There is a secret that all women are expected to keep. But this secret plays a role in everyone’s life; this secret is the reason any of us are here. This secret is often assumed to be true, but should never be explicitly revealed. This secret exists as a beautiful fantasy in the minds of many but transforms into a condemnable reality once it comes to fruition. This secret is one that men do not have to keep; for them, it is often quite the opposite of a secret. This secret is meant to keep women contained and digestible.
But we are ready to stop keeping secrets—to be honest, we have been for a long time. As we all know, secrets don’t make friends. And thanks to women in the R&B industry today, the curtain has finally been drawn to reveal...
GIRLS LIKE SEX.
The hip-hop/R&B industry has always been testosterone-heavy. As a result of this, women become the object of conversations in songs about sex, rather than the subject; in other words, we are the thing being acted upon, rather than an active participant. Over the past year, however, the scales have begun to balance and the conversation has shifted, as more and more women have found a home in the industry’s spotlight. And as a result of this, I have grown to feel more at home within my own skin—and sexuality.
The conversation-shift and the start of the awakening began in the fall of 2018 when Summer Walker released her debut commercial mixtape, Last Day of Summer. On “Girls Need Love,” the project’s second single and what many cite as Walker’s break-out, she shamelessly declares her sexual presence and calls out the repression of female sexuality.
“I just need some dick,” Walker sang into my headphones as I listened to the break-out single for the first time. Goosebumps rose up from my skin. I had never heard these words spoken aloud, aside from private conversations with friends close enough to divulge our shared secret; and had certainly never heard them on a platform such as this. Before the end of the first verse, I knew that this song was the beginning of a long-overdue conversation. And then the chorus comes in:
“Girls can't never say they want it / Girls can't never say how / Girls can't never say they need it / Girls can't never say now.”
These lyrics could serve as the thesis statement for an essay titled “How Women Have Been Sexually Repressed.” It would be a strong thesis too, citing not one but four examples. Women cannot say that we want sex. We cannot say how we want sex. We cannot say that we need sex. And we certainly cannot say that in this moment, right now, we would like to have sex.
While Walker presented the opening argument, Ari Lennox wrote the body paragraphs. At the beginning of May 2019, Lennox dropped her debut studio album, Shea Butter Baby, a candid expression of the dichotomy that exists between being both a woman and a sexual being.
Lennox is raw and real; she writes about self-doubt and fear of judgment, common side-effects of the female secret. On the album’s opening track, “Chicago Boy” (my personal favorite), Lennox asks “Is you gon’ judge me if I fuck you before I catch this flight?” Sitting at my desk, hearing Lennox sing these words for the first time, I felt my chest tighten and the corners of my eyes sting with the threat of tears. Not because her words upset me, but because they spoke directly to me and my insecurities.
I could not help but think about being 15 and relaxing on a Saturday, watching one of my favorite shows at the time, MTV’s “Girl Code.” The episode’s topic was sex, and a male comedian, Chris Distefano, shared his opinion on women and sex—the irony that I was unable to see then. I cannot remember his exact words, but I cannot forget their sentiment.
He equated the female body to a restaurant before presenting his full analogy. Say you go to a restaurant, he begins, and you get all the food you want for free. You’d be so happy, he goes on, but when you leave, you’re going to think, “What’s wrong with that restaurant?” To Distefano, sexually-interested women are comparable to this shady restaurant, warranting judgment upon engaging in sex.
Maybe Ari saw the same episode. Maybe she too grew her fear of judgment from this seed. But the reality is, her question could have stemmed from any of the infinite instances in which women have been shamed for seeking pleasure.
Lennox’s suspicion that she may be judged for her unashamed sexuality can also be heard on the album’s third single, “Up Late.” She sings about a late-night hookup, which lasts so long that it becomes an early morning hook-up. The scrutiny she worries about doesn’t come from the man in her bed, however, but instead her neighbors. She believes “neighbors must be questioning [her] job” as a result of her nighttime activity.
These intrusive, nagging questions are not reserved for Lennox. Self-doubt rears its head on Summer Walker’s debut studio album, Over It, which dropped this past October. The first
track, by the same name as the album, opens with Walker asking “Am I really that much to handle?” This lyric hit home for me, as I’m sure it did with many other women, who have been made to believe that they are simply too much—too loud, too confident, too sexual. Walker doesn’t let this doubt marinate for long, however. She begins the second verse with “I need a [fella] who can handle me.” Walker is unwilling to compromise any part of herself and is looking for someone who can accept all of her. This is the most important lesson that listeners can take away from Walker’s most recent project: there is no such thing as too much.
The secret is now a known reality, put on display for the world to digest. The format of the sentence has become malleable, leaving the door open for women to become the subject, the active participant. Ari Lennox and Summer Walker are owed eternal gratitude for bringing about these long overdue revelations. Plus, it’s about time women have some good, old fashioned sex songs from our point of view.