I’m Not a Woman — Except When These Songs Are On

Like so many of the great ranked list ideas that exist in our society, the idea for this one came from a tweet I sent off in the middle of putting my Spotify playlists  — I know, I’m sorry I haven’t switched over to something else yet! — on shuffle and just letting it go off for about two hours while I was “doing work” on teacher planning day. The tweet in question said: “I’m not a woman except for the four minutes and five seconds Shania Twain’s ‘Any Man of Mine’ comes up on shuffle like three or four times a week. Y’all wouldn’t get it.”

Turns out, it did resonate with some non-binary people I know. Personally, I identify as “genderless,” which kind of puts me in a nebulous spot in the world of identification and identity politics. I never actually feel like a woman. I never have. And I don’t feel like a man either, though I do spend most of my time around with a small gang of cis men who consider me their “brother.” Gender, to me, has very little bearing on who I am as a person, so I stopped trying to figure it all out a long time ago. But it was funny and interesting that so many people felt the same feelings about that particular song.

I’m a curious person so, of course, I started trying to figure out why we all felt this way. And the truth is, I’m not really sure. But I think it comes down to this: There are just some songs and pieces of media where the girlies are so far in their bag, I want to be in their bag with them even though I technically never have been and can’t possibly be now. When a song or a piece of art hits so hard, it’s just fun to imagine yourself as the narrator instead of trying to force yourself to universalize it to fit your own experiences. And sometimes, that just doesn’t make sense anyways. Sometimes, the world of that song or film or whatever else is fun to live in without anything else being tacked onto it.

As I was thinking about this later and once again living in the moment of Spotify shuffle, so many other songs came to my mind that could easily replace Shania’s in the text of that tweet. I started collecting them in a playlist called “make me a woman” and thought it’d be fun to rank them from “will bring that girly tingle” to “full blown womanhood feelings.”

“Boy” by Book of Love

Book of Love so often feels like one of the forgotten 1980s synthpop bands. I know for sure they still have a ton of fans, but unfortunately, I never meet any of them out in the world. “Boy” was their debut single, which feels pretty brave considering the subject matter. I guess a case could be made that this song, taken out of context, could be an anthem for people like me, but why would I want to take it out of context when it’s so important to the overall atmosphere of the song? It’s been said that “Boy” is about a woman who’s in love with a gay man and is frustrated by the fact that she’s a woman. Although the song is short, it’s packed with so much heartbroken female angst that’s hard to deny.

“What It Feels Like For a Girl” by Madonna

I’m of the opinion that Music is one of the great Madonna albums, and this was one of the underrated singles from that album. Put simply, the song about the frustrations with the limitations society puts on the roles of women. And sure, I’m not completely unfamiliar with those limitations but I’ve spent my whole life mostly ignoring them when it comes to my own personhood. So no, I don’t really know what it feels like for a girl, but I can certainly get more of a sense of it when I throw this on.

“Bathwater” by No Doubt

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Just A Girl” is a more fitting choice for a list like this, but if I’m being honest, I think Madonna took on that particular subject matter a little better. “Bathwater” does something completely different. It begs. It begs and it pleads in a way that only a woman who has been loved then used then thrown out for another woman can: “So why do we choose the boys that are naughty / I don’t fit in so why do you want me / And I know I can’t tame you, but I just keep trying.” That’s why it’s on this list.

“Da Baddest Bitch” by Trina

I’m from South Florida, so I’m actually legally obligated to love Trina but luckily for me, I actually do really love her. “Da Baddest Bitch” was the lead single from her debut album, also titled Da Baddest Bitch. This would come on the radio (edited, unfortunately) when I was a preteen, and I just remember thinking, “Damn, she doesn’t give a shit.” And I still get that feeling to this day. I’ll admit, living in the world of this song is a little different than the others on this list, but man, it gets me so hyped up. In the second verse, Trina raps, “See, if I’m ever crossed or ever caught up in the cross, and if it’s your fault, hoe, I’m going off” and you know what? I feel that.

“You’re Not The Man” by Sade

This is arguably one of the most neglected Sade tracks in her entire discography, and I’m not sure why. “You’re Not The Man” is addressing a similar situation as “Bathwater” but in an entirely different way. Instead of trying to get the titular “man” in the song to understand why the narrator loves him so much, Sade’s woman basically tells him he turned out to be a giant loser. At the end, she sings, “But don’t get me wrong / Although it seems sad / It’s not all bad / You see / I’m not the little girl I used to be,” and yes, I do belt that part out along with her.

“Pretty Baby” by Sister Sledge

I got my love of disco from my dad who, in the 1970s and 80s, was one of those slicked-back hair disco guidos with shiny shirts and an almost unbelievable sense of rhythm. He listens to a little less disco these days, but I feel like I’ve kind of taken up the torch for him on that front. “Pretty Baby” is one of the songs I can’t imagine people not absolutely loving. There’s so much to love about it! But in the end, the song is quite clearly about a mother’s love and hope for her daughter. Relationships between mothers and daughters are some of the most valued relationships in our society. And it’s not that I believe that’s true or right, it’s just that this song really gets to the heart of what that experience is like.

“She Wolf” by Shakira

One of the big bops of our time. A song about a woman who knows what she wants and is going to get it even if she has to turn into a terrifying monster to do it. I really don’t think this needs any further explanation beyond that.

“Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado ft. Timbaland

There was a time in my life when a good friend of mine and I would randomly text each other the lyrics of this song because we discovered early in our friendship that we were both obsessed with it. I know there’s been tons of talk about the problematic nature of this song, but are y’all really telling me you don’t vibe to this the minute the beat drops? I simply can’t believe it. For all the hand wringing about the lyrics of this song, at its core, the female narrator has the upper hand here. When Timbaland raps, “I want you on my team,” Furtado replies, “So does everybody else.” Power! She’s got that boy wrapped around her finger!

“Are You That Somebody” by Aaliyah

Feels like a good time to drop some Stef Rubino lore here. At 12 years old, there was no one on this Earth I loved more than Aaliyah. She was really everything, wasn’t she? When news of her tragic death was blasted all over MTV News on August 25, 2001, I cried for four days straight. “Are You That Somebody” was her biggest single, and in a lot of ways, I guess it still is. What earns this song a spot on this list is that it’s very obviously about the anxiety a famous woman feels about the possibility of engaging in an intimate relationship with a man she’s not entirely sure she can trust. And it rules.

“Who’s That Girl?” by Eve

Eve’s arrival on the hip hop scene was of mythic proportions. She was the first female — aptly titled, the First Lady — member of the Ruff Ryders, a group of rappers that included DMX, Jadakiss, and The Lox, among a few others. Being the only woman in the group, she had to hold her own, and she certainly did, especially on her second album, Scorpion, of which “Who’s That Girl?” was the lead single. Although her first album was received well by critics, it didn’t give her the same gravitas on the scene as she wanted (and deserved) so I think there was some push to make sure she’d get it the second time around. “Who’s That Girl?” came out of the gate so hot with lyrics that point directly towards this: “Power moves is made everyday by this thorough bitch / I’ma get this bank anyway that I do this shit / I was born to shine, and most of y’all’s borderline bullshit.” By the end of it, you’re left with the story of a woman who’s determined to make it no matter what.

“Your Woman” by White Town

This is the one and only song written and sung by a man on this list, but it really is a complicated little mess of a song. I’m going to keep this short, but the truth is, I could write a thesis-length piece about the gender-fuckery of this song and all of the various interpretations of it. You can view it as the heartsick pleas of a man who’s in love with a lesbian, or similarly, the pleas of gay man who’s in love with a straight man, or in a myriad of other ways that I’m not listing here right now. When it comes down to it, though, the narrator of the song is positioning himself as a woman who’s been mistreated by some asshole who was never good for her anyways: “Just use me up and then you walk away / Boy, you can’t play me that way / Well I guess what you say is true / I could never be the right kind of girl for you.”

“Any Man of Mine” by Shania Twain

The song that inspired this whole examination. You could easily say that Shania Twain is the champion of writing music not just about the experience of being a woman but also of writing music that is clearly for the ladies. This was a giant hit for Twain in the 1990s, and it still goes SO. DAMN. HARD. And I think it falls into the latter category that I just mentioned. The song follows the narration of a woman who is quite literally listing the characteristics that “any man” who expects to be loved by her better have, and it’s easy to see how empowering this might have been for the generation of women who grew up with it. For the four minute and five second run time of the song, it’s also easy to belt out the woman’s demands and become her.

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Stef Rubino

Stef Rubino is a writer, community organizer, and student of abolition from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. They teach Literature and writing to high schoolers and to people who are currently incarcerated, and they’re the fat half of the arts and culture podcast Fat Guy, Jacked Guy. You can find them on Twitter (unfortunately).

Stef has written 84 articles for us.


  1. “Your Woman” has gained new life in my mind because the writer/artist, Jyoti, is an interesting individual to follow on the fediverse. And indeed is sufficiently queer/gender-fucky to support any interpretation of that song.

  2. I had completely forgotten about that Aaliyah song, so thank you! =P What about Man, I Feel Like I Woman? also by Shania Twain? It seems woman/female powerful enough, no?

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