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This was one of the least brutal measures by far, women charged with witchcraft were often imprisoned, tortured, raped, and hung or beheaded or drowned.
The resurgence of reactionary attitudes served as the ideological underpinnings of this new “erasure of the commons,” resulting in the further deprivation and persecution of impoverished women.
In 2017, the infamous “Shitty Media Men” list was made public, and women around the world publically shared stories of harassment and assault by supervisors, mentors, agents, bosses, managers, professors- men in positions of power.
Through a masterpiece of social engineering, the concerns of “ordinary Americans” (read: white, middle-class, Christian, Americans) were repackaged as a return to Christianity and “family values,” to serve as ideological underpinnings for this prosperous new era.
The attacks against hard-earned reproductive rights, and against women working outside the home or having financial independence generally, espoused by movements such as the Moral Majority, served to create a precarious, easily exploitable workforce.
They sewed, washed their clothes, and gave birth surrounded by other women, with men rigorously excluded.
Their legal status reflected this greater autonomy.” However, with the transition to capitalism, gossip—or solidarity among women—came under fire.In England, this took the form of land enclosures, which consolidated small farms and public land (the commons) into property of the rentier, who had sole rights to its produce.Thus, it was necessary that the vast majority of the population be dependent on a wage for survival; and similarly, it was necessary that a woman be dependent on her husband to perform the unwaged labor of social reproduction within the home.As Federici argues in Caliban: “Class revolt, together with sexual transgression, was a central element in the descriptions of the Sabbat, which was portrayed both as a monstrous sexual orgy and as a subversive political gathering..the devil instructing the witches to rebel against their masters (177).” Womanhood was essentialized as a capricious, demonic, destructive force visited upon society by Eve, and by women, her descendants; and it was incumbent on men to restrain it and channel it towards childbirth, child-rearing, and social reproduction generally.This involved a number of ideological, political, and religious interventions.Those familiar with it will perhaps not encounter anything too earth-shattering in her new essay collection, Witches, Witch Hunting and Women, but is an extremely timely and useful distillation of her most important texts, with great significance for working-class feminist movements today.During the late Middle Ages, the development of market-oriented agriculture required a continually replenished, easily exploitable labor pool (a need compounded by the depopulation caused by the Black Death).Indeed, this era saw the development of a number of peculiar and brutal punishments for women who disobeyed their husbands, most notably the infamous “scold’s bridle”—also called the “gossip’s bridle”, signifying the shift in the term’s connotations—a contraption made of metal and leather which enclosed a quarrelsome woman’s head and placed in her mouth a spiked bridle, which would tear her tongue if she attempted to speak or move her head.These cruelties were most widely inflicted upon women who were perceived as defying the social order, but were in reality those were made most precarious by it—poor women, prostitutes, women who participated in riots against the enclosures. Federici describes an instrument called the “cucking” or “ducking” stool, a sort of chair to which these wayward women were tied and repeatedly dunked underwater.The ensuing poverty and precarity was dealt in double measure upon women, who were increasingly excluded from the guilds and most professions, their ability to survive independently of men being severely curtailed by the privatization of the commons (In Caliban, Federici terms this the “patriarchy of the wage.”).This, along with rising prices of food and other necessities, led to the appearance of a largely female underclass.