My feed

to access all these features

Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Witch hunts and gender-critical feminists

107 replies

heresyandwitchcraft · 16/08/2018 01:43

As you may have surmised from my username, I see parallels between the witch-hunts of yesteryear and the current movement to label gender-critical women T*RFs alongside disturbing calls to use violence against such females.

I personally have found it interesting to briefly look back at the history of witch trials to get some perspective on the misogyny I perceive in this "debate." Being accused of witchcraft in many countries was (and in some places still is!) a charge disproportionately leveled at females. One might idly ponder if current transgender ideology arguably relies too heavily on belief in an unproveable/"supernatural" force (e.g. that of the "feminine/masculine" essence that transcends biology) and whether there are commonalities between such views and the beliefs in magic of yore. Who knows? Certainly both "sides" in this "debate" appear to accuse each other of moral panic, and persecution.

However, it is definitely worth thinking about historical misogyny. In my post these will be predominantly from a European perspective. I recently found out that "scolding" used to be an actual crime - reserved predominantly for angry, quarrelsome females for speaking out of turn, gossiping, or behaving rudely. This was punishable by the "cucking stool," where she would be strapped to a chair and dunked underwater. Or she might be made to wear what was known as a "scold's bridle"/"witch's bridle," which physically prevented her from speaking lest she cut her tongue, and was typically accompanied by public humiliation.

During many witch trials, once you were labelled a witch you either confessed your sins for a quick execution or you professed your innocence. If you kept denying witchery, you would be systematically broken down using brutal means. In some places, they would tie you up and throw you in the water first to test the witchcraft accusation. If you floated then your witchcraft was confirmed and you would meet a very grim fate. If you sank then you were innocent but at high risk of drowning. You'd likely be asked to name your "co-conspirators," so that the hunters could root out all the witches in the area. Importantly, there was usually no dignified way out once you were branded a witch.

One might ask whether there are any similar principles of misogyny that hold true now. I have stopped worrying as much about being called a modern witch because these historical examples weirdly remind me (eerily) of what women are currently being asked to do: shut up, stop thinking about certain issues, and play nice to keep the peace. I do not think it was an accident that there is a feminist theory that midwives (those specialists of the female body) allegedly were over-represented in being accused of witchcraft. I do not think it is completely out of the blue that it is now the female body which is again being erased from the public domain - only to be spoken of in hushed, convoluted terms. I do not think it is merely coincidental that some trans activists wonder whether women even exist, much less have the authority to speak with authority on the female experience. And I certainly do not think it's outside the pattern for misogyny that the main people being targeted in this debate are dissenting females, with some corners of the internet seeming to wish to enforce corporeal punishment on women simply for speaking, as a consequence for not acquiescing completely to an ideology.

All I can say is that I may very well be considered to be an evil witch. I know in my own heart that I have no ill-intent towards anyone, but I have no way of proving this. I have come to terms with that idea. I now take accusations against other people with a healthy pinch of skepticism - the way I would have wanted society to consider those accused of witchcraft in the past. I try to continually re-evaluate my own position and carefully examine evidence. Throughout all this I have only kept thinking it is important for the other "witches" to be able to have their opinions heard instead of calling for them to be burned at the stake.

Thanks MN for still allowing us to express ourselves. Special thanks to all the heretics, especially the ones who display so much courage and patience on a daily basis. I personally have come to see this moment in history as just the latest in a long line of outspoken women who are being outcast for daring to have an unorthodox point of view. Women still have voices, even though they may not get the respect that a man who is defending free speech might be afforded, or get any of the broad institutional support provided to some trans rights activists.

Perhaps it is considered uncouth for a woman to say that females are real and exist as their own category, unified by their sex. Humans cannot change their reproductive sex.
Females matter. Feminism was designed to help females.
Please keep talking.
And remember to practice your cackle!

OP posts:
Lucyinthewardrobe · 16/08/2018 05:07

Thanks heresy, excellent analysis of what’s going on here.

Bowlofbabelfish · 16/08/2018 07:07

Agree. One of the worst ones I read about the witchcraft trials was a guy who made advances to a young woman, she rebuffed him and he denounced her as a witch and tortured her himself to force a confession, resulting in several women as well as the young woman dying. It was used to settle scores and punish women.

We’ve never been able to say NO have we? Ever.

This is just the latest manifestation of the deeply rooted misogyny in society.

LazyTuesdayAfternoon · 16/08/2018 07:28

Completely agree.

There are a number of parallels.

scepticalwoman · 16/08/2018 07:50

So very true! Thank you.

IncrediblySturdyPyjamas · 16/08/2018 07:52

They have to demonise us, because otherwise people might listen.

And then where would we be?

PeakPants · 16/08/2018 08:39

Yes, it's very similar to the witch hunts. The very statement that 'women should be allowed to have spaces where only other natal women can be' used to be common sense and a matter of fact. Now it results in your employer being contacted and you being sent death threats online. It's absolutely disgusting.

I often find myself doubting what I think (because I am by nature quite insecure) because all I keep hearing is how horrible and hateful my views are. Then I keep reminding myself that, no, I do not hate anybody.

I am not like apartheid supporters because I do not want to segregate trans people from the rest of society. I don't want them to be discriminated against at work. I want them to live a safe and happy life.

I am not being hateful by saying women should have separate spaces. If that was the case, surely I would be hateful for wanting to exclude non-trans men as well? In history, nobody has ever labelled women hateful for wanting their own spaces. It has been dismissed as unnecessary or precious perhaps, but not hateful. So why is it now suddenly hate to want to keep what we fought for.

I am not being hateful when I say that trans people should have their own safe spaces and representation. I will even help them fight for those. Lily Madigan should be trans officer, not women's officer. It is not evil to say that trans people should have their own changing rooms and prison wings and sporting categories. They are valid in their own right as trans people. Trans women have different embodied experiences to natal women. Why should we pretend that they don't and that their experiences are identical (and then tell natal women that their embodied reality is irrelevant because it seems to suggest different experiences)? Who are we really helping?

Why are these woke people and their allies fixated on there being only two categories- male and female? Why can't we have a third category with its own spaces and representation? You claim to be enlightened, but you are silencing people.

I think there is panic setting in, hence the constant reference to hate where there has been no hate expressed. TRAs and allies, if they have a modicum of intelligence, KNOW that their ideology is as flimsy as a house of cards. It will topple at any time and they are desperately buying time by calling people bullies, haters and apartheid supporters.

I saw someone on twitter having a go at some of the feminist academics who have come out as gender-critical. This person thought these academics were just 'testing the water' and that in 6 months time they would come out as KKK members and white supremacists. REALLY? You think feminist academics who have devoted their lives to research and activism on human rights and philosophy are secretly hugely right-wing and hate all minorities? Yeah, sounds likely.

Ereshkigal · 16/08/2018 08:43

This person thought these academics were just 'testing the water' and that in 6 months time they would come out as KKK members and white supremacists.

These people (and agree there are many) have no sense of perspective, nuance or self awareness and can only see the world in a "current social justice causes are good, everyone against that bad" immature way. Social media by its ability to create echo chambers and block all opinions you don't like exacerbates this.

KatVonSweet · 16/08/2018 08:49

It's bizarre how acceptable this seems to be. This thread on pink news shocked me.

Witch hunts and gender-critical feminists
sociopathsunited · 16/08/2018 08:55

Agree wholeheartedly. Women are feared. Why? Clearly we are way more powerful than we realise, hence the campaigns to shut us up and imprison us in chains. I'm told, continually, that I'm "bossy". That I'm "too opinionated". That i get myself in a tizzy over things that don't matter. They do matter. They may not affect me, directly, but they matter. All these phrases are just scolds bridles in different form. Its always men who use them.

FinalDerision · 16/08/2018 08:57

Excellent piece, OP.

Thank you for posting it - it's reminded me of something I wrote years ago about 'hysteria' and womb-theory in the ancient world. I wonder if that would be a heresy at Goldsmiths today??

PronounIsWitch · 16/08/2018 09:19

I’ve just registered so I could delurk on another thread. I’m with the OP on this, hence my choice of user name.
What astounds me - or maybe it shouldn’t - is that witch hunts spanned 300 years.

Wrathofjurgenklop · 16/08/2018 09:32

Thankyou for this post.
I never knew that midwives were disproportionately accused of being witches. Of course with their knowledge of women and the female processes it is not surprising they were treated with suspicion by men in power.
I suspect we lost a great deal of wisdom and knowledge in the process, not just for childbirth and child rearing but also medicine, farming techniques and food preparation for the family.

Elders and the younger wise women had their path of transmitting their knowledge to a younger generation blocked.through fear of being accused.

It is hard to offer advice to a young mum for fear of being interfering/out of date/wrong, so we withdraw from speaking out.
Isn't this part of the same pattern?
Misogynists take advantage of younger women and save their worst for the older women.

Ereshkigal · 16/08/2018 09:44

^Isn't this part of the same pattern?
Misogynists take advantage of younger women and save their worst for the older women.^

Yes I think that's very true.

sociopathsunited · 16/08/2018 09:54

I think midwives were feared because the doctors (all male) had absolutely no chuffing clue about women's anatomy or what happens to a woman's body during pregnancy and labour. Instead of trying to learn from a mere woman, they instead wrote it all off as witchcraft.

Lets face it, most "witches" were the village wise-woman, someone with a knowledge of medicinal herbs and simple cures, a maker of salves, ointments, tinctures and herbal sleep and love potions.

Doctors didn't want to take on the patients that went to these women, because they were invariably female, or poor and wouldn't be able to pay for the stewed rats tails and bulls eyeballs that the doctors would prescribe. They didn't WANT those patients, but they didn't want anyone else treating them, either.

It all boils down to money, power and men's fear of anything they didn't understand. Not a lot has changed, I'd say.

IAmNotAntiWomen · 16/08/2018 10:16

Men jealous and outraged at women they see as inferior, who are better than men. Narc rage!

Tale as old as time.

Ereshkigal · 16/08/2018 10:19

It all boils down to money, power and men's fear of anything they didn't understand. Not a lot has changed, I'd say.

This. Most of them still don't have a clue about women's lives, issues and experiences.

Wrathofjurgenklop · 16/08/2018 10:19

Midwifery existed long, long before doctors exerted their power.
Nurturing existed long, before doctors exerted their power.

Women have been very successful at this because they are rather good at it.

Men in power have never liked this truth.

heresyandwitchcraft · 16/08/2018 10:22

They are valid in their own right as trans people. Trans women have different embodied experiences to natal women. Why should we pretend that they don't and that their experiences are identical (and then tell natal women that their embodied reality is irrelevant because it seems to suggest different experiences)? Who are we really helping?
Pencils, your whole post was well-written and thoughtful. Thank you.

For the record, there is apparently dispute over the midwives and witches link. I think the original theory comes from feminists, and because it ties in to how I see misogyny, I think it is very interesting. But I agree that there is an issue about the older female generation being hampered from sharing wisdom with the younger one, almost like a historical deep-seated dread of what will happen if you let women organize on our own and share experiences. I mean, we see this almost in the 3rd wave feminism/2nd wave feminism schism - where it is the radical feminists who get demonized. I do think there is a misogynistic fear of women generating the hatred in this debate. Perhaps this is why we cannot be left to our own devices?
And welcome PronounIsWitch Smile Thank you for reminding us that these trials lasted for centuries.

OP posts:
heresyandwitchcraft · 16/08/2018 10:23

Men in power have never liked this truth.


OP posts:
IAmNotAntiWomen · 16/08/2018 10:30

Most of them still don't have a clue about women's lives, issues and experiences.

How can they, everything is handed to them on a plate and they have male biology.

They can never understand having to run to just keep pace and female biology, it's never going to happen.

Males as a class tend to be lazy when it comes to household duties, they feel entitled to so much, they are not very empathetic and a third of them have criminal records.

Wrathofjurgenklop · 16/08/2018 10:37

As nurturers, women naturally show empathy to the trans debate.
We do understand.
We do have empathy.
We also want to protect our young from dangers and warn them of the lies and deceit they will encounter in their lives.

Alicethroughtheblackmirror · 16/08/2018 16:35

Sorry, witches were mentioned and like a spirit summoned by incantation up I pop. It is endlessly fascinating and disturbing.

I think with history one should always be wary of seeing too many parallels or using it to make a contemporary point. This is especially pertinent here as there have been arguments - with which I concur - that some feminist writers have exaggerated or misinterpreted the witch trial period. For example, some have grossly inflated the numbers killed in Europe into the millions (from more reasonable estimates of 50,000 to 100,000) while others seek to ascribe some organisation of quasi religious fertility cults of proto-feminists to the accused women. I suppose the former seeks to ramp up the misogyny at play (although there is no need!) and the latter gives agency back to the accused.

Having said that, I agree with Heresy's points and I'm going to make some more comparisons anyway!

The first interesting point about the sustained period of witch trials throughout Europe (sometimes referred to by the sensationalist term “witchcraze”) is that it was much later than many people believe - roughly the mid 16th to 18th century. It wasn't born of mediaeval superstition and cruelty (although, obviously there were prior incidences of witch trials). In fact, in the dark ages, St Boniface declared the belief unchristian and Charlemagne decreed execution for anyone burning witches. It's assumed that the witch trial period ended with the Enlightenment, but it wasn't that people suddenly become rational overnight - in fact the exercise of some pretty dark superstition took place simultaneously with the age of Newton, Locke, Hooke, Boyle, Harvey etc and the birth of what we would regard as science and medicine. The political theorist, Hobbes wrote scathing in Leviathan (1651) of those who believed in witches but other scholars were less keen to dismiss the belief - especially as it opened one to accusations of atheism. History is not all about progress and we can get complacent about it.

Why there was an explosion across Europe of trials is hard to pin down and there are, obviously, many causal factors but one thing common throughout Europe was the disruption of the religious order caused by reformation and counter-reformation. Interestingly, neither Protestants nor Catholics had a monopoly on how fervently they persecuted - although it varied from country to country and town to town. However, what is clear is that rulers and religious leaders had good cause to seek to impose ideological conformity and obedience (which obviously had political as well as religious significance as rulers were firmly allied to one faith or the other). Organised religion becomes increasingly patriarchal and dogmatic: peasant folk belief which had existed alongside religion, now becomes dissenting and heretical. There is also considerable unease amongst reformers like Knox as well as Popes and kings of the governance by women (Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine de Medici, Marie of Guise etc) which they felt upended God’s ordained hierarchy.

Somewhere in the region of 85% of accused witches were women. The men tended to be implicated because of a relationship with a woman rather than independently. Generally, they were of lower social class, but not always and, of course, women were instrumental in accusing others. For some, it will have been to cement a place in a patriarchal world by ‘proving’ loyalty - some will have acted for their husbands or fathers in paying off a dispute with a neighbour for example. For some it will have been protection - deflecting the attention onto a more vulnerable target. Some will actually have believed or would be searching for reasons for terrible events - a bereaved mother, for example, trying to blame someone for the death of a baby. All will have been conditioned by patriarchal powers to see themselves as lesser than their male interrogators.

I think it's interesting that today we have a period of rationality in which, nevertheless, we have an explosion in ludicrous anti-science conspiracy theories - some of which get official sanction from different political standpoints. We also have a breakdown of old orders: the uncertainties in the west of Brexit and Trump, the rise of ideologues, and assertions of articles of faith and feeling over evidence and experts. This belief is useful for all sides: the right get to alienate feminists from their natural supporters on the centre / left while the more misogynistic elements of the left get to assert a patriarchal narrative in the guise of being progressive. Women's progress is pushed back: the dissenter GC women are the witches but the ‘cool’ girls will also see their rights eroded as they hand the narrative back to the men to define and contain womanhood. Many of the women who sought to save themselves from witch trials by accusing others, ultimately came themselves to trial and, of course, by then events were out of hand.

I haven't even got on to the disturbing elements of sadism and prurient interest in the female body and the disturbing symbolism in some of the tortures etc. It speaks of the fascination and revulsion of the female that exists as well as the extreme misogyny and fear of women's sexuality. Some of it is horrific but interesting so I may be back later if anyone can stand it.

Ereshkigal · 16/08/2018 16:40

I know a fair amount but please do, Alice.

heresyandwitchcraft · 16/08/2018 17:07

Alice, Your writing is brilliant and the analysis is so interesting. I didn't express it properly, but that tension between the scientific and beliefs in things that cannot really be proven is a question I do wonder about in all of this. Thank you. I would love to read anything you post on this subject. I completely appreciate your caveat not to try and force any parallels here. I've always found particular historical events incredibly compelling, though, and features of them seem to speak to me on an almost primal level.
What is that phrase? "History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes."

OP posts:
Alicethroughtheblackmirror · 16/08/2018 17:35

Thank you Heresy! Yes, I find it bizarre that people who laugh at creationists or climate change denies will nevertheless believe in a gendered 'soul'. Cicero said that to be in ignorance of the past was to remain a child - I think there are definitely lessons. There are parallels with the way we've seen immigrants treated too: many of these women were the most marginalised and reviled, often living off charity. If you can see them as threatening and evil, it alleviates guilt for letting them suffer. I was thining about something else, so I'll be back!

Please create an account

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.