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    The Summer of Pussy

    It makes sense that those at the helm of “WAP” and P-Valley are Black and Brown women, because it is the other who is forced continually to rise up and assert a voice—otherwise there would be no space made for her.

    The Summer of Pussy

    The Summer of Covid is over, but as we hurtle toward the cold, uncertain fall and winter months of 2020, it is important to let ourselves remember the pussy-soaked joy that coated this past hot, sticky season.

    “WAP” stands for “Wet Ass Pussy,” and people have a problem with it. Reactions to a song by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion about women liking sex and taking pride in their natural lubrication made some people (exactly the ones you’d expect) very uncomfortable. Ben Shapiro vagina-shamed and armchair-diagnosed every woman with a wet pussy as having bacterial vaginosis, opening himself up to all kinds of jokes about how he’s never gotten a pussy wet in his life. Congresspeople and news personalities called the song “vile” and lamented the future of our children given this generation’s poor female role models. In every corner of the country, “WAP” gave people the feels. But what those feels mainly reiterated was misogyny. In the mainstream, people (men) are not ok with hearing about a wet ass pussy…unless it is behind closed bedroom doors—that is, men have been used to having their “Certified Freak” only on the days of the week when they want one.

    It’s also important to note that some of the anti-pussy conservative commentators were also women. Does that mean the backlash against “WAP” isn’t just about sexism? Why would a woman have issues with a song about wet ass pussies? Yes, internalized misogyny is a thing for women. And maybe she has issues with her own “little garage.” It is also probably likely that she has issues with the person making the song. This idea made me think of all the times I’ve heard some Karen’s benign declaration that “I don’t like hip hop.” What may just seem like a statement of taste to Karen is actually quite loaded when it comes to racial dynamics and White mainstream responses to Black art and music. It is consumed and appropriated just as it is vilified and problematized. It can be owned by White people just as it is shunned. Sure, you can like what you like, but have you really interrogated what it is about hip hop that is a problem for you? Because race has definitely creeped in as part of that experience.

    Race undoubtedly plays an enormous part in the public reaction to the song, and of course in the song itself. Based on being a hip hop fan since its 90s glory days, I see “WAP” following in a long tradition of raunchy raps that touch the pearl-clutching nerves of Whites and conservatives. But it also marks a bold risk taken by a woman in a still male-dominated craft. We’ve seen it with Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown. With “WAP,” Cardi B, according to Keep It host Ira Madison, takes “sexual agency in hip hop away from men.” Cardi B’s choice to sample an old house hit, only repeating the lyric “There’s some whores in this house” is proof of this. Remember Tina Fey’s Mean Girls adage that we have to stop calling each other “bitches” and “whores” because it only makes it okay for guys to call us that? That philosophy here doesn’t really track. For women, particularly women of color and women who are BIPOC, whether cis or trans, reclaiming power is often about utilizing what little has been given to us. So then wouldn’t it be more useful to follow Cardi B’s lead and take back “bitches” and “whores” on our own terms while also demanding that men NOT be allowed to call us that?

    Not sure if anyone caught Russell’s Brand’s video critique of “WAP,” but basically he’s been accused of mansplaining feminism to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion by comparing their song to Thatcherism, saying that graphic hip hop songs and videos by women artists are “an emulation of a template that already exists and was established by males.” He asked: “Is it equality if the template has already been established by a formal dominator?” before adding: “The answer is no.” Okay, first, no one needs know about Russell Brand’s thoughts on feminism, and Twitter concurs (“I really don’t want to be taught feminism by Russell Brand. But I look forward to Louis CK’s thoughts on why Beyoncé is getting it all wrong.” @DeborahFW – host of Guilty Feminist). But Brand’s masked sexism and racism here is revealed in how misguided this belief is, as though Black and Brown women have any option BUT to fit within the template established by White patriarchal structures. In fact, women rappers are using these objectifying templates and reshaping them into something new for their own purposes. Subversive sampling by women rappers serves the function of taking something initially associated with male sexuality and men’s objectification of women and turning it into a vehicle for women’s narratives. Earlier this summer, Bay Area native Saweetie released her own raunchy single “Tap In,” which became its own Tik Tok challenge and samples “Blow the Whistle” by Too Short. Even Nikki Minaj, who has been accused of playing along with patriarchal rap dynamics and failing to elevate other women, repurposed Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” for her 2014 hit “Anaconda,” using only a repeat of the lyrics “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun.” Both songs, like “WAP,” celebrate female sexual pleasure, women’s bodies (“He can tell I ain’t missing no meals”), specifically Black women’s bodies, and their power in earning women “some coins.”

    So Cardi B’s use of the “whores in this house” hook alongside her unabashed love for her wet ass pussy and the things that go in it is a juxtaposition of a sexist term and very sex-positive lyrics (“Hop on top / I wanna ride / I do a kegel while it’s inside”). It also calls back to her own history of being a sex worker, as Cardi B raps about the monetary value of WAP (“I don’t cook / I don’t clean / But let me tell you how I got this ring”), as if to say that if women are whores reduced to pussies, if vaginas are all we’re worth, then we’d better at least be getting compensated.

    Speaking of hip hop and sex work, have you seen P-Valley yet?? Starz’s summer TV sensation P-Valley is a series penned by Katori Hall, the Olivier Award-winning playwright who wrote Pussy Valley, the play about four women in a Mississippi strip club on which the Starz show is based.

    In P-Valley, Hall provides a gorgeous neo-noir forum for the representation of Black Southerners, whom Hall has discussed are rarely depicted on screen, as well as of sex workers. The main characters, and the club’s most desirable performers, are plagued by their own traumas: physically abusive partners, losses suffered in a hurricane, the lack of financial resources, a narcissistic mother. But at the heart of it all is a deep-rooted sense of the community in the fictional Mississippi Delta town of Chucalissa. At the center is the beloved strip club, Pynk, owned by Uncle Clifford, an extremely lovable nonbinary character who uses she/her pronouns and dons attention-grabbing outfits that test the limits of the more bigoted members of the community.

    The opening sequence of the show features the song “Down in the Valley” by Jucee Froot, wherein she raps: “These n****s grind hard / But these bitches grind harder / Climbing up the pole / Just to get out the bottom…” It’s a concise and effective description of the plight of these Black women, in that they have a steeper climb than men do, which sometimes necessitates using their bodies to hustle. But Hall doesn’t focus on merely the downtrodden—she also showcases the beauty and athleticism that happens inside these clubs. And she does it well—sorry J. Lo, but P-Valley is the best depiction of actual pole dancing that I’ve ever seen in popular media. There’s no watered down “just going for a cute little walk around the pole”—girls are dropping from the ceiling head first and holding moves that are a feat of flexibility.

    Feminist film critic Laura Mulvey famously argued that women on screen are primarily utilized as spectacles to be looked at, dictated by the male gaze. But while being made into spectacles has been a way female power is undermined, women have also learned of the inherent potential in this to-be-looked-at-ness and have begun to demand to be seen on our own terms, and no example is clearer than women on a pole. Like female rappers’ reclamation of sexist lyrics through sampling, strippers take ownership of the spectacle of the female body through their craft.

    In an interview on the Keep It podcast, Hall explained:

    “The strip club, to me, it’s just a metaphor for the world that women live in. Yes, it’s an extremely exploitative space, but somehow, by hook or by crook these women who are oftentimes impoverished, oftentimes don’t have that many choices, they figure out a way to liberate themselves—they figure out a way to claim financial freedom; create art in a space where people don’t think art exists. It, to me, is a reflection of not only being a woman but also being a Black person in this world.”

    As an amateur poler and pole dance enthusiast involved in the sport only peripherally via the fitness world, I have taken part in an industry that appropriates an art that was created for and by underprivileged women and sex workers. There are those pole fitness studios that tout themselves in a “we’re not like that” kind of way which stigmatizes the women who made poling what it is. Popular pole dancing then is still placating to those same critics who couldn’t handle “WAP.”

    Only relatively recently has the Pole Sport Organization incorporated an Exotic category into its Pro-Am competitions. As the global pole-scape pushes for the sport to be recognized in the Olympics, the tension between sex workers and this new kind of commercial poling has started a necessary dialogue meant to shift ownership of the art back to its original users, making clear that most of the rest of us are kind of just tourists. According to, like, “the rules of feminism,” we have a responsibility to one another as women to be respectful of each other’s spaces and identities, so recreational polers looking down their noses at strippers is exactly a Mean Girls kind of “girl-on-girl crime.” A show like P-Valley gives credit where it is due by someone familiar with the world and calls attention to the difference in available choices between privileged women who opt to learn pole dancing for funsies and women who make it part of their livelihood.

    Even in the delight of the summer’s pussification, we see the emotional violence with which we treat people, the ways we refuse to exist together, the ways we still want to tear the other down and apart. It makes sense that those at the helm of “WAP” and P-Valley are Black and Brown women, because it is the other who is forced continually to rise up and assert a voice—otherwise there would be no space made for her. What these lyrics and episodes remind us is that even when things feel chaotic and dire, there are artists who will always emerge with strength, a message, an anthem, a story that will show us who we are and how we need to be better. Often the best art comes from the hardest times. So as this was a summer of isolation and anxiety, police violence and racism, wildfires and presidential lies, I am grateful to these artists for letting us also remember this time as the Summer of Pussy.

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    Latest Posts

    On predictions of death

    I am like him. When I am angry, my eyes flash contemptuously and I say nothing. I feel wrath and hatefulness and plan cruelty. It passes. I’m glad that is mostly all.

    Living the Pandemic Lush Life

    ...we can’t figure out why the conflict until we know what exactly you are getting out of drinking and what you’re not loving about it so much.

    My Latinx Mental Healthcare Story

    My mom is an immigrant from Quito, Ecuador. In Latinx culture, it’s common to treat a visit to the doctor like a visit to the mechanic. Something is wrong, you pay a professional to fix it...

    The Summer of Pussy

    It makes sense that those at the helm of “WAP” and P-Valley are Black and Brown women, because it is the other who is forced continually to rise up and assert a voice—otherwise there would be no space made for her.
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