Witchy women and saucy seamstresses

Women and girls in the Halloween news.

By Kate Harding
Published October 31, 2008 6:25PM (EDT)

There's so much to love about Halloween. The adorable costumed children, the big bags of candy, the cleverly carved pumpkins, the uppity women hanging from nooses. Wait, maybe not that last one. Nobody dislikes Sarah Palin more than I do (except possibly my friend Mary, who recently went ballistic on a Palin-apologist mom at her infant daughter's play group and is pretty sure they're not invited back), but even I was happy to see that jackass in L.A. finally took down the Palin effigy hanging from his roof. If you don't understand why that's problematic regardless of one's feelings about Sarah Barracuda, check out this Op-Ed by Erika Mailman, descendant of a woman who was accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts in the 1600s, explaining why she winces at the sight of stuffed witches hanging from trees this time of year. "How did we evolve to find this display lightly amusing? Our forebears did hang women from trees. I imagine the devastation a time-traveler might feel as she realizes people crudely pantomime the appalling circumstances of her death each Halloween." She kinda lost me when she compared the Halloween family fun events in present-day Salem to "the Auschwitz Adventure or the Hiroshima Mushroom Cloud Ride," but she's got an irrefutable point. Women with nooses around their necks? Not funny.

Starhawk picks up on a similar theme in a Washington Post piece about Halloween's pagan origins and her own experience of the holiday as a practicing witch. "Why do we call ourselves Witches -- when the term obviously has so many negative and confusing associations? Sheer stubbornness, most likely. But also because we identify with those hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of women and men who were persecuted, tortured, and even burned alive in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries when both the Catholic and Protestant churches decided to launch a campaign against any remnants of the old nature-based beliefs and healing practices that still lingered in Europe." OK, upon further reflection, maybe Erika Mailman was justified in going Godwin. 

Now that I've got you thoroughly depressed, let's move on to a Halloween story about the triumph of hope over fear. For the past 16 years, the kids of Oil City, Pa., have had to get their trick-or-treating in before dark, owing to a curfew instated after 11-year-old Shauna Howe was tragically abducted and murdered on Halloween night, 1992. But this year, fifth-grader Elizabeth Roess started a petition and wrote an essay that convinced the City Council to allow nighttime trick-or-treating once more. Some parents are understandably nervous, but as local blogger John Noel Bartlett wrote, "Unfortunately, Shauna's tragedy seemed to define Oil City for many years. It's time to move on." Elizabeth is "so happy" her efforts paid off, and will be going as a "goth princess bride" tonight.

HalfPintIngalls, however, is still deciding what to wear, according to her Twitter account. "Can't find a costume for All Hallows Eve. Everything for women seems to be SAUCY these days. Saucy seamstress, saucy Civil War nurse, etc.... Next thing you know, little girls will want to dress up as SARAH BERNHARDT for Hallowe'en!" We hear you, Half Pint. We hear you.

And finally: pumpkin porn. I have no words, much less an appropriate segue. Happy Halloween, everybody.


Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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