V-sides: Defining


I'm not really sure where the term "vagina music" originated.  The first time I heard it was in Nicole Holofcener's awesome film Walking and Talking, when a male character complains to his female car-trip cohorts, "Are we gonna listen to this vagina music the whole way there?" ("Yes!") The second time was almost a decade later,  on an episode of Six Feet Under where one of Claire's art-school friends demands , "You guys are gonna have to change this vagina music immediately." From these, we can infer that vagina music  = music that others feel subjected to and wish to avoid.

Nonfictionally, in my own life, it's come up in less confrontational instances, usually in discussions of the famed Michigan Womyn's Music Festival—which was originally founded to showcase what was specifically called women's music—or the once-mighty Lilith Fair. I used the expression  just last weekend to  refer to a band playing Portland's Pride festivities whose skinny jeans and self-conscious rattails screamed '80s synth revival, but whose amps bleated out something much more Indigo/DiFranco.

From this, we can infer that when people—like, uh, me—make reference to vagina music, it's to point out how interchangeable, how not-exciting, how generically female it is.

But it wasn't until I heard an acquaintance refer to Coldplay as "vagina music" that I began to rethink my own casual use of the phrase as a catchall descriptor for the descendents of Cris Williamson and Tracy Chapman.  Because , while I am no fan of Coldplay (my hatred of Gwyneth Paltrow prevents me from acquiring any knowledge of the band beyond the fact that they, you know, exist),  it's clear that describing them as vagina music was not this person's way of saying that their latest album reminded him of the oeuvre of Paula Cole. 

So from this, we can infer that vagina music is not only music that others feel subjected to/wish to avoid, or music that sounds generically female,  it's music for pussies. And pussies are pussies because they're…like women. 

If vagina music was a direct  analogue to "cock rock," that would be one thing: A canon of penis-aggrandizing that includes KISS's "Love Gun," AC/DC's "Let Me Put My Love Into You," and Aerosmith's "Big 10-Inch Record" and Led Zeppelin's "The Lemon Song," could bematched entendre for entendre by female musicians glorifying their junk, and that would be pretty cool. But that's not how it goes. The majority of songs about vaginas (and these already number far fewer than odes to cock) are songs by dudes —"Little Red Corvette," "Cherry Pie," "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang," "Winona's Big Brown Beaver," and, of course, Nirvana's duo of "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Moist Vagina," to say nothing of the dozens of blues classics that make mention of "jelly roll." Even "Sugar Walls," Sheena Easton's vagtastic 1980s hit, was penned by mentor  Prince.

And there are women who've sung, or rapped,  loud and proud about their lady parts: Missy Elliott's "Work It," and Khia's "My Neck, MyBack," are pretty much the most straightforward odes to downstairs business as have  ever been put to a beat; more oblique references can be found in Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop" and The Divinyls' "I Touch Myself." And then there's Diamanda Galas's "Cunt," which is really more spoken-word than music, but I'd be seriously remiss to not mention it. So why does "vagina music" denote soft, femmey, and/or cloying rather than fun, saucy, and, in Galas's case,  super scary?

And really, when you consider that artists who've been tagged as "vagina music" on Last.fm include everyone from Cat Power, to the Carpenters to Kimya Dawson to Nico, it underscores the sexism of the term. So what do you think? With rumors of a Lilth Fair comeback in 2010, is it time to reclaim,  redefine, and raise the flag for vagina music? Or is reclaiming it accepting that  rock still = cock?

by Andi Zeisler
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Andi Zeisler is the cofounder of Bitch Media and the author of We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. You can find her on Twitter.

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10 Comments Have Been Posted

LOL...I don't know that we should get too offended...

Recognizing that there are always exceptions, I think there is just some music that primarily appeals to women. I remember once, working at a music store, that one of our employees was very enthusiastically playing the newest Tori Amos over and over and over....

One of our male colleagues came up to me and said, "If I have to listen to Tori Amos one more time I'm going to cut my d#@k off myself."

I just see "vagina" music as music that appeals primarily to women and to men, not so much. I don't think we need to be offended by it. I don't expect someone with a penis to get Tori Amos.

I listen to "man music" and don't want to mutilate my genitals

I'm pretty sure no one is getting "offended." I think the post is simply trying to understand how/why we gender things like music (and other pop culture, "chick flicks," anyone?) and why the stuff we gender as female is automatically weak, lame, or in the case of your friend, emasculating or castrating.

The idea that there is music out there that only appeals to men or women as a group is absurd. People are more complicated than their gender and one's taste in music is a lot more personal than "men/women listen to X".

As for Tori Amos, a guy friend turned me on to her in high school and after going to a few of her concerts, I can tell you she has a pretty diverse fan base. Just because you have an anecdotal story about some dude wanting to cut of his dick after listening to Tori Amos doesn't mean all men feel that way. It also doesn't mean that all women enjoy Tori's music.

Then again, women love shoes and men love sports and that's just the way God made us.


The example of my male coworker and Tori Amos just immediately came to mind when I saw the post. It made me laugh at the time because I loved Tori too and the guy couldn't understand our loyalty (BTW, he never put the music/artist down as lame or inferior; he just wasn't into it)...but I really didn't expect him to...we kind of felt territorial about her since it felt like music aimed at us for us.

I think I specifically made the point that I was speaking generally - that things like Lillith Fair or Tori Amos or "chick" flicks generally appeal more to women than men - not that any of those things were gender exclusive, anymore than football or Van Damme movies are to men. Anyone who equates "feminine" or "womanly" to weak or lame is a jerk just like anyone who characterizes "masculine" or "manly" to neanderthal is a jerk too (I had a friend who thought football was a violent, male, caveman activity; she wasn't impressed that I am a serious football fan) - YES, I UNDERSTAND THAT NOT ALL WOMEN FEEL THAT WAY ABOUT FOOTBALL. Let me clarify that I understand that not all women like all the same things and not all men like the same things...yikes.

Aside from unwarranted snarkiness and pompous lecturing that some men like Tori Amos and some women like football (no kidding), I think it's good to have real down-to-earth discussion about whether it is detrimental in any serious way - and why - to characterize things as masculine or feminine or whether everything is supposed to be gender neutral all the time since nothing is gender exclusive.

Gendered Music Preferences?

I have to agree that it is indeed absurd to adopt the notion that men like ___ music and women like ___ music. I think this post is great and doesn't read as an "offended" commentary or take at all. While it comes as no surprise that music and pop culture are subject to sexist categorizing, it's silly to think of how many people still explain or express their musical opinions or preferences by describing it or trashing it in gendered terms rather than what it is about the music/band/artist/scene/look that you love or loathe.

P.S. - A male also introduced me to Tori Amos, so not being able to imagine any guy liking her stuff seems extreme...any more than the concept of girls liking whatever music they damn well choose.


I think it's a fairly direct analog to the epithet "bitch" - when you call a woman a bitch, it's demeaning because it's dehumanizing; when you call a man a bitch, it's demeaning because it's feminizing. So it's pretty misogynist either way you slice it.

"Vagina music" probably has a better chance of being reclaimed as a term because it isn't inherently degrading the way "bitch" is, but ... probably no-one's going to bother? And it will keep getting used as an infrequent term of either dismissal or self-deprecation.

But like, just for anecdotal purposes... I loved Tori Amos throughout the whole 1990s... girls I knew thought she was annoying (I am a dude perhaps obviously). When I stopped liking her output it wasn't because it got too ladylike; it got too floaty and boring. Same with Lisa Germano, who started to slide after Slide (which is amazing). I love old Cat Power but don't like her Memphis soul stuff as much because it doesn't say the same things to me. I could listen to Julie Ruin all day. I think Queen Herawin is a vital part of the Juggaknots. I used to collect Jewel bootlegs. I never want to hear a Sheryl Crow or Shania Twain song again in my life... and that's because I think their music is WACK.

My point in typing out all of that is not what great taste I have (Jewel bootlegs?? cringe!), it's just that there are already ways to talk about music made by either men or women that one does or doesn't enjoy or appreciate. Using shorthand like "vagina music" to dismiss Tori Amos' shitty records ignores that she had a vagina when she recorded her good records, too (whichever ones one thinks are which).

Side note: my sister is staying at a house of anarcho-feminists in Montreal and when I asked what her housemates are like, she said, "One of them makes noise music with her vagina." I didn't get all the details - I couldn't have that conversation with my little sister - but it has something to do with a microphone somewhere.

I guess that's the next wave of "vagina music."

Here's the Thing:

Didn't "vagina music" refer to feminist-based music? The Indigo-DiFranco classification rings most true of the "old" meaning, to me, as when my short-lived high school boyfriend wouldn't let me listen to "that feminazi vagina shit" in the car. Therefore, when one starts calling Coldplay or *cringe* John Mayer "vagina music," it completely changes the meaning. We go from female-empowering music to music by guys who virtually beg men to give their daughters enough daddy issues to be submissive.

I don't think that's the same thing at all.

Oh thank GOODNESS someone

Oh thank GOODNESS someone else hates that song as much as I do, for the same reasons.


Is it sexist? Yeah. We haven't reached that magic time/place when vagina can be used with the same swagger as cock. It may just be the word; vagina is always gonna sound a little technical to me. But just like you can call a woman a slut, but not a man, women's sexuality and sexual equipment is still in the closet. We need more loud bitches rocking out with their clits out.

AMEN .... What she said

AMEN .... What she said !!!!

oh, and, i liked the article too. Non-offensive as they come. If you get offended by this article, you need to "get a life" in the real world.

Sheryl Crow or Shania Twain

BTW, Sheryl Crow ROCKS !!!! She's a real musician (who only does vagina music on the rare occasion that she wants to do so, which is just like a real person).

I only ever enjoyed Shania Twain in the context of being with my teenage daughters while they were loving her. Oh, and for the 2nd sexiest music video ever .... 2nd after that Chris Isaac video ... you Know the ones I'm talkin' about.

Speaking of vagina music & Chris Isaac ....

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