Witches in the media
It is obvious that media has its fair share of depicting both “good” and “evil” witches, which for arguments sake, we can align with these positive, feminist witches and the outdated satanic witches respectively. The Wizard of Oz is a shining example. The wicked witch of the west is the textbook definition of the witch-hag, an ill-willed ugly woman hell-bent on destroying this child. Glinda the good witch is a mythical Miss America that wants to protect Dorothy. We reach yet another binary where the wicked witch is the anti-mother and Glinda is the idealized mother. To think that Glinda isn’t any less objectified is just wrong. While the wicked witch may be demonized, Glinda is defined by the male standard of female beauty with her blonde hair and hourglass body, and her sole purpose is to be the child tender. Where is the transgression in that?
This is the case for many positive witches in the media. To take a deeper look at our beloved Charmed, we reach similar red flags. For instance, the sisters derive their power from the domestic sphere since the Halliwell manor itself was built on magical grounds. In addition, the most progressive of the sisters, Pru (in that she did not strive for marriage and children), was killed off. We find that these women may exhibit feminist agency through their extraordinary abilities and fighting against the bad guys, but they still very much contribute to patriarchal institutions of compulsive motherhood and domesticity. While there is nothing wrong with these things if women desire them, it is not redefining traditional roles. A quick look at the telekinetic witch, Carrie, is a popular example of a story that features a feminist witch that isn’t as feminist as we think.
If you have neither read Stephen King’s Carrie nor watched Brian de Palma’s film version, then I highly recommend you do; they are both exhilarating and heart wrenching depictions of this fictional witch’s narrative. What is so interesting about this story is that we see on the surface a teenage girl with such sheer power. This power itself can be read as a feminist protest against the conception that all women are weak willed and delicate. She destroys her classmates at the high school prom with such ease, and surprisingly, we are here for it!
Carrie has been bullied to the extreme her entire life, and by the time we reach the prom, our hearts are gutted as we know her inevitable fate. A bucket of pig’s blood will be dumped on her as she accepts her award as prom queen. When Carrie destroys her tormentors we see it as symbolic of dismantling the establishment (one that objectifies women). As a result, we are satisfied by something so perverse as the slaughtering of hundreds of technically innocent young people.
But a more detailed look at Carrie as a character proves that her witchlike power is not as feminist as we think. Carrie’s powers arrive with the onset of puberty, particularly her first menstrual cycle. Her period is a foreshadowing of the terror to come later in the film. (It is not an accident that her wrath was unleashed when a bucket of blood was poured all over her). However, more importantly, it is her period that immediately links her dangerous capabilities as a byproduct of her female biology. An excerpt from the book even explains that the gene for telekinetic power is distinctly linked to women:
“The telekinetic, or TK gene, produces female Typhoid Marys capable of destroying almost at will . . .”from Carrie by Stephen King