Fear of High-profile Influential Women Keeps Witch Hunts Alive

Fear of High-profile Influential Women Keeps Witch Hunts Alive (1)

By Marcelina Horrillo Husillos

Across New England, where witch trials occurred periodically from 1638 until 1725, women were accused and executed at vastly higher rates than men. According to author Carol F. Karlsen’s “The Devil in the Shape of a Woman,” 78% of 344 alleged witches in New England were female.

Perhaps the most salient point about witch trials is gender. In Salem, 14 of the 19 people found guilty of and executed for witchcraft during that cataclysmic year of 1692 were women.  when men faced allegations of witchcraft, it was typically because they were somehow associated with the accused women.

Five centuries later, women continue to face such dramatically demonizing allegations. Strong, opinionated women in business, politics, and in the social arena are publicly shamed like those during the witch trials. Compared to male politicians, prominent figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton faced severe speculation and public condemnation.  are the witch hunts that occur in today’s cultural and political spheres. 

“Behind every great woman is a man threatened by her success.”

Indeed, patriarchal culture vilifies element that threatens its traditional dominant position. high-profile female leaders who challenge the structure of power in business, society, and politics suffer a greater amount of scrutinythan their male counterparts in the very same fields.

For instance, the “Me Too” movement has been harshly labeled as a witch hunt itself, intending to revert the very purpose by inflicting a sense of self-doubt and self-questioning to the women who lead it instead of holding perpetrators of assault accountable.

Witches in Politics

The day after former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher passed away, the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” suddenly rose to the top song onthe U.K. iTunes chart. Anti-Thatcher protesters used satirical lyrics and the underlying metaphor to diabolize her public image, calling Thatcher the “wicked witch” of the country.

From her militant way of speaking to her approach to leading the U.K. through the Falkland Wars, protesters resented her “masculine-like” strength while supporters crowned her as the “Iron Lady.”

Across the Atlantic, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who was considered Thatcher’s “political soulmate,” did not face the same level of public rage even with a divided government in D.C. and an ideologically warringpublic.

Another notable example isHillary Clinton’s nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 2016. Her risingchances of becoming America’s first female president challenged the patriarchal societal norm.

Many people criticized her for “unfeminine behaviors.” Protests like #ZombieHillary dramatized her health conditions and advanced age (69 years of age at the time), though neither Donald Trump (70 years of age when elected as the U.S. president). Clearly, are more concerned about the prospect of a female president than an elderly one.  Exaggerations of her voice as “shrill” and “shrieking,” as well as dramatization of her wearing long coats “to camouflage her adult diapers,”tarnished Clinton’s public image in both representations of her mind and body.

Wherever we look at prominent female leaders in politics, we often see them being greatly challenged by public opinion.Often they are hassled for details about their personal life or appearance and face a greater amount of unnecessary pressure than their male counterparts.  Ex primer ministers Theresa May, Liz Trust, Sanna Martin are some good examples of this.

“Me Too” and witch hunt

The spread of the hashtag “Me Too” movement, created in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, made sexual harassment’s pervasiveness undeniable and was responsible for some overdue legislation. In total, 22 states and the District of Columbia have passed more than 70 workplace anti-harassment bills because of this movement, per the National Women’s Law Center.

Yet progress in sectors like tech and media has often proved short-lived, with many reverting to their old ways. For instance, a number of tech investors who were ousted for harassment have seamlesslymoved on to new jobs. Additionally,while the number of female senior-level investment professionals has grown over the years, they still only make up 16% of this workforce as of a 2020 venture capital survey.

Even Uber, which voluntarily released victims of sexual harassment and assault from their NDAs in 2018, has reportedly been lobbying behind the scenes against the Speak Out Act.

A record number of women have been elected to Congress, though nowhere close to parity, they still face an outsized amount of threats, abuse, and online disinformation that actively discourages some from running for office.

In fact, Defamation laws are a symptom of the unscrupulous culture, described by The New York Times as“a secretive, proudly masculine culture” which “shrouds law enforcement and the courts in unusual secrecy, particularly in cases of sexual and family violence.” This creates a societal norm where perpetrators of sexual violence are protected not only by power and the justice system, but by their “mates” as well.

According to Rachel Jury, writer of Seraphina, which is inspired by a Paisley witch trial at the end of the 17th Century, “the ‘Me Too’ movement, which has sought to expose sexual harassment suffered by women, has made the witch feel very relevant.”


Clearly, we still live in a society influenced by patriarchy. If female breadwinners are becoming more common, societal perceptions about women’s “roles” are taking much longer to catch up to this shift.

“As soon as a woman transgresses and is disliked in some way – they are a witch” says Rachel Jury.

The common thread throughout time is that witch hunts today continue to target women, especially those that are uncommonly strong, smart, and challenge the status quo.

“One of the key things about the witch trials is shaming women,” Ms Jury says.

Understanding the underlying implication for discrimination against “unconventional” power within the term “witch” and other despicable connotations addressed to women is key in order to remove biases which act as barriers against women’s professional and personal development.

This article was originally published in The European Business Review on 13 July 2023. It can be accessed here: https://www.europeanbusinessreview.com/fear-of-high-profile-influential-women-keep-witch-hunts-alive/

About the Author

Marcelina Horrillo Husillos, Journalist and Correspondent at The European Business Review.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Political Anthropologist.