, parents have a duty to discipline their kids. But it takes a village to raise a child, and nowadays the village that kids inhabit most frequently is social media. Even the best parent can’t fully control or cancel out toxicity in that environment.
Yes, a parent’s duty is a parent’s duty, but the question here is this: is WAP good or bad for kids? This argument seems to concede that the song is inappropriate and parents need to make sure they are taking responsibility to protect their kids or have talks with them to contextualize its message. That part at least makes sense, but let’s also admit then that WAP just made a lot of parents’ jobs harder.
4. People just want to control women’s bodies
This is true in many contexts, and it might even be true of certain criticisms of WAP, but it is not my concern.
As I mentioned before, I feel no duty or desire to dictate what grown people do with their bodies, whether male or female. Not only do I not care what other adults do in their bedrooms, I have nothing against strippers and I am actually a proponent of legalizing sex work.
That being said, as women in particular are keenly aware, sex can be a very emotionally complex event, where power dynamics of dominance and submission, consent and coercion, pain and pleasure intermingle in ways that can easily become manipulative and violating if not explored with a partner who you fully trust to respect your boundaries — if you even know what your own boundaries are.
As tricky as the concept of sex can be to navigate for mature adults, how much more so for impressionable youth? I am interested in protecting vulnerable children from glamorizing ideas about sex — I wanna gag, I wanna choke; You can’t hurt my feelings, but I like pain — that could potentially lead them to compromising positions where they have little control. Please don’t make it seem like that is the same thing as slut-shaming or purity-policing grown-ass women.
5. Cardi is challenging gender roles
What gender roles? Clearly in her personal life she’s challenged the gender role of the male as the sole provider. So why in her song is she still using her sex to barter with men? Doesn’t she have her own money?
Solely looking through the lens of WAP, it appears that Cardi isn’t challenging gender roles as much as she is embracing a culture created by men that treats women as sex objects and gold-diggers. Rather than having it forced upon her, she’s enjoying and exploiting it. That alone may be considered liberating, but let’s not act like the role she portrays in WAP is anything much different from standard tropes in hip hop.
Another variation of this argument that I’ve heard is that Cardi is setting an example for women to demand more from men in relationships. But more of what? Cars? Good luck with that — in today’s economy, women are lucky if a man has a car of his own.
Especially in low-income Black communities, is this capitalist, patriarchal idea of money as the primary measure of a man’s worth one that we want to instill? Black men already struggle enough with their sense of self worth due to systemically high unemployment and the existential threat to their livelihoods posed by the police and prison industrial complex. Is profiting off of their labor all that women are interested in as well? As harmful to women as it is when men objectify us as sex toys, is it not also harmful when we objectify them as credit cards?
6. Men won’t criticize vulgarity by male rappers, but they’ll criticize women rappers
This, to me, is the most solid argument out of all of them.
I agree. (Some) men are hypocrites.
But this argument also seemingly admits that WAP is a vulgar song that stoops to the same level of crude debauchery as men are wont to do.
To the men out there who have never condemned male rappers’ misogyny, haven’t said a word in support of Breonna Taylor yet have been quick to wax poetic about Megan, Cardi, and the disgraces of hoeish-ness: shame on you.
And to the women who use men’s character failings to shut down other women’s concerns about detrimental, patriarchy-rooted themes in WAP: shame on you, too.
WAP is not “just a song.” There’s a lot more at stake here than a pearl-clutching schoolmarm’s sense of propriety.
Having taught in a Title I school in Oklahoma, I can tell you that sex education there is a joke, at best. Several of my students’ parents gave birth to them as teenagers. Girls start getting pregnant in middle school. Cycles of poverty repeat when kids have to drop out of school to raise their own kids. So when Cardi says “Make that pullout game weak,” some may hear a financially independent mother celebrating mutually pleasurable sex with her husband, but I hear a harmful myth being spread about an ineffective method of birth control.
Music aside, sex is far from a foreign concept to kids where I taught. Two of my female 5th grade students confided in me about sexual abuse they experienced during my first year of teaching, too afraid to tell their parents because of the relational power dynamics of the person who assaulted them. Kids need help drawing sexual boundaries, not mixed messages that further blur the lines.
As much as WAP’s disciples praise it as an anthem for women’s sexual empowerment riddled with intentional symbolism pertaining to divine feminine energy, Cardi B herself claimed a different source of inspiration:
“First of all, I rap about pussy because she my best friend, and second of all it’s because it seems like that’s what people wanna hear…
…when I did ‘Be Careful,’ people was talking mad shit in the beginning like, ‘What the fuck is this? This is not what I expected. I expected this, I expected that.’
So it’s like if that’s what people aren’t trying to hear then alright, I’m going to start rapping about my pussy again.”
So, in essence, sex sells — but we already knew that. It’s why male rappers can do absolutely nothing but rub their hands together in a music video while some vixens twerk in the foreground and still get millions of views. It’s why sugar daddy websites exist. It’s why sex trafficking is a growing global issue. It’s why teen girls recruited their friends to come give Jeffrey Epstein “massages.” In these contexts, it’s not just the ones selling sex who are culpable for creating its market — it’s the ones demanding it.
We can applaud that two women of color are at least getting their piece of the pie on their own accord while (presumably) in full control of their own bodies. We can even appreciate the song, the video, and the artists for their positive qualities. But we can also hold those same women — and each other — accountable, in a spirit of loving sisterhood, for spreading ideas that many of us recognize as harmful to ourselves and to society.
To Cardi and Megan: I enjoy many of your songs and respect your talent and work ethic. Your activism and outspokenness about issues affecting Black women and poor communities is noticed and appreciated. You’ve earned your wealth and platform by keeping a pulse on what resonates with the public, and I commend you for that. By all means, continue to give the people what they want — but please, not at the expense of what we need.