You know the song Hands Clean by Alanis Morisette?
A few years ago, I was in the gift shop at Grouse Mountain, a local ski hill, and this song was playing in the background. I was immediately struck by two things: the absolute absurdity of browsing tourist kitsch while a gentle song about statutory rape played in the background as well as deep and abiding rage.
I am pretty sure anyone else who lives in an even remotely marginalized identity (I say remotely to refer to myself because I'm a white woman which means, yes, the patriarchy gets me down and also my kind are the great supporters, and often directors, of a lot of white supremacist, colonial garbage) has experienced the rage I'm talking about: where you encounter evidence of injustice or oppression and it's like a hot flash of rage barely contained by the fact that you know there is nothing that can be done about it (at least in the moment).
Everything about this song's existence and reception is just the epitome of rape culture and I am getting The Rage again just thinking about it.
Ooh, this could be messy but
But you don't seem to mind and
Ooh, don't go telling everybody
And overlook this supposed crime
We'll fast forward to a few years later
And no one knows except the both of us
And I have honored your request for silence
And you've washed your hands clean of this
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it.
Not the song, it's a very good song and so poignantly reflects her experience but I hate the whole bigger story and those last two lines, "I have honored your request for silence / and you've washed your hands clean of this."
I get it. I'm not blaming Alanis. She doesn't have to out her abuser if she doesn't want to. She said the song was about processing it a part of her past and I get that. But the fact. THE FACTS! The facts are ENRAGING. The bare fact that this man did have an abusive, CRIMINAL sexual relationship with a minor that he held power over and then never had to deal with it again. And sure, maybe he had some sleepless nights when this song came out, wondering if there would be repercussions but then he's fine. He's fine. HE'S FINE.
I hate it so much.
Then I looked up the Wikipedia page for the song and GUESS HOW PEOPLE TALKED ABOUT IT AT THE TIME?
Actually, scratch that, GUESS HOW WIKIPEDIA TALKS ABOUT IT NOW?
"The narrative voice of the song alternates; the verses are written from the presumed viewpoint of the other person in a relationship, an older man talking to a younger lover... Lyrically, "Hands Clean" explores a past relationship and how its effects linger." (Emphasis added.)
Here's one music writer, Jon Pareles describing the song as "an apparently matter-of-fact reminiscence of underage sex with a music-business mentor, an affair 'under rug swept.'"
Jam Music says, the song "tells the story of her attempts to come to grips with an intergenerational affair that started when she was as young as 14."
So everyone knew we were talking about a TEENAGER and a MUSIC EXECUTIVE (and I'm sure they must have been able to figure out WHO IT WAS couldn't they???) but they were using words like "lover" and "intergenerational affair" and "relationship" and even "underage sex" which all imply this is a legitimate, if somewhat uncomfortable, situation.
And now? Now we hum along to this gentle song about an unknown man grooming and assaulting a teenage girl while we browse overpriced stuffed bears dressed as Mounties while he is somewhere in the world doing whatever the heck he wants.
I repeat: I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate itI hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it (I love you Alanis and I support you I just hate this whole thing).
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