Last week, the internet nearly broke (again) in outrage and adoration simultaneously.

Cardi B, hailed as one of the most influential female rappers of all time by Forbes, released her music video for her new single ‘WAP ‘featuring Megan Thee Stallion. The video has been described as a confident display of women who demonstrate their sexual prowess.

With lyrics like “there’s some whores in the house”, ‘WAP’ broke the record for the biggest 24-hour debut for an all-female collaboration on YouTube gathering 26 million views in its first day of release.

I’ll let you google what ‘WAP’ actually means…(be warned).

So are Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion vibrant examples of liberated feminist women demonstrating and owning their own sexual agency, or an illustration of society's rampant sexual objectification of women? This question touches on the many paradoxical forces that control and restrict ideas about femininity in popular culture today.

I grew up watching the music videos of rap artists where African-American women were often portrayed as nothing more than sexual accessories. Many people are applauding this video as an example of successful black women subverting the narrative in rap music and owning their own agency. 

In her own words, it’s very clear that Cardi B feels empowered too. As a successful music artist, she’s smart; Cardi B knows that her sexually explicit music video and lyrics will make headlines. This means increasing exposure and more $$$! Wealth enables Cardi B to have independence, choice, status and, most importantly, power.

On the other hand, the rapper's individual choices are being made within a patriarchal culture that limits, reduces, punishes and controls women as a whole. So, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and others may indeed feel ‘empowered’, but why? Because patriarchy rewards women when they conform to a narrow ideal of beauty and sexuality centred on the male gaze.

To me, that’s not liberation, it’s a strategic plan.

In fact, it’s a patriarchal bargain (a concept first introduced by Deniz Kandiyoti).

Cardi B’s particular compromise – accepting the sexual objectification of women in exchange for wealth, celebrity, and power – is a common one. She’s made the decision (consciously or unconsciously) to manipulate patriarchy to her own advantage without actually challenging the injustice of the system itself.

Women like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion may demonstrate personal power in choices that they make, but the most important question has to always be: what impact do their choices have on other girls and women?

How can lyrics like “whores in the house” and “never lost a fight, but I’m lookin’ for a beatin’” be empowering to the 38 per cent of girls who experience verbal harassment, including sexual comments in public places, at least once a month, and the 70 per cent of an estimated 40.3 million people worldwide in modern (usually sexual) slavery who are women and girls?

Women as sexual objects

As a leader in Girls’ Brigade Ministries, girls and young women have shared with me how music videos like ‘WAP’ fuel negative consequences for them. Although the lyrics may be about women owning their own sexual agency, videos like ‘WAP’ condition men to view women simply as being created for their own sexual pleasure.

It is no coincidence that the world’s leading free porn site Pornhub announced that searches for Cardi B rocketed 235 per cent, while searches for Megan Thee Stallion rose 210 per cent after the release of ‘WAP’.

This culture of viewing women as sexual objects fuels casual sexism, misogyny and harassment. In 2018, a report by the Women and Equalities Committee stated that: “Sexual harassment pervades the lives of women and girls and is deeply ingrained in our culture…it is a routine and sometimes relentless experience for women and girls, many of whom first experience it at a young age.” Many girls and young women have told us of their heart-breaking experiences of unwanted touching and harassment in public spaces.

Today’s toxic mix of consumerism and capitalism teaches girls that their bodies are projects to be improved on. For many girls and women, music videos like ‘WAP’ reinforce the perception that their only value is in what they look like and that their main aspiration should be to become a ‘living doll’, pleasing to the male gaze. (It is also important to note that three male songwriters have been credited to ‘WAP’ as well as Cardi B, and the video was actually directed by a man as well).

We live in a sexual objectification culture which treats – primarily – women like commodities, largely ignoring their personality, talents and gifts. This objectification culture is marketed to be empowering for women, but the truth is, it’s fundamentally disempowering for everyone concerned.

Videos like ‘WAP’ encourage girls to self-objectify as they strive to conform to a societal ideal of beauty and sexuality. Through projects and initiatives in Girls’ Brigade Ministries, we’re passionate about helping girls understand that God created them to be strong, curious, kind, intelligent, creative and that girls and women have so much more to give to the world than just their bodies.

Jesus' message for women

The example of Jesus and the revolutionary way in which he treated women shows that God created women for so much more. In a culture that often silenced, limited, oppressed and ostracised women, the words and actions of Jesus demonstrated that women were valuable (the Bleeding Woman), deserved to learn (Mary and Martha), were powerful evangelists (Woman at the Well) and could play an important part in God’s plan; after all, Jesus chose to appear to two women first after the resurrection.

Gender justice is not a feminist issue. It’s not even a women’s issue. It’s a Gospel issue. Let’s challenge patriarchy by cultivating a culture of worth where every person is valued…just like Jesus did. In our everyday words and actions, let’s enable girls to be the generation-shapers, hope-bringers and transformers of culture that God created them to be.

Dr Claire Rush is a mission and advocacy enabler for Girls’ Brigade Ministries

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