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Bad Priestess

Darnielle once referred to the narrator of this song as “totally insane,” but really, the way this guy talks about women is not far off from the way a lot of men deal with rejection. In fact, if you came across this song without any context, you could easily mistake this for the kind of lyrics you might hear on a pop station. Or maybe an oldies station – we’re a little better these days about keeping stuff like this off the airwaves, but every now and then one does slip through. Hey, remember “Blurred Lines?”

“Bad Priestess” is a song about a man blaming the object of his desire for the effect that his desire has on him. Nothing new or surprising about that — countless pieces of art have been devoted to this particular sort of blame-shifting. Men have been playing this game for a long time, and I don’t have to tell you that the consequences aren’t restricted to bad pop songs. This frame of mind has infected politics and society pretty much since those things existed, and it can cost women their safety, their freedom, even their lives. That might be what Darnielle is getting at by referring to the woman in the song as a “priestess” – the idea that this sort of thing has deep roots, running from our deeply confused treatment of female sexuality all the way back to societies where mysticism was still at the forefront of day-to-day life, and a woman could get set on fire because she knew how to read.

It’s possible that Darnielle was just bringing us into the mind of the narrator, who doesn’t literally believe this woman has magic powers, but for all the hold she has over him, he feels she might as well. And it doesn’t even seem like he knows her, or that they’ve even spoke – all it takes to sets him off is the sight of a woman in a pair of nice pants. She’s attractive, but he knows that she wouldn’t even give him the time of day – so why is she walking around like that, flaunting her beauty? To him, it seems like false advertising. She must know what she’s doing. And surely no good person would knowingly hurt an innocent man in such a way. She must be evil.

It starts there and spreads out until it’s infected his entire way of thinking: “she’s so deceitful and treacherous towards me, she must be like that to everyone.” Once you’ve determined that a woman’s sole intention is to tempt and punish men, it’s no jump to write off the rest of her personality. Even if she’s spending time with impoverished people, doing charity work, building houses or working at a food kitchen – that’s not real. It’s just another false front she’s putting up to draw more unsuspecting people into her web. Men are her main target, but she must want approval from other women, too, right? Why else would she be trying so hard?

This guy has some problems, for sure – mostly boiling down to the misconception that some women are devil-maidens with super-special eyelash tricks instead of, you know, human beings who like to wear nice jeans. But it’s hard to hold him responsible for the sins of an entire society, particularly when polite society does so much to sweep this kind of guy and his feelings under the rug. It’s the reason public figures can stand up with a straight face and say that we don’t need feminism anymore – that it’s outlived its usefulness. Those people have convinced themselves that this kind of guy doesn’t exist anymore, or that his pathology is unique and not indicative of a larger problem.

I don’t have to tell you that’s not true. You’re on the internet, after all.

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