This weekend, Halloween revelers around the world will be celebrating in the streets, and among the crowds of extravagant ensembles, you’ll inevitably find the ubiquitous costume favorite: witches. Pop culture has often portrayed the mythical beings with green skin, flying broomsticks or black cats. Whether they bring fright, mischief or terror, they are almost always up to no good, and they are almost always women.
But does imagery framing witches as villains hide a history of persecution that has implications for our present? Italian-American historian and feminist scholar Silvia Federici thinks so.
The critically acclaimed author sat down with HuffPost Brazil’s Andrea Martinelli to talk about her latest book, “Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women,” which traces contemporary patterns of violence against women to the witch hunts in 16th- and 17th-century Europe and the “New World.”
“Personally, I changed my view about Halloween celebrations and the association of the witch’s image after reading Silvia Federici’s work,” says Andrea, who pointed out that the Brazilian publication of Federici’s groundbreaking work “Caliban and the Witch” caused a stir in the feminist community for highlighting the rights of domestic workers —a controversial topic for some in the middle class — and for asserting the oppression of women is essential to capitalism and colonialism.
Today, Federici sees new witch hunts in the high rates of femicide and violence against women in the world, particularly those who have been labeled “new witches,” women at the forefront of social justice and environmental struggles like Afro-Brazilian feminist Marielle Franco and indigenous leader Berta Caceres. Andrea says this idea is especially relevant for Brazil and Latin America, which has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, according to the United Nations.
“I think she’s one of the few white philosophers who puts a lens on the issue of race and class in her work, which is fundamental to thinking about feminist issues,” Andrea said, adding that the historian emphasizes the role of women’s organizations in reacting to state and societal violence.
“The best way to respond to this violence is really for women to organize, mobilize, create forms of mutual support, forms of connection, forms of reproduction that are more cooperative in overcoming the isolation in which the women were forced to live,” Federici tells HuffPost Brazil.
While society continues to portray witches as the bad guys, Federici’s work helps us understand that witches may not be the ones we need to fear. Maybe these new witches, women leading social and environmental justice movements, are the ones we need to listen to the most.
Thanks for reading,
Follow Andrea Martinelli (@deamartinelli) for more stories about feminism and women and LGBTQ rights in Brazil.
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