“All women as the “daughters of Eve” were allegedly more prone to sin. This sinfulness, in view of their closeness to nature, could well show itself in the perversion of nature” (Becoming Visible, pg. 192). This was generally the view civilians shared in regards to the female gender, especially during the 16th-17th century, when witchcraft craze was at its all time high. Another example being, Kramer and Sprenger wrote that, in connection with other problems, women had “an insatiable carnal desire and an immoderate lust for power, which led them to enter into compacts with the Devil” (Becoming Visible, pg. 93). With such a strong stance it was impossible for the witch hunts and trials to not have been misogynistic. Those arguing against the witch hunts being misogynist often use the excuses of it being more focused on socioeconomic status, political and religious reasoning and age influenced. And even then, when factoring everything in, evidence leading back to misogyny is overwhelming. Whether the women were accused of being witches for their socioeconomic status, age, behavior or religion, one thing’s for sure, it was almost always women.
During the witch hunts it is true that men, too, were accused of witchcraft along with women. What sets them apart was the treatment accused women received in comparison to men. For now, one of the most acceptable numbers of accused witches is around 60,000, with 80% being women and 85% of the executed also being women; many believing it to be a lot higher. According to “Were the Witch-Hunts in Premodern Europe Misogynist”, many records omit the deaths of women who were starved to death in prisons, with many others murdered while imprisoned with their deaths being blamed on demonic interventions.
Once accused, the women faced degrading sexual treatments, often being stripped naked while their entire body was violently searched for “the mark of the devil”, with the mark being anything from an oversized birthmark to the formation of their genitalia. And overwhelming amount of accused women were executed without a fair trial. In some cases, usually further south in Europe, women weren’t even allowed to know who was responsible for bringing forth the charge against them. The accused women were always stripped of their belongings and possessions.
And very few were granted freedom; the few that were, were judged and mistrusted by society; their lives ruined. It is also important to mention, often times imprisoned women were tortured for a confession. Under such circumstances, it’s in human nature to say whatever is needed to end the pain. Comparing women’s treatment to that of imprisoned men—many men would receive lighter sentences even when accused of the same crime as the women. At the time, laws also favored men over female when dealing with the death penalty of prepubescent witches.
For men, the legal age was twenty-one, as opposed to eighteen for females. Some men could buy their way out, as the famous French case involving a priest and his mistress proved. The priest was able, through the power of money and influence from powerful friends, go free without any consequences, meanwhile the women was burned to death. Other times, men convicted of being witches were only convicted because of their connections—be it their mother, grandmother, sister, etc. —to the woman already accused of it.
And finally, many accused men were already criminals—accused of adultery, robberies, and so on—to begin with, with the witch accusations only later being added on. “For them, witchcraft was not the original charge, but was added on to make the initial accusation more heinous. ” (Where the Witch-Hunts…Misogynistic, pg. 202) Generally, men were accused of witchcraft solely because it was believed they could be witches; women were. Many like to argue that the hunts weren’t misogynistic, but rather class related.
But when observing who was mostly accused and executed, under class related premise, the majority was women. The popular opinion was: older, poor women were a hassle on the economy of the already strained society. Unlike men, older, poor women were viewed, by both sexes, as worthless and useless in terms of benefitting society because they could no longer bear children, were dependant on the help of others, too weak to do manual labor, and “like domestic animals, past their usefulness. ” (Were the Witch-Hunt…Misogynist? Pg. 206).
In same article, Barbara Walker writes, “The old woman was an ideal scapegoat: too expendable to be missed, too weak to fight back, too poor to matter. ” (Pg. 206). Quiet often, these women were ratted out by their very own neighbors—who often happen to be females themselves. During the witch hunts there wasn’t much “feminine solidarity” going on, and women did turn on each other. In such cases, when neighbors would accuse their less fortunate neighbors of sorcery, it was out of self-interest to further their own social positions.
Meaning, in France, for instance, accusers in the village were often the ones slightly better off financially and educationally than the accused. They may have identified with the new reforms of the central government, and believed working with the authorities could be “a way up in the world. ” Other times, the poor would gang up on the rich women in society, some believe for retaliation purposes. This occurred further towards the end when the majority of typical, poor women were rid of. In other instances, men did the same to bring down their competition through the men’s wives.
Women of great temperament, and again, age, also suffered greatly. In a misogynistic manner, women back then did not possess the same rights of expressing their opinions, feelings and emotions as men. The women who’d talk back unapologetically to men, their neighbors, ministers, what have you, were looked down upon. It was far too convenient for the conservative society, especially for men, to silence those women by simply accusing them of sorcery. One great example of this is the story of Marguerite Carlier.
She was a married, mother of three. Her flaw being—she was a proud, opinionated woman. Because of this she was accused of killing animals. There was absolutely no proof of such actions, and even under torture she did not give in, and yet during her trial, which she willingly participated in, well respected men from her town all testified against her. Later they admitted the real reason they testified against her was because of their fear against her character. They believed she was against them, all because she was a female with an opinion.
No man would have been arrested and tried for possessing such qualities. Many other older women were very prone to scolding, which also played against them, for back in the day for a female to find a fault in anything and talk about it was an inconceivable thought. Men also feared older women’s way with words. One example being, John Metcalf of Leeds, England, fussing over a woman by the name of Anne Dixon for “cursing him”. And last but not least, some women were accused of witchcraft simply because of their tendencies of talking about their marriages, if it be a negative one.
They were accused of being “traitors” to their husbands. Because this time period was becoming increasingly patriarchal, women’s roles and rights, or lack of, were shrinking even greater. So not even speaking out was allowed. Such outspoken women were deemed as shrews and suspected of being witches. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, religion was a big factor and everyone’s lives. Through the beliefs of the Bible, many things, especially in terms of women and their positions were all connected back to the holy book and, more mportantly, the Devil. This belief helped warp the notion that women were witches by selling out to the Devil. After Pope Innocent VIII spoke of dangers witches feigned for Christianity, he had two Dominican friars, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, compile a “method of proceeding” that would deal with this sort of women. It is important to emphasize that the Pope and the friars already based their work and trying such women based of ‘The Hammer of Witches, which incidentally mentioned only women and not both men and women.
Kramer and Sprenger went on to quote most intense classical and biblical slander of women. In their eyes, women possessed greedy desires and a great lust for power and because of that, it led them to unite with the devil. During this period, an increasing amount of men from high class positions began believing it to be credible that witches, again, mostly women and not met, “carried out some of the most horrific crimes that settled humanity,” (Becoming Visible, pg. 192) the like of, murdering infants, “forming compacts with the Devil,” and entering into orgies that included incest.
Such views on women spread rather quickly and made it impossible for women accused of being witches to ever be given a fair trial or not be viewed as monsters by the public. The men, however, did not experience such bias conditions. It is safe to say, witch hunts in Premodern Europe were in fact very misogynistic. Accusations towards men were few and far in between, with most accused being accused for the wrong reasons in the first place, mostly of preexisting criminal records or connections to accused females. In this time period, misogyny was incorporated into every aspect of life.
It is only natural for it to have had a great influence during the witch hunts. Despite there being other contributing factors for witch hunts—like socioeconomic statuses, religion, politics and age—fact remains, the common denominator was always women. The female gender suffered enormously and unjustly during this era mostly because of their gender. The popular opinion of both sexes was the belief that witchcraft was primarily a female offence. It is without a doubt that misogyny was the main force behind the witch hunt and trials operation that destroyed the lives of many innocent women.
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