How Women Speak Up

screenshot of alanis morrissette video for hands clean song

One reason I wrote Horseshoes and Hand Grenades was to open a window into why many women (and men) who are victims of workplace sexual harassment, incest, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, often don’t speak up. Frankly, I was pissed off reading much of the Harvey Weinstein coverage, because it seemed the more steam #MeToo picked up, the more BS was hurled at the victims.

“Why did you wait so long to speak up?”

“It couldn’t have mattered much if you waited this long.”

“Why are you really saying something now? What’s your ulterior motive?”

I’ll blog more in-depth at some point about how Horseshoes and Hand Grenades came to be, but my point today is that in the past, women often had to settle for, or were more comfortable with, indirect means of speaking up.

In a recent, wide-ranging interview with Nicole Cliffe in Self magazine, Alanis Morrissette talks at some length about her song “Hands Clean”. Turns out, despite the poppy camaraderie of the accompanying music video, “Hands Clean” is about an older man’s grooming and abuse of the singer/songwriter. As she says, “that’s the story of rape, basically.”

Not surprisingly, 15 years ago when the song was released, very few heard it for what it was. That raises all kinds of questions that point to the difficulties inherent in speaking up, and in being believed. I have taken the liberty of offering my own answers to some of those questions:

Was Alanis at fault for putting her troubling words to an upbeat tempo? (No, artistic license means she can do whatever the eff she wants with her own creation. And to me, the catchy tune is indicative of society’s tendency to sugarcoat and gloss over things we don’t want to hear.)

Is she at fault for not being more direct in her accusation? (No, she said as much as she felt she could at the time. Props to her for even addressing it at all in song.)

Why didn’t the record company stand behind her and support a music video more in keeping with the troubling topic of the song? (Because their goal is selling records and in those days, public accusations of rape usually didn’t end well for victims, much less move product.)

#MeToo and #TimesUp aren’t going to change society overnight. But let’s hope that their momentum continues until the day women no longer feel the need to slip their accusations into veiled lyrics layered onto smooth foot-tapping uptempo songs.

Leave a Reply