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Witch' tweets reflect society's fear of older women

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  • Witch' tweets reflect society's fear of older women

    So wrote Mary Beard in the Guardian back in February this year.

    Beard, who is professor of classics at the University of Cambridge and the presenter of BBC Two’s Inside Culture, drew a parallel between witch trials of the past and the kind of online abuse she receives now.

    Writing in this week’s Radio Times, she said: “Throughout many periods of history in the west there has been a real worry about what you do with women who are past their childbearing years. As I can confirm, women with long grey hair can make people anxious.

    “In the ancient Greek and the ancient Roman world they worried that old women were sexual predators. We’ve inherited many of their anxieties and these still fuel the insults some men throw at women today. I know that well, as I have frequently been called a witch on Twitter.”


    We all know what used to happen to witches and for centuries the charge of witchcraft was used to disempower and punish what seemed to be the threat of women in society. There was a fear of female agency, a fear of women communing with a supernatural world where – perish the thought! – the patriarchy was not fully in place and, perhaps most profoundly, a fear of older women.”

    She suggested that older women should use their power to unnerve patriarchal societies. “Instead of the accusation of witchcraft being used to put women down, perhaps women can use the power of witchcraft for themselves. I may not talk to the dead, but that is something I really could believe.”

    Beard has long spoken out against the vitriolic abuse she frequently receives when she appears on BBC One’s Question Time. When it first happened in 2013, she said it showed classic signs of playground bullying. Writing on her blog, A Don’s Life, she said: “It would be quite enough to put many women off appearing in public, contributing to political debate.

    It is certainly odd that men [and it generally is men] use this term as a pejorative towards [generally] older women considering that it is a somewhat archaic term of abuse.

    Or does it hint at something deeper in the male psyche? The use of the term "witch" with all the connotations of magic and the dark arts perhaps harks back to a very deep fear of women and their ability to bleed without dying, and of course, their "magic" ability to conceive and produce children. We cannot assume that in very early societies men immediately made the connection between having sex and their partner [something done fairly frequently] and then the woman suddenly conceiving.

    All credit to Prof. Beard for confronting her abusers online, prompting at least one to apologise and take her to lunch!
    "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful" Attrib. Seneca 4 BCE - 65 CE

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