“We are blessed as witches and cursed as women.”–Piper Halliwell (Charmed, “Just Harried” 3.15
2013 has been the year of the witch. Vampires and werewolves are over and now its time for one of the oldest and most historically rich mythical creature…the witch. For most of history, this creature has been powerful, evil and of course female. Though gender might have been but one of the many factors for the accusations and persecutions against individuals, it is most certainly one to keep in mind. When I was growing up I was and still am obsessed with the representations of these creatures in the media. I saw how they obtained, maintained and ruled with power. However, these ladies in television and film were just powerful there, on television…as mythical creatures! The male superheroes, on the other hand, were powerful in and out of the comics. However, as a more sophisticated media scholar, I can now appreciate such series as Charmed (1998-2006) and American Horror Story: Coven (2013-2014) as testaments to powerful female characters in the media, but I can also argue that their power is just as fictional as the show themselves. What do I mean by this? These series about witches where there’s an abundance of strong female presence with authority and strength is great but it does not represent real life. Can this monarchy only exist in fiction? Can females be heard without having to twitch their noses or saying a spell?
Witch series and other fantasy shows are an apparatus to female expression. Out of all the other genres, fantasy has been the most gracious when it comes to female characters. Sure, we have great characters in drama such as Law and Order SVU (1999-), The Good Wife (2009-), Scandal (2012-)and Homeland (2009-). However, fantasy shows like Once Upon a Time (2011), Witches of East End (2013-) are playgrounds for female actresses to explore and for female characters to be rich and dynamic. I’m much more terrified of Fiona from Coven than of Olivia Pope. Witch series give power to women by giving us a place to express ourselves and to play with power and authority; power and authority that we don’t have in real life. Trust me there are a lot of times in were I wish Piper Halliwell could vanquish the sexist pigs in government. Watching these series is a cathartic experience as a feminist because I feel like playing field is leveled and we girls have a chance!
Bewitched (1964- 1972) is an example of what would happen if we women did have these magical powers. Yes, Samantha, a powerful and smart witch is forced to live a double life because of her husband Darrin, whom she loves very much, prohibits her from using her magic. However, when she does, she uses it to help him! My favorite character is her mother Endora who is one of the earliest feminist characters!
This is the case with I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970)as well. Though these shows had a lot to do with the times in which they were being produced and shown, it still resonates with me today. It makes me feel of men who believed women, though educated, are better suited for the kitchen and children. Therefore, they promote this antiquated idea and steal their wives’ voice and power. The female smart is only put to the test when it comes to the matter of the household (for the man and children’s benefit) and not outside in the workforce.
Modern witches like the Halliwell sisters from Charmed and the feuding covens from American Horror, tend to not only depict the evolution of women’s rights and gender roles but also allow the idea of a monarchy to flourish. In both shows, the history is,” herstory.” Is female oriented and I love the fact that the power is passed on through the female gene. In Constance M. Burge’s Charmed, sisters Piper, Phoebe, Prue and Paige discover that they have are the prophesied most powerful witches of all time—the charmed ones. They fight demons in heels, while pregnant and even while on their periods! These unstoppable sisters are dynamic, intelligent and emotionally strong without compromising their femininity and humanity. They own their own business, are completely self-sufficient and never revolve their lives around a man. The show featured some feminist moments such as breast -feeding in public (The Bare Witch Project 7.2), the fear of losing your identity after marriage, (Lost and Bound 4.12) (this episode is a spoofed Bewitched) and the age-old battle of the sexes, (Battle of the Hexes 8.8.). These well-rounded characters represent the progressive women in society who juggle work, family life and sometimes a little extra like saving innocents.
Coven is the 3rd installment in Brian Murphy’s anthology series. The first two seasons featured a slew of unforgettable female characters lead by Jessica Lange, Connie Britton, Frances Conroy and many others. In the latest, fearsome witches and monarchs Fiona (Lange), Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) and Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) are extraordinary!Set in New Orleans the story follows the three witches and their century old feud. It also chronicles the lives of new witches Nan, Zoe, Madison and Queenie. One of my favorite scenes thus far takes place at the morgue were Madison and Zoe put together a guy by cutting and sewing up the best body pieces from other males. This reminded me of the scene in weird science when the male protagonist tries to make the “perfect” woman from an unrealistic, male-centric point of view. One of the many things this show has in common with Charmed is the way that these women do not need a man in their lives and when they do have one, it is them who end up saving the day and saving them. Remember that these are powerful, self-sufficient, intelligent women, not damsels in distress or housewives. Another aspect the series have an in common is the witch hunters and other males who try to steal the females’ magical power.
In Coven, Cordelia, the headmistress of the witch academy, is married to a man that she later finds out to be none other than a witch hunter. Hank, a mortal man, tricks and kills witches. And though this may be reaching, I see this as another way of suppressing female power. Not quite understand what witches are and condemning them as evil because of their abilities? Sounds like sexism to me.
Since patriarchy rules both the fantasy world with male superheroes and the real world with white, property-owning males, it is a breath of fresh air when I see these kinds of series. Though they are just a television show, we can’t forget that the media is a two-way mirror and though it reflects our time, it also helps shape it. Every time a powerful, intelligent coven of female witches, I think of another slot on television that is filled with the kinds of women we all aspire to be and not by another female stereotype or sexist commercial. The thirst for power and longing for their voices to be heard have lead women to appreciate and become that more fascinated by these female-driven television series.
Other notable female butt-kickers:
Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Hermione from Harry Potter
The witches from The Secret Circle
Bonnie Bennett from The Vampire Diaries
Shakespeare’s 3 Weird Sisters from Macbeth
The sisters from Witches of East End
The ladies from Eastwick
More on feminism and witches: Magical Feminism