By Tiffani Michele
I was just in New England for a week with my oldest daughter, 16, who I dropped off to stay in Cape Cod for a month of writing and general teenage messing around. Before she started the program we spent some time sightseeing, eating, and exploring in the Boston area. My god, it was enjoyable! Once kids stop being needy selfish assholes on roadtrips, it’s amazing how much fun you can have with them!
We maximized the history of the area by taking every ghost tour available. Being Halloween time, there were lots of stories of witches hung on gallows. The first witch hung in Salem was a woman by the name of Bridget Bishop.
She publicly fought with all of her husbands, dressed flamboyantly (although for Puritans, that just meant she liked to wear big hats and a red bodice with her black dress), and was the mistress not one but two taverns. She developed a reputation for entertaining into the wee hours of the night, playing forbidden games such as shuffle board, and generally being the target of much speculation and gossip. In other words, Bridget Bishop didn’t seem to care what society thought of her – and because of that, she became a likely target when the accusations began.
Bridget Bishop was robbed. If she were born a couple hundred years later she would probably have her own reality TV show and be paid money to go get parties started in Vegas. If her ghost is still haunting around, then I’m sure she’s thinking, “What the fuck, people?! Do you know I was hanged for the kind of shit you all do as families on the weekend?!”
But also, it dawned on me that the witch hunt never really ended. The idea of targeting someone because of their lifestyle, sexuality, and choices. It just changed names and is going on and on…especially this election year. Led by Rush Limbaugh and the Republican party under a new improved name, “Whore Hunt 2012”. Sure, we may have invented cars, the internet and jet planes, and harnessed nuclear power and electricity since Bridget Bishop was killed, but women’s rights are still being held hostage to a primitive standard of a third party trying to dictate the who/what/when/where/why of our bodies. For real, this election year is killing me. KILLING ME, PEOPLE! Being banned from saying “Vagina” on the House floor when talking about abortion? Bullshit. The idea of “legitimate rape” being conditional on the woman’s body response? Bullfuckingshit!
I walked around with my girl, thinking about how life would be for us if we lived back with the Puritans. Would we be witches? This is not such a stretch, because quite honestly the religion we recently left has a strong connection to Puritan ethics, beliefs and bloodlines.
I thought about what growing up as a women meant to me: being chaste, virtuous, modest in word, thought, dress and action. My sexuality wasn’t my own…it was put away until I found a husband. I remember going in to interviews where 60 year old men would ask me about sex…if I’d had it, if I’d been close to having it, if I thought about it. If there’s one thing more fucked up than a teenage girl being alone in a room with an older man asking questions on if she’s masturbated or not, then it’s this: the fact that it happened and she (me!) didn’t think it was fucked up at all. It was my normal. My sex, my body, my thoughts, my voice, my self…I gave up control over all of it to a religion that used God to take it away from me. If I obeyed then I was labeled good, moral, worthy, righteous, special, choice. If I disobeyed and embraced my own sexual being, then I was wicked, immoral, bad, punishable, unworthy.
People ask me why I left a church after belonging to it my whole life, and I think it happened mostly because my daughter was going to start in the program of having her womanhood defined in that way. Fuck that. After a lifetime of propaganda I’m afraid I’ll always feel a burden of guilt and shame for my sexuality. My redemption is that my daughters won’t.
Feminism to me is that each woman has the right to define herself in whatever way she feels empowered. That each woman has authority over her own self, inside and out.
Does that make us the modern day equivalent of witches? Whores?
Women’s rights, like gay rights, are important because at the end of the day, it comes down to a human issue. Witch hunts, whore hunts…they may start with a targeted persecution but eventually extend much further and wider than can be controlled. By the end of the witch hunt even the most pious and respectable women were being hanged. Men were being hanged. It comes down to hysteria. Control. Politics. Someone else’s personal interests. And if left unchecked it doesn’t stop with the intended target audience. Anyone who tries to force discriminatory public policy based on their own opinion is called a bigot, and they just don’t stop.
I thought a lot about all this while walking around Boston with my daughter. She isn’t a baby, toddler, or even young woman anymore. She’s a woman. I can’t control what labels other people use for her. I can’t control what other people think of her. I can’t control her, either. All I can do is empower her. Embrace her. Accept and love her. Advise her. Respect her for finding her authentic voice, even if it means she’ll go down paths that I never would. And in this election season I can use my brain to vote for the people who make the policies that do the same.