Throughout history, gender issues and the patriarchal society in which we live have created conversation and social change. Fourth Wave is meant to address the issues and topics most pertinent to modern feminism. In today’s culture, with everything being posted on social media and talked about world-wide, women’s rights issues are unavoidable. Pieces from our past that have been brought forward coupled with rising tensions, have led to the fourth wave of feminism. This column will attempt to make sense of the never-ending and controversial discussions over feminism as well as the effect the long-running patriarchal culture has on everyday life.
In honor of Women’s History Month, which lasts the entire month of March, I wanted to revisit a tragic and fascinating piece of history, the Salem Witch Trials. More importantly, I will focus on how we can learn from what happened.
According to the History Channel website, the spring of 1692 saw a group of young girls claim to be possessed by the devil. They accused several local women of witchcraft and as the cause of their convulsions and violent outburst. The town quickly latched onto the idea of witches and wasted no time in causing mass hysteria. The first three women accused were Tituba, the Caribbean slave of the family of one of the “possessed” girls, Sarah Good, who was homeless and the poor, and an elderly named Sarah Osborn. Of the three women, Tituba confessed, and even named others.
Why would she confess? As we know, she was not guilty. She was not a witch. She was a woman with no options. She was a woman in fear. She was being treated as something other than human. Many others in fear followed suit, falsely confessing and giving the names of other “witches”.
The town of Salem eventually realized that they acted unlawfully in the prosecution and execution of suspected witches. Town leaders attempted to restore the good name of the accused and dead, and offered restitution to heirs, but the trials still linger over the town and American history.
As we are bombarded daily with news of hurt, injustice and fear, there is something important to take away from the Salem Witch Trials. There are no real witch hunts, sure, but there are women who live in fear. There are women who feel so shunned by society that they have no options. Without support, these women are likely to sink deeper into their troubles and circumstance.
In 2016, one in eight women lived in poverty according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) website. These numbers were higher for Black women, at 21.4 percent, Native women at 22.8 percent, and Latina women 18.7 percent. Single mothers were 5.4 times more likely to live in poverty than married couples.
Women in poverty, and women on welfare, especially when they are taking care of children, face harsher criticism from society. They live tough, sometimes unmanageable lives, while those in power and privilege turn their backs on them. When these women resort to desperate measures to provide for themselves and those who depend on them, they are met only with words of hate and exile.
One of the biggest criticisms of modern feminism is that it puts the needs of privileged white women at the front of its movement. This is not entirely false. Public calls for action, and the faces of these movements are often beautiful white actresses. They ignore the true need.
People are not exposed to the real effects of patriarchal society. Women are robbed of their dignity daily. Women are exploited daily. Women hit rock bottom daily. They are ignored daily. Modern feminism is more than another restatement of old issues. It is a call to rebuild from the ground up, or at least it should be. It is time that women in fear, in situations that only worsen when they are treated as unequal, get the support they deserve. They should not be blamed. They are not guilty. They are human.