No, there is no witch hunt against powerful men

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tags: sexual harassment, witch hunt, Harvey Weinstein



Michelle D. Brock is an assistant professor of history at Washington & Lee University and the author of “Satan and the Scots: The Devil in Post-Reformation Scotland, c. 1560-1700.”  Thumbnail Image -  By David Shankbone - Own work, CC BY 3.0

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... Americans have used the term “witch hunt” to describe unjust socially and politically motivated investigations for at least a century.

The label grew popular in the 1930s as a way to describe the Stalinist purges of dissenters in the Soviet Union. In the 1950s, the term gained wider currency amid the feverish hearings and general paranoia of the McCarthy era. The term came back into vogue 30 years later, during the frenzied search for demonically motivated child abusers during the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s.

In short, the “witch hunt” has long held an evocative place in this country’s political and cultural discourse.

Yet this modern usage should not obscure the much older and darker reality behind the “witch hunt” label. Thanks to Arthur Miller’s 1953 play “The Crucible,” many Americans know that the term derives its historical inspiration from the Salem witch trials, when upward of 200 individuals were accused of practicing demonic witchcraft. Nineteen were hanged, one was pressed to death and four died in prison.

But witch hunts were not unique to the American colonies. In 16th- and 17th-century Europe, over 100,000 people were officially tried for witchcraft. Approximately half were executed at the stake or by the noose, sentenced to death for an imagined crime.

These witch hunts were, at their core, expressions of power and fear orchestrated by the church, the state and the social hierarchy that dominated their society. While some of the accused may have dabbled in folk medicine and magic deemed illegal by Catholic and Protestant leaders, none engaged in the demonic conspiracy to overthrow Christendom envisaged by authorities.

As historians have long acknowledged, the vast majority — around 80 percent overall — of those accused of witchcraft were women. Yes, there were male witches, but often these were men who did not meet prescribed norms and expectations of masculinity within a patriarchal society. Witch-hunting was, therefore, closely related to sex, if not solely determined by it. Ideas about female carnality, weakness and susceptibility to Satan — inspired by a potent combination of Scripture and social hierarchy — informed much of the motivation for and rhetoric surrounding the witch hunts.

More often than not, it was women who paid the price. ...




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