HuffPost Her Stories: Witch Hunts Are Back — And Now They’re Targeting Female Activists

Dear readers,

This weekend, Halloween revelers around the world will be celebrating in the streets, and among the crowds of extravagant ensembles, you’ll inevitably find the ubiquitous costume favorite: witches. Pop culture has often portrayed the mythical beings with green skin, flying broomsticks or black cats. Whether they bring fright, mischief or terror, they are almost always up to no good, and they are almost always women.

But does imagery framing witches as villains hide a history of persecution that has implications for our present? Italian-American historian and feminist scholar Silvia Federici thinks so.

The critically acclaimed author sat down with HuffPost Brazil’s Andrea Martinelli to talk about her latest book, “Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women,” which traces contemporary patterns of violence against women to the witch hunts in 16th- and 17th-century Europe and the “New World.”

“Personally, I changed my view about Halloween celebrations and the association of the witch’s image after reading Silvia Federici’s work,” says Andrea, who pointed out that the Brazilian publication of Federici’s groundbreaking work “Caliban and the Witch” caused a stir in the feminist community for highlighting the rights of domestic workers —a controversial topic for some in the middle class — and for asserting the oppression of women is essential to capitalism and colonialism. 

Today, Federici sees new witch hunts in the high rates of femicide and violence against women in the world, particularly those who have been labeled “new witches,” women at the forefront of social justice and environmental struggles like Afro-Brazilian feminist Marielle Franco and indigenous leader Berta Caceres. Andrea says this idea is especially relevant for Brazil and Latin America, which has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, according to the United Nations.

“I think she’s one of the few white philosophers who puts a lens on the issue of race and class in her work, which is fundamental to thinking about feminist issues,” Andrea said, adding that the historian emphasizes the role of women’s organizations in reacting to state and societal violence.

“The best way to respond to this violence is really for women to organize, mobilize, create forms of mutual support, forms of connection, forms of reproduction that are more cooperative in overcoming the isolation in which the women were forced to live,” Federici tells HuffPost Brazil.

While society continues to portray witches as the bad guys, Federici’s work helps us understand that witches may not be the ones we need to fear. Maybe these new witches, women leading social and environmental justice movements, are the ones we need to listen to the most.

Thanks for reading,

Follow Andrea Martinelli (@deamartinelli) for more stories about feminism and women and LGBTQ rights in Brazil.

 U.S Representative Katie Hill (D- Calif.) speaking at a press event with House Democrats on the first 200 days of the 1

 U.S Representative Katie Hill (D- Calif.) speaking at a press event with House Democrats on the first 200 days of the 116th Congress, on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

Last week, U.S. Rep. Katie Hill was targeted by a conservative news site that published nude photos of the congresswoman along with accusations of extramarital affairs with a campaign aide and a staffer. After days of public sexual shaming, she responded on Thursday, taking aim at a misogynistic political culture and President Donald Trump, a man accused of numerous sexual assaults. In an op-ed for HuffPost U.K., Tara O’Reilly, who works for a group of members of Parliament, highlights the double standard around indiscretions in politics, pointing out that men’s behavior is often overlooked. And senior reporter Melissa Jeltsen dives deeper, writing for HuffPost U.S. that in many states, sharing the freshman representative’s nude photos would be illegal under “revenge porn” statutes.

MP Candice Bergen

MP Candice Bergen

Canada set a new record for the most female members of Parliament after its recent federal elections. But while some have celebrated the achievement, advocates for women are pointing out that more representation does not necessarily mean more rights, even when the candidates brand themselves as champions for women. Lauren Messervey writes for HuffPost Canada that “simply being a female MP doesn’t automatically make one a feminist, nor does voting for a woman MP necessarily further gender equality.” Messervey points out that a number of female MPs elected have backed anti-abortion positions.

In Case You Missed It…