Stop Using “Witch” as an Insult!

Stop Using “Witch” as an Insult! January 12, 2018

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.

stop

 

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.

Witch Shaming

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.

end

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.

you say

“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:

“Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You.”

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?

proudwitch

 

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • The_Hybrid

    My name is Veda Christine Anderson.&…I’m a Witch !!!! I also have a Pg. the name 0f it is, Divine Spirits 0f the Sister~`Hood….& you can look @ it any~tyme you like, but to get 0n it ***u need to go on my Tool~Bar & click on it, Bye 4 now, Always, Veda

  • Spirit

    It takes a long time for people to wake up to the fact that their way isn’t the only way in the world. Discrimination will always be with us, but we have to be more visible and not tolerate this negative labeling.
    Whenever we see ‘witch’ being used as an insult, we must go into reporting mode. Call them out on their indiscretion.
    Maybe in another 100 years they will learn.

  • Sol Seeker

    Kind of a shame about the “neuroscience” article because it raised some good points otherwise. It would have been a great article if they had kept it classy!

  • Terry Washington

    Have you ever seen “Bewitched” or even “Charmed”?-one is NOT accustomed to thinking of witches as a put upon minority group- any more than vampires or werewolves!

  • Judgeforyourself37

    Yes, I have called an unkind, judgmental, mean woman a “witch,” while meaning to call her a #itch. I should have realized that Wiccan is a religion, and those who practice Wiccan are Witches, not the “evil spell” sort of witch that we read about in Fairy Tales, but those who worship nature, and the beauty around us.

  • Jessie Harrold

    Hi Cyndi. Thanks so much for your fulsome discourse around my use of the words “witchy types.” I appreciate the connection you make between witches as a minority population that has been systematically and systemically oppressed (and still is, despite the rise of what I would call “witchiness” in popular culture – see my explanation of that word below). I am the proud and direct descendent of one of Canada’s most famous witches, Mother Barnes – the Witch of Plum Hollow, and I have been growing a practice of my own for most of my life as well as navigating the controversy that came along with her craft, felt generations down the line in my family. I didn’t think the words “witchy types” was offensive when I wrote it, and I apologize for my ignorance. I know good intentions can still have negative impacts. Of interest, perhaps, though, is that I chose to write it that way in deference to and reverence for the actual practice of witchcraft and the title of witch, which I do not think applies to the “pop-culture approved” practice of cherry picking practices that are more socially acceptable – like “choice feminism,” as it applies to witches. Anyways, I appreciate your further thoughts on my words, and although I’m sorry for the offence they caused, I’m grateful that they inspired you to speak out about your beliefs and values.

  • Hi Jessie,
    Thanks for commenting on “Stop Using “Witch” as an Insult.”

    I thought your article on the neuroscience of ritual was well written. After I read it, I wrote to the Editor at The Coast, submitted a letter to the Editor and tried twice to comment on your article before I wrote “Stop Using “Witch” as an Insult!”

    Like I wrote in the blog, my perceived tone of your comments about witchiness motivated me to use it as an example of the derogatory manner that the word is often used in popular culture. The article has gotten some traction, so I think what I wrote resonated with others. In that way, perhaps you honor your ancestor.

    However, I do feel that there was an opportunity to honor her memory in your approach to the article on the neuroscience of ritual as well. You could have written something like, “Seems like those witches knew what they were doing…” rather than using what could be perceived as snide remarks.

    I hope that my blog – and your article unintentionally – help to open a dialogue about the larger problem of witch shaming. This seems to be happening with some of the feedback that I’ve looked at so far.

    There have also been multiple comments about using any derogatory terms, even in a joking way. In addition, lots of feedback has been about witches examining their own habits for using the “w” witch and the way they talk about others. These thoughtful commentators are demonstrating one of the core tenets of witchcraft: know yourself. In this regard, your unintentional put-downs definitely honored your grandmother.

    I agree with your opinion on “pop culture approved” versions of witchiness. I could write about how this applies to other marginalized groups as well, but I think you get it.

    As a teacher and writer in the modern witchcraft movement, my perspective on these things is probably different than yours.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment,

    Cyndi

  • Maureen Jones

    Thank you for your well written and very timely message. There is definitely a connection in all types of shaming. I am glad you brought that to the readers’ attentions. I like the way you pointed out that Witch and Woman Power is connected, and how the tides are shifting for a resurgence in both.

  • Thank you! Here’s to the shifting tide!

  • Shining Wolf

    Well, well, I see in the heat of stopping the use of the word witch as an insult, a hidden hypocrisy shows its’ face, its’ name is “sexist”. Yes, missy, a Witch is both male and female, if you would do a little research, and stop being sarcastic, ” and for the men who call themselves witches”. You need to raise the heat a little higher, and burn that sexist snear out of you.

  • Stefanie Sasinek-Roil

    It is true that many men and masculine folks proudly claim the title ‘witch’, and that there have been prominent and respected male witches at the front and center or the neopaganism movement since its resurgence. However, ‘witch’ as an insult and derogatory term remains a highly gendered insult. Acknowledging that and responding to its use as a way to deride women and the femininity associated with them does not make Cyndi a sexist. Furthermore, sexism is specifically a bigotry that enforces a cultural bias that disempowers women and things thought to be feminine, so the way you are trying to apply the term doesn’t work. Calling a man a witch AS an insult would be sexist, much like calling a man ‘girly’ or ‘ladylike’ AS an insult would be sexist. Focusing on the negative stereotype and harmful root of the word ‘witch’ in an historical context and pointing out that it is a gendered insult is not.

  • Exactly, Stefanie!
    Thanks!

    PS – I don’t reply to comments that don’t have an actual photo of the person, but thanks for doing this for me. Trolls hide behind anonymity.