Why were witches mostly female?

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osurpless | Middle School Teacher | In Training Educator

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The most important thing to establish about accusations of witchcraft is that the accused were not people with supernatural powers. Invariably, most of the accused were women because Puritanical societies feared the idea that women could develop beyond stringently defined gender roles. Women who stepped outside of those gender roles were seen as "troublemakers."

Although the role of the "troublemaker" or the "rebel" has been common throughout human civilization, the consequences in this time period were quite high given the relative nature of the “crime” and the supposedly civil time of history in which many trials occurred:

Women were accused of practicing witchcraft due primarily to religious, medical, economic, and sexual reasons. Examined closely, the witch persecutions of both Europe and New England show a hidden agenda dedicated to the total suppression of female power.

Female empowerment is an inherently dangerous idea to a tenuous power system. Suppression is easier to justify than equal rights, and it is definitely beneficial for those in positions of power. Oppression of those different from you (perceived or otherwise) is one of the most constant themes in history, and the sociological aspects don’t always line up, as those accused could be young, old, rich, or poor. Perhaps the only common theme is an escalation of events (perhaps even over several years). The psychology inherent is fascinating indeed.

While this well-established reality lined up with the facts, another likelihood is what is frequently observable in historical studies--that of a “boring” answer. This is when the truth does not necessarily involve conspiracies of men and people, a short-term goal or long-term plan for the accusation, or plainly any reason beyond the desire to undermine an individual or group. In the case of witchcraft, it happened because people wanted simply to explain the supernatural and the circumstances (especially as we move toward the Modern Era) didn’t speak of divine intervention or similar. In this, it is very similar to modern conspiracy theories, like the Moon Landing or Bigfoot. There is something inherent to the human mind and its curiosity for explanation that unfortunately leads it to over-complicate matters; we sometimes weave elaborate tales for a twisted sense of satisfaction. Like many things, this would be harmless, if it were not for the people harmed from the very real punishment and misery that resulted from such blame. But examining that is a topic for perhaps a much more elaborate paper.

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