Margaret Hilda Thatcher (born 13 October 1925 – died 8 April 2013)
Thatcher is dead and she gets a military funeral on Wednesday and people are angry about it, so angry but also so full of jubilation that “Ding dong the wicked witch is dead” from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz has got to no 1 in the charts. I’m trying to think how I feel about this.
The Wizard of Oz
I really hate women being called witches in a derogatory way, it is full of misogyny and dismissive of the 9 million women (though some were men) who were tortured and murdered as s0-called witches . They were women that broke the rules, women that lived on the edge, economically independent women, though some were mentally ill or had learning disabilities, some were accussed because someone wanted them gone, but regardless who or what they were they were brutally removed from society. Their accusers had to find obscure and weird ways to prove that they were witches, they were accused of obscure crimes, crimes that did not exist. The women were sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered. Seemingly the point of these murders were to appease the “wrath of god“, every day independent women who challenged the status quo were destroyed and sacrificed to purify society, to purify it from undependent and different women. Charles C Mann in 1491:New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, makes the point as many women in Europe were burnt and murdered as the Mayans and Aztecs sacrificed the the continents of the Americas. Strong independent or slightly odd women that did not fit in to the sinister idea of being normal, i.e. being submissive to a man or to men, were publicly sacrificed – raped, tortured and executed!
Witch burning, execution and torture was misogynistic – it was the hatred of women. It was the hatred of particularly spinster women or widowed women – women who had economic ability to live independent of men. Let us be clear what happened to women accused of witches according to the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology we are talking about eye gouging, branding irons, spine-rollers, forehead tourniquets, thumbscrews, racks, iron boots for crushing legs, heating chairs, choking “pears”. Mary Daly in Gyn/Ecology states “Torturers cut off hands, ears of their victims, imposed artificial sleeplessness, unedurable thirst (by feeding salted foods and refusing liquids) and “squassation” which completely dislocated hands, feet, elbows, limbs and shoulders I have already alluded to (previous in her book) to the fact that humiliation, stripping and the usual gang rape were not counted as “torture”.”
Thatcher was not a witch that is for certain, she was not a deviant/defiant woman, she served the ruling class, she did as she was told, she did their dirty work for them, she fronted on behalf of the ruling class to smash traditional trade union militancy, the break up of our communities and the battle cry was “no such thing as society“, she reigned over the new world order – bringing nuclear warheads to Britain, signing pacts with the US, privatizing what was part of our common good, she and the Tory party (the later on with New Labour) ideologically rode all four of the horses of the Apocalypse (conquest, death, famine and war) through working class communities and countries the invaded and raged war against.
Some feminists (and munchkins) are upset that Thatcher is being called a witch, I agree, as stated in a previous posting we do not need to be misogynistic towards Thatcher. It is perfectly fine to hate her for being a Tory and we don’t hate her for being a woman. But why do feminists and politically conscious men care about the term witch and are they right to be grumpy?
Well…. to a point they are. Women are often erased from history, its sometimes like we never existed, so feminists care about women’s history and our social history. Whilst we are often disappeared from the tomes of history, women are written about in droves in our popular culture mostly in stories particularly the stories that are told to children. Women appear as maidens, mothers, step-mothers, fairies, princesses, queens and as witches in fairy stories and later in the popular films that children enjoy.
The evil and wicked person wanting to do harm is usually a witch, a wicked jealous woman, envious of the maid or princess’ gifts, intelligence and beauty – they plot to murder and to silence these ultra feminine girls through magic and spells, they consort with demons and their very existence is to cause harm to these girls, which is very curious that older women are chosen to be the greatest risk to girls and young women and not men (another blog piece for another time). Men are usually absent from the stories except as the rescuer and the romantic beau (the rescuing part is annoying and again another blog piece).
Disney films particularly peddle this myth – see here
However whilst we critique these stories and films, they remain popular and well loved – witches, usually wicked ones are part of our popular culture.
How many times have you seen the Wizard of Oz? I have seen it countless times, I have it on DVD and I had it on video tape. I remember the first time I went to see it with my great auntie when I was about 5 but screamed the cinema down when the Wicked Witch of the West came on, I had to leave, she petrified me!
The Wicked Witch of the West
But the Wizard of Oz has gone on to be a favourite film, I know all the songs, the witch still scares me, the scarecrow makes me laugh, the lion makes me want to cuddle him and I would love to oil the tin man and make him walk. The munchkins sort of freak me out a bit and so do the flying monkeys, but every Boxing Day I’ll settle down with a box of chocolates to watch the Wizard of Oz and sing along to all the songs, including “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, I particularly like the Lollipop Guild, they always make me chuckle.
A good friend of mine bought me Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (now a West End musical) I loved it, it made me realise those red shoes did belong to the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy had no right to them!
But back to Thatcher and the Ding Dong song, whilst normally I would be on my soap box about calling women witches, because I really do hate it! However Ding Dong is a song from our popular culture, we all know it, it fits our mood, it works, we all know the song.
Britain’s Stiff Upper Lip (detached emotion)
The death of Thatcher is interesting, I’ve never seen this before, she left office 23 years ago, but her legacy has haunted us, I do think it is totally appropriate to share our feelings for her. It shows self awareness and ability to express feelings – we are literally “letting it all out”, we are often told to separate emotions from politics (though politics are extremely emotional). Rightly or wrongly people are expressing their hatred for Thatcher and Thatcherism, we should not be denied our feelings, some people can contain their feelings but I am not sure that the stiff upper lip of British society and our inability to express emotion really should not be encouraged (Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip documentary was brilliant in explaining Britain’s suppressed emotion. It would appear that through Scottish Calvinism and English stiff upper lip we are an avoidantly attached nation which we need to discourage it).
I am stating loud and clear that calling a woman a witch as a derogative term comes from our misogynistic history, it should be discouraged and I applaud the valiant attempts by those who have pointed out that calling Thatcher a witch dismisses the history of millions of women oppressed, threatened, raped, tortured and murdered during the burning times and I haven’t contributed to downloading Ding Dong. But after thinking about it, I’m glad that there has been collective action to join a song from our childhood, to the death of Maggie Thatcher – the Milk Snatcher, because to tell the truth, I couldn’t think of a better song.