Feminist Perspective on Witchcraft – Why were Women Targeted?

Any history lesson will teach you the basic fact: those accused of witchcraft were predominantly women. That is not saying that men weren’t accused, even dogs were accused of the treacherous act, but this cannot excuse the countless number of women accused and prosecuted for being witches. And where men were accused, it was often simply because they were associated with those accused. But why were women the target of a vast witch hunt?

Women in puritanical societies held a weak or powerless role in the community, simply to have babies, raise the children, cook, clean. The stereotypical ‘womanly’ chores. But puritans also believed that women were more easily tempted by the devil himself, as they took the idea of Eve eating the apple and falling to sin meant that women would turn towards the devil.

In the Malleus Maleficarum, one of the most well-known treaties on witchcraft by catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer published in 1486, he details how women are more likely to participate in sorcery due to qualities only women possess. Some reasons were that they are more easily impressed upon, and that they use this influence well and their loose tongues hardly conceal anything from their female companions.

So, when a woman deviated from these desired roles in society, they had targets printed onto their backs. Having affluence, being husbandless, having too many children, all indicated a deal with the devil had been made to increase sinful gains.

Women who were confident, determined and ready to express their opinions and stand their ground were a part of the accused.

This is barely mentioning the systematic oppression as demonstrated by the Salem witch trials. The first to be accused, Tituba, an enslaved servant was accused of teaching witchcraft to younger girls. During intense scrutinizing, she confessed to signing a book of the devil in an attempt to administer a softer death sentence.

Most stereotypical witches at this time were those who were poor, elderly, isolated from society or sexually deviant, all which were outside traditional gender expectations.

Arguably, as theorised from modern scholar Edward Bever, the high rate of both male and female accusers came from the widespread patriarchal and misogynistic nature of the time. Europe had rigid gender stereotypes and all those who went against this faced the consequences.

Even those who conformed to gender roles may have lived in such fear of being accused, prompting them to make false accusations before the possibility of someone accusing them.

Witch-hunting was a method of behavioural control in which women were victims.

Women, challenge yourselves. Speak loudly, roar. Claim you are a witch, claim to be anything as long as society tells you not to be. Be more than mothers, be yourself and be people. Because at the end of the day, they can call you crazy, they can call you a witch, they can claim you are possessed by the devil, but you are against the patriarchal society structure and that’s the best compliment you can ever get. Be that witch.

Published by Heather Dalgleish

21-year-old journalism student. Author and illustrator for In Full Bloom Magazine

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