It’s perfectly acceptable to use the word “witch” as an insult in our society. While this might seem like a rather trivial annoyance, it’s actually a symptom of the bigger problem of witch shaming that’s part of the huge problem of the fear of female power. Join me in being a proud witch who doesn’t put up with any of it.
My Personal Tipping Point
There are times when a tipping point is reached. Early this morning while I was drinking my coffee and perusing the internet, I reached this point. I hope you have, too.
A friend had shared an article called “The Neuroscience of Ritual” that appeared on a local newspaper’s website. The Coast prides itself on being a progressive media outlet. The sort of publication that believes its free of offensive language aimed at minorities. Except when it comes to talking about witches. In the article, the author makes multiple slurs against us “witchy types.” It seems that The Coast thinks it fine to insult witches.
No. It’s not.
A Witch By Any Other Name
A good rule when using a term to describe a group is to insert a term with a similar tone representing another minority. In this case, if the author had replaced her derogatory comments with a negative term about racialized people or those who don’t identify as heteronormative, there’s no way that her editor would have allowed it.
I wish this was a rare example of witch shaming. Unfortunately, it’s everywhere. Women are called “witch” to indicate that they are horrible people. When it comes to talking about women who identify as witches, it’s common to see them defined as flaky, unstable, and mentally defective. Then there’s the “comical” images of witches as hags, child eaters, and devil worshipers.
These insults can’t be dismissed because they harken back to a time when being a witch was a risky business for a woman. Witches have been reviled throughout history. The fear of female empowerment fueled the infamous witch hunts of the past. Around the world witches are still tortured and murdered in countries in Africa and in Papua, New Guinea. New research has found that Chinese women identified as “witches” are ostracized and suffer from related social problems.
The Fear of the Witch
I realize that women suspected of practicing witchcraft are no longer burned or drowned in the western world. However, there is still a cultural acceptance of insulting witches in a variety of ways. I mentioned a few of those in the last paragraph, but it’s more pervasive than name calling and “funny” cartoons. In popular media, witches are often portrayed along the same harmful stereotypes that have existed for centuries. These negative portrayals are an extension of the past hatred towards witches. The fear of the witch is a current in our society that leaks out as derogatory comments, insults and hurtful images. It is a symptom of a certain segment of the population’s rigid adherence to sexist, racist and homophobic beliefs.
Putting an End to Hateful Language
We’ve come along way in the western world in terms of no longer accepting slurs against racial minorities and the LGBTQ2 community, at least in public discourse. Even derogatory comments about female attributes like the “dumb blond” steroetype have diminished in popular use. It’s time to stop using “witch” in a derogatory way. This goes far beyond reclaiming the word witch as a personal label, it’s about putting an end to hateful language. That’s the only way to end witch shaming, witch violence, and the fear of female power.
“I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You”
In these days of the “Me, too” movement, I can feel the winds of change. The old ways of talking about and treating women are falling away. Women are standing in their power. Most men are right here beside us. When Harvey Weinstein called the charges against him a “witch hunt,” columnist Lindy West replied by saying:
While speaking out against sexualized violence may seem more important than stopping people from using “witch” as an insult, both forms of activism are on the same continuum of demolishing the patriarchal system that has harmed all women (including witches) for so long. We need to hunt out all sources of discrimination. Language is an important indicator of these biases. No better example can be found in how the word “witch” is used. It’s time to hunt down those who use derogatory language towards witches. For all you men out there who call yourselves “witch,” when you chose the title you acquired the history and assumed the responsibility that comes with it. This is your hunt, too.
“Witch” is Not a Joke, Either
At the risk of sounding uptight, I’m adding this for consideration. Is it okay to use the word “witch” as an inside joke by members of the pagan community? I’ve certainly made jokes and sarcastic remarks about my own witchiness and that of my friends. I know that marginalized groups sometimes reclaim derogatory labels as a demonstration of power. I can think of examples in the African American and LGBTQ2 communities. Is there a point when a joke goes too far? That it impedes our public image and lessens our ability to be taken seriously? I don’t think we’re at a time when we should be making ourselves look silly in the public, given the mainstreaming of paganism and the rise of the witch aesthetic in popularity. This is an important time for the modern witchcraft movement, let’s not look foolish.
The Power of the Witch
After I read that article, I suddenly realized that the modern witchcraft movement is not to be trifled because we are a powerful group. Throughout the past few decades, women have been using the word “witch” as as a positive, powerful descriptor. Women dressed as witches have been active in protests for various causes, most recently supporting the pro-choice movement. Witchiness is becoming a sign of strength. It’s time to turn our strength to stopping the use and acceptance of the word “witch” as an insult.
We are witches, we are powerful, and we are proud. As part of the pagan community, we are a fast growing segment of the population with increasing financial and political power. It’s time to use it.
I’m committed to calling out those who use “witch” in a derisive way. I’m not just going to reclaim the word witch as a positive term, I’m going to be proud to call myself one and speak out against those who use hateful language towards us. Will you join me?