Blame the wicked. Kill the witch.
I grew up afraid of witches.
Recently, I bumped into Wicked The Musical, and I found myself identifying with the main character, Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West).
No, I’m not a witch (would love to fly a broomstick, but no). I’m just a woman.
But Wicked reminded me of real life situations where, in a professional context, (insecure) man would defensively call me “crazy” or blame my hormones as a response to any sort of constructive (read: negative) feedback to their decisions or management style.
If you don’t know about Wicked, here’s my own summary adapted for the context of this article: a green-skinned and powerful girl, Elphaba, is tagged as “Wicked Witch” by the “PR Department” of the great Wizard of Oz. This is after she finds out he is no wizard, but a man who’s willing to use her to retain his own influence and power over Oz (basic metaphor to current political affairs, needs no further explanation).
Recently, we’re witnessing several “fairytale re-interpretations” starring villains (from Frozen to Maleficent) as complex characters, instead of deeply rooted evil. By no coincidence, it follows the gradual awakening of women rights in the professional world, which has been going on for the past few decades.
Fact: women have lost power over time and powerful women are associated with evil.
Here’s an attempt to address it.
The same culture which killed witches shaped the way we see powerful women.
Just like the iconic Joanne D’arc, many powerful and influential women were assassinated over time, under charges involving witchcraft (sentenced by man-ruled trials).
I wonder if these 2 reasons are why it’s so:
1. The original “witches” were actually priestesses or community leaders engaged in arts of natural healing, before science took over; thus, they had power.
2. In some cases, women may never have even tried to cast a spell. But they were powerful, outspoken and influential. They knew a lot, they knew too much. They had to be silenced.
In both cases, influential women were a threat, unless they stayed submissive and didn’t try to play against the interests of the ruling power. Historically, we used “witchcraft” as an excuse to assassinate powerful women who threatened the status quo.
Witches are evil. Witches are powerful. Thus, power and witchcraft came together by association. Influential women became quiet and less powerful over time.
This mindset got engraved in our culture, so it became the norm. We forgot that “criminalising female power as witchcraft” was a tool to create a new power dynamic.
Currently, we’re in a system as determined to succeed as the ones who most benefit from it. This system inherited an unconscious bias for powerful woman as evil characters.
From the villains of our Mexican telenovelas to our first Disney movies, we learned to see the good girl as the innocent and puerile maiden, powerless, vulnerable, clueless… Against the evil, calculating, persuasive bitch who aimed to satisfy her own selfish wills: a witch.
It’s gonna be hard to change, because this case depends on the victim to stop victimising.
Defying Gravity: Overcoming Fears That Control Us
“I’m through with playing by the rules of someone’s game
Too late for second guessing. Too late to go back to sleep.
It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and live.”
– Defying Gravity, by Elphaba on musical “Wicked”
Elphaba’s character reminds us how society may keep us under control through fear: by making us afraid of our own power.
Here are 3 reminders of the most common fears women need to overcome:
1. Fear Of Being Wrong: “It’s All In Your Mind”
“I’m through accepting limits ‘cos someone said there’s so
Some things I cannot change but ’til I try I’ll never know.”
– Defying Gravity, by Elphaba from the musical “Wicked”
“She’s a crazy woman” is a funny, but effective way to make us doubt ourselves.
No one wants to be a “crazy woman”. I’ve recently came to learn it’s called “gas lighting”. It starts by making the victim doubt its own sanity.
Gas lighting an abusive way to regain control over arguments when someone has lost all reason, by getting the other side to feel guilty or that they are an accomplice to the abuser’s misdeeds. But it only works if it gets accepted. It is the typical case of when harassment is “silenced”.
I’ve been through a case where the harasser accused me, claiming that I “seduced him”. It was so absurd that I felt afraid and felt so trapped in the story that I decided to silence myself, letting him get away with his story and clean of all charges.
They don’t have to kill us anymore. We kill ourselves every time we remain silent for guilt or shame thrown on us. When we shut up we are covering up the harasser and feeling guilty on his behalf. I am guilty of silencing myself.
But other women’s openness has helped me to identify patterns, washing myself clean of second-guesses.
This is a call to action for you to step up and notice: you are not crazy.
2. Fear Of Disconnection: “You Won’t Ever Find A Husband”
“Too long I’ve been afraid of losing love I guess I’ve lost,
Well if there’s love it comes at much too high a cost.”
– Defying Gravity, by Elphaba from the musical “Wicked”
We value connection more often than men do, be it as nurturing family or social ties. The fear of not being worthy of belonging (to a partner, community or organisation) can control us to become something we are not.
Things we listen to all in one day (mind the gaps):
- You get pregnant, you are single, you’re not stable. You’re a rollercoaster of emotions and you’re unpredictable. You are impossible to do business with, you ain’t reliable.
- If you give in your power for love, that’s honorable, but it’s also weak. If you give in love for power, that’s selfish.
- You are not too feminine. You’re too aggressive and that’s scary.
- You’re way too hot (you can’t be smart).
- To succeed professionally, you’re better off man-like. “You’re not like other women” is a compliment (to when you look male-ish). To find a husband, you better be attractive, sweet, nurturing. If you’re hot, you better get ready for cat calls on the road and at the office, but don’t you dare take it negatively. They don’t mean it badly.
In a nutshell: we are told how to be women.
The past centuries’ beliefs opened space to man-ruled organisations, setting up the masculine standards under which the world succeeds, offering carrots where women masculinise themselves to jump up the ladder.
3. Fear Of Being Worthless: “You’re Not Good Enough”
“You’re having delusions of grandeur.”
– Defying Gravity, by Glinda to Elphaba from the musical “Wicked”
You’re too demanding. You speak too much. You’re over-promising what you can’t deliver. A women’s aggressiveness or “straightforwardness” is often taken with caution.
They taught us that good is quiet, submissive and silent.
While learning how to fight back, we are either coming across as too aggressive or falling victim of the silence which corrupted us for so many years: the silence from guilt or shame, from believing we are crazy.
I am still learning how to keep my center, my reason, and stand on my grounds for what I believe is right, instead of second-guessing myself. And I’ve learned from other powerful, strong women, that I’m not the first, the only, nor likely the last to fall prey of abusive relationships. We got lost in time and history, forgot something, and started to believe the very system which tagged our powerful will as witchcraft.
It takes a lot of balls to be a woman (contradiction intended).
Disclaimer: I am still finding out what it means to be a (good) leader
It takes a lot of guts to be a feminine leader, whose strength doesn’t rely on cutting your hair short and speaking aggressively, but on being yourself, whatever it means to be: vulnerable, collaborative, nurturing, seductive, persuasive… Listing adjectives puts me under the risk of “qualifying” or even “disqualifying” what it means to be a feminine leader, so I’d rather not.
I am still sorting out what it means to be a feminine leader, because the world taught me I’d better wear long pants and speak gravely to be respected.
Good news: the world needs “crazy people”
The world today isn’t predictable as it changes fast; adaptability is a core skill. Innovation as a need is tied to the very essence of what’s happening from technological development and constant change. And that’s the very characteristic that’s been denied from the business world who qualify predictable as good, over time.
There’s room for crazy man too (Galileo Galilei and other brilliant man on history were also tagged as crazy). I don’t mean to tag our do’s or don’ts as feminine or masculine. But I mean to tell women that one thing: you are OK.
You are not crazy. Stop second-guessing yourself.
It’s time to try defying gravity.
Feature Image Credit: 1wallpaper.net