The Witch and the Wimp?

Remember Bewitched? The show about Samantha the witch and her mortal husband Darrin? He didn’t like her using her powers, but she did, anyway, and ended up solving more problems than she created. And through it all, there seemed to be a lot of love.

I’ve been thinking about that show, now that there’s a movie version out, and it occurred to me there’s more than one way to interpret it. What I got out of it was the men aren’t really in charge. They parade around the yard strutting their tail feathers, yelling bold yet meaningless pronouncements, and all the women go, “Oh, yes, dear – absolutely, dear” and then do precisely whatever the hell they want. Not overtly, of course. It seemed to me women kept a lot of power by letting men think they had all of it.

But that’s how it was in real life, in the families I knew, so it’s little wonder that’s what I thought Bewitched was trying to say. I should add that I thought Darrin was an okay guy: he could have used Samantha’s magic to get all sorts of things he wanted, but he really wanted to make it on his own in life, prove himself worthy. And he loved his wife unconditionally, even though he was very uncomfortable with what she was.

Probably most people thought it was a cute role-reversal bit, with the woman having the power instead of the man. But the whole idea of witches in mythology seems to be wrapped up with issues of female power. The witch of mythology has mysterious powers, unlike a king or a hero, whose powers are very demonstrable. No one can quite figure out how she makes stuff happen, so they chalk it up to magic.

In truth, the witch who snaps her fingers and makes someone a toad is a lot like a wife who, culturally stripped of the right to have any say in household decisions, appears to defer to her husband but actually manipulates every move he makes. There’s really nothing mysterious about her power: if you deny someone the right to have power overtly, you force her to find power covertly when she feels threatened. It’s the same way with any living creature. They may be okay with a state of powerlessness as long as they feel completely secure. Take away the security, and they do whatever they have to do to get some control.

In other words, the fear of witches is really the fear of something you’ve been repressing biting you on the ass.

Anyway, getting back to Bewitched, I thought Darrin was showing us that men can learn to live with female power, and the rewards are well worth it. I thought Samantha was showing us that women don’t want power over men – they just want power over themselves and their own lives. In other words, female power poses no threat to men who are secure in themselves.

But in the 40 years since the show debuted, we’ve backslid in more ways than we’ve progressed. Religious groups have come out proclaiming that it’s wrong for women to have power. TV shows show powerful women to be the adversaries of men – threats to their manhood – rather than co-existent human beings sharing the planet.

My conclusion? Men must be more insecure than ever – than Darrin – if they prefer to see woman as usurpers rather than partners.


  1. says

    I have to admit, having gone through the experience of being a fundamentalist/born again Christian in my misguided youth that feminism is incompatible with any religious conviction (certainly the monotheistic religions being based on the premise of absolute and unalterable female inferiority). I came across a quotation I thought was apt in the circumstances, written in 1907 by Teresa Billington: “I do not believe that any thinking man today accepts the old dogma of masculine superiority. Those who do not think of course are many. They still believe it fondly and foolishly. It is a comfortable and pleasant doctrine for a fool. But the growing capacity of women today, their stratling development, the progress they are making in every departmentof life, are too obvious to be mistaken. The theory is dead.

    But it is amusing and enlightening to note how these very believers in the incapacity of women are the ones who most strenuously oppose the loosening of their bonds. There is such delightful masculinity in the logic! Yet these are the folk who tell women that the male sex has the monopoly of reason and of rational action” (source: Juliet Gardiner (ed.), The New Woman, Collins and Brown, London, 1993).

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