The struggle for gender equality in modern society is an ancient issue. Upon the colonization of the Americas, the Puritans formed a characteristically strict society. The rules of the Puritan society prohibited women from having independence and individuality. This society was also heavily Protestant, so the mention of anything remotely unholy was a sign of devilry. This belief led to the phenomenon known as the Salem Witch Trials.
The Origin of the Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials started when a group of young girls in the Puritan village of Salem began to exhibit similar symptoms of delusions, vomiting, and spasms which would become diagnosed as bewitchment (History.com). These girls had the power to convict anyone in town, and the victims of these convictions were imprisoned and ultimately executed. The primary targets of these accusations were women because they were the easiest target because society already viewed them as lesser than men and more prone to being possessed by the will of the devil.
Women as Targets
More specifically, lower-class women were targeted because of their vulnerability to those who were wealthier and upper-class. One of the notable victims of the Salem Witch Trial accusations is Tituba, a Caribbean slave. Because Caribbean roots were not that of Christianity, it was easily accepted that she practiced some form of witchery. She confessed her affiliation and other women with the devil, causing a mass hysteria through the village.
In general, the treatment of women was nearly inhumane, and they had virtually no role in society (Hartman). Men greatly suppressed the involvement of women in every level of society, so women had no way of defending themselves when they were marked as a witch. This dramatic imbalance of gender equality in society continued until the early 20th century, when women finally gained the right to vote. Although women were finally able to participate at the minimum level of society, there was still harsh judgment towards women’s behavior.
Women Throughout History
During the 1920s, women were very comfortable with their bodies and began exploring sexuality, but the sexual liberation of women spawned further hatred for women. When women would accept and express their sexuality, they had to face a backlash from the conservative world. Like the treatment women faced in the 1600s, women could not do anything to prevent society from attacking them and condemning their actions. However, at the very least, women in the 20th century were not hanged for dressing more scandalously.
Another example of how the Salem Witch Trials reflected themselves in history is the Red Scare. During the 1950s, Arthur Miller published The Crucible, which used the harsh Puritan community to illustrate the treatment of communists during this period. The portrayal of gender in this novel is interesting because Miller emphasizes the role of women during the Salem Witch Trials. On a large scale, the little girls had power, which was a very negative thing because they condemned innocent people, but on a more intimate scale, women could have a say in their relationships. Ultimately, Miller shows how women were susceptible to violence and injustice during that period to show how similar the two eras were in hunting the “enemy.”
A Lesson from The Salem Witch Trials
The bias against women in society is deeply entrenched, that it can be difficult to rectify, but thankfully, substantial improvements have been made in the rights and treatment of women. The Salem Witch Trials show that even when the Americas were first being colonized, they were unjustly scorned if women did anything against societal expectations. Instead of assuming the worst of women, society has to learn to accept that women are just as human and deserve to be just as free as men.