WGC Hosts Event to Discuss the Implications of the Portrayals of Witches
Issue   |   Wed, 10/19/2016 - 00:36
Popular culture has given rise to a variety of witch identities.

Witches, though fictitious, evolve like any other creature. In the modern day, witches can be imagined in multifarious depictions, from maiden to mother to crone, from evil to good neutral. Many of the modern portrayals are a far cry from the one-dimensional, nefarious witches of the 16th and 17th centuries, which were conjured from fear-ridden imaginations and projected upon innocent people. In the Women’s and Gender Center’s second installment of the “Talk Back Series” titled “Witches in Halloween,” attendees were asked to contemplate the characterization and identity of witches within four different pop culture staples: “Twitches,” “Hocus Pocus,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

Through these sources came a dialogue about society’s attitudes towards the aging woman, how feminine strength is defined and viewed over time, sexuality and finally, the cross section between witches and racial identity. The development of complexity in the personalities and backstories was noted in works such as in the 2014 film “Maleficent” and the beloved musical “Wicked,” which lends a sympathetic and humanistic quality to witches, which they were deprived of during the early witch crazes. The discussion involved correlation between the benevolence and power of a witch and their looks and age, with the “younger, sexy” witches of works such as the television series “Charmed,” as well as cultural differences in the attitudes to witches with material such as Hayao Miyazaki’s films “Spirited Away” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”

Despite the evident empowering of and fondness for witches that started in the late 90’s and is still evolving today, the idea of an empowered, good witch is still dominated by the figure of a white witch. When asked to discuss the intersectionality between the character of the witch and racial identity, it was clear to discussants that representation of people of color is severely lacking in this recent movement of lovable and powerful witches. Even now, media associates black women with ideas of Voodoo, which in and of itself is consistently cast in a negative and misconstrued light. The racism that makes this connection and obscures religious tradition of voodoo into horror often excludes black women from this movement, if they are even represented at all.

The witch is a figure laden with heavy topics, as it is a figure reflective of a society’s attitudes in regards to women in particular. The Women’s and Gender Center facilitated a comfortable and safe location for this dialogue to take place where all voices were welcomed and respected. In this space, we watched the image of the witch transfigure. And what is more true to Halloween fashion than transformation?