Witch hunts never stopped – now they're online - Laura Bates says | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

23 March, Saturday


Witch hunts never stopped – now they're online - Laura Bates says

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If you were tried for witchcraft in early modern Scotland, one of the surest ways to be convicted was to confess. Of course, you didn’t need to confess to being convicted, and a confession wasn’t always voluntary. This problem led to a practice called “waking the witch”: a form of torture that involved depriving the accused of sleep for days on end, until they were so exhausted they would hallucinate and babble incoherently. These “ravings” would often later be used as evidence of guilt.

It sounds barbaric and antiquated: accusing a woman of being strange and unnatural, driving her mad with constant prodding, depriving her of sleep. But it also sounds chillingly familiar. I was reminded of a teenage girl I had recently met who, after an incident involving a boy at her school had gone viral on social media, began being bombarded with abuse by her peers. They called her a slut and a slag on multiple internet platforms. They shared embarrassing photographs of her, while forever escalating rumours started to spread. But unlike my own adolescence, when some escape from school could always be found at home, this young woman’s life had become a prison of endless abuse. The alerts and notifications pinged directly to her phone, vibrating through the night, causing her to become more and more panicked as sleep deprivation set in. Having initially rejected the labels others were assigned to her, she started to fear that they were right. It’s hard to hold on to who you are when dozens of people are telling you that you’re worthless. Does this sound like an exaggeration? For thousands of teenage girls across the UK, it isn’t.

As I dug deeper, uncovering the details of individual trials, I was struck by the similarities between the women then and the virtual witch hunts young women are going through today. “Dunking”, where a woman was submerged in water as either punishment for being a “scold” or to ascertain her guilt in a case of witchcraft, reminded me of the girls I meet now who find themselves trapped between two bad outcomes. Like being put under enormous pressure to share nude photographs, then rejected for being frigid if they refuse or castigated as sluts when they relent.

Many trials – like the memorable case of the woman accused of cursing a man by giving him a permanent erection – suggested that women’s feminine wiles gave them unfair control over men, whose own sexual behaviour was framed as involuntary. I read the stories on train journeys, on my way to school visits where I would meet girls who had been punished for school dress-code violations, who were told that the sight of their shoulders, knees or bra straps was unfair to male teachers or risked distracting the boys. I heard from girls who had been sexually harassed or even assaulted by boys at school, groped and upskirted as they climbed stairs between lessons. In some cases, their predominantly male supervisors’ only answer was “boys will be boys”, with any blame placed on their own dress or behaviour.

The parallels kept mounting. Women accused of being somehow inherently dangerous and powerful. Their bodies blamed for causing innocent men to behave in ways they could not control. Punished and shamed for their sexuality, their guilt determined and punishment executed by groups of powerful men.

And even today, young women who dare to call themselves feminists risk attracting the same label: witch.

I wanted to give a voice to the girls whose stories still aren’t being heard, whose accusations are so often disbelieved and whose bodies are blamed for their own injuries. I wanted to remember the women whose voices have been lost to history, never allowed to speak out or record their own version of events. And most of all, I wanted the opportunity to say: Look! This isn’t a new story. It’s not a modern invention or a problem created by the internet. It won’t go away on its own unless we do something to change it. These stories span four centuries. These stories are the same.

The Guardian

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