I’ve been accused of being on a witch hunt before. The same is probably true for pretty much any feminist who ever dares to point out that multiple men have demonstrated bad gendered behavior. Apparently, we’re limited to one observation per lifetime, or something like that.
It’s happening again, of course, because I wrote up a post about a dirty little secret that Jen let slip about some powerful men in the atheist community. I somehow managed to shock people at the same time other people were minimizing the problem by pointing out that it’s ubiquitous in society. For that, I get people asking whether anyone has read The Crucible (hint: I went to public schools), and am on the receiving end of utter malicious nonsense. I am, once again, supposedly on a witch hunt. This time, though, I can kind of see their point…
…if their point is that they have no historical knowledge of the topic and fail miserably at the art of analogy.
Let’s start with the balance of power. Who were the persecutors in the actual, historical witch trials? They were the establishment. Witch trials involved government officials going after private citizens. Not just any citizens, either, but the least protected. Individual waves of trials varied, but the bulk of the victims were women, old, frequently poor, and living alone.
If people have read The Crucible and taken away any of the historical lessons of Salem, rather than McCarthyism, they’ll know that the first people accused were a slave, a homeless beggar, and an ill woman who was embroiled in a legal dispute with one of the local powerful families. The first person to be hanged was Bridget Bishop, who was in disrepute as a wanton woman.
Even someone who only took away the lessons of McCarthyism should understand how the balance of power in a metaphorical witch hunt works. Who did McCarthy go after? Those big, powerful…Hollywood actors, directors, and producers, mostly. Union organizers. Teachers too. It was when he went after the press, a set of institutions with some political clout, that the trials came to an abrupt end.
By comparison, what’s the situation I described in my post? A group of men too important to be touched. A group of women who share (and have shared for some time) knowledge privately among themselves because they don’t have the power it would take to protect them if they spoke publicly. A note that event organizers can probably get this information if they want it, but they’ll likely have their wishes overridden on the subject of speaker rosters because money talks louder than fairness.
In other words, this is the opposite of a witch hunt. If you take a witch hunt and turn it upside down, you’ll have a situation that looks something like this.
There are other ways in which this is the opposite of a witch hunt as well. There’s the fact that the people accused are very much not being made a public spectacle. One person, to the best of my knowledge, has publicly named one speaker who did something to her. It happened in a comment thread. Nobody’s jumping up and down to shame or confirm. Nobody else is even narrowing the field (except me; I did laugh at someone who tried to suggest Greg is a popular speaker at atheist conventions).
Then there’s the fact that witchcraft, like American communism in the 1950s, is harmless. Neither one stood any chance of working. There was no persecute even self-proclaimed witches and communists. Harassment, on the other hand, has real-world consequences.
There is one reason that feminists in particular get accused of witch hunts, though. We have Arthur Miller and The Crucible to thank for this one, too. His decision to make Abigail Williams, one of the initial accusers in Salem, a romantically spurned young woman instead of the 11-year-old girl she actually was, has made a deep impression on the collective anti-feminist psyche–or at least on their common language and mythology. The word “hysteria” hasn’t been far from the witch trial narrative since.
So the next time you hear someone saying that a bunch of feminists are engaged in a witch hunt, take a little time to think about what they’re saying. Are they really telling you that the establishment is dominated by women, and that the accused men are in peril because they’re powerless? Or are they just telling you to stop listening to those hysterical women?
I think it’s pretty obvious which is the case here.
Photo credit: “Salem Massachusetts – Bridget Bishop / Hanged June 10th, 1692” by David Paul Ohmer. Some rights reserved.