On Witches and Superheroes

Outdated Witch Image Wikimedia Commons: http://tinyurl.com/qbwjm3o

As a girl on Halloween, I always dressed up as a gypsy fortune-teller. When I grew older, I swapped out my fortune-teller costume for a black gown and a pointed hat so I could play dress-up as a witch.

On the surface the reasons were convenience and vanity. While a lot of my friends wanted to bring out their ghoulish selves for the night, I wanted to be all dolled up. Putting on bangles and dangly earrings and wearing a long flowing skirt with a scarf over my head made me feel pretty, not to mention that all I had to do was raid my mother’s jewelry box for the accessories.

Playing witch was easy enough, too. The local toy store packaged the whole outfit in a bag. The broom came from my cleaning closet. And while most portrayals of witches have them looking decrepit with deformed noses, I put on lipstick, blush, and eyeshadow like I was going out on the town.

Looking back, I realize that while most people were putting on costumes to dress up as scary creatures or famous characters, I was using the occasion to go out in public dressed up as myself.

I know. I’m not a gypsy and I don’t tell fortunes. I can’t fly on a broomstick or cast any kind of spell. Although I sure would like to—fly, that is. (Unfortunately, witches have gotten a bad, inaccurate rap that led to millions of women getting burned at the stake a few hundred years ago. For more on that go to Witch Burning = Misogyny on BroadBlogs.)

To me, the fortune-teller and the witch are archetypes of the wild woman. The untamed woman that refuses to conform to society’s restrictive ideas of how females should behave. The woman who is in touch with her inner knowing and moves to her own rhythms and saturates in her own desires. A woman who knows her own power and embraces her personal magic.

Dressing up as witch and fortune-teller allowed me to tap into my own wild woman that I wasn’t even aware existed within me.

I do now. I may not be able to see the future or boil a potion, but I do brew up stories with words. I may not have supernatural powers, but I know I have real power.

I also like to think of myself as rather witchy in an Elphaba from the Broadway musical Wicked kind of way. Her song, Defying Gravity, has become one of my anthems.

And I’d bet that there are many others who emerge on Halloween dressed up as their super alter egos.

A few days ago on Facebook, actress Alyssa Milano posted a photo from last year. In it she is breastfeeding her baby and dressed as Wonder Woman. Accompanying the image is the hashtag #normalizebreastfeeding.

Milano may be dressed up in costume, but she is a woman who has birthed and is nourishing a human life with her own body. What could be more Wonder Woman-like than that?

From Alyssa Milano's FB Page

From Alyssa Milano’s FB Page

Happy Hallows to all!

May your witchy or superhero self come out to dance under the light of the moon tonight and every night.

50 Comments on “On Witches and Superheroes”

  1. Defying Gravity is one of the most empowering Broadway anthems out there, it’s beautiful and makes me cry every time I sing it but I just love it!!! 😀

  2. I LOVED being a gypsy woman when I was a child and dressed up for Halloween. And that’s how I dressed up my daughter when she was young, also. Now, I don’t wear the long skirts but I do wear dangly earrings and bangly bracelets. It is FREEING to show a bit of who we are, isn’t it? And as far as being a witch? Yes, I think I am, though I hide it as well as possible. I remember when I read the old fairy tales to my kids and realized (after taking a college class on fairy tales) that the ugly old witches in the stories were how the past societies thought of old women, who were usually widowed and had no money and no power. Let’s change the paradigm!

    • diahannreyes says:

      I love that you and your daughter were both gypsies! I hadn’t thought of it in that way- that the widowed old women – who were manless and no longer young- were among those branded as witches… now that I’m thinking back on my fairy tales, I totally see what you are saying. I think that’s where the word “hag” comes from too. I also love you claiming your witchiness. Let’s change the paradigm for sure.

  3. BroadBlogs says:

    It’s funny that our choice of costumes and motivations are similar. But you put it so well!

    “To me, the fortune-teller and the witch are archetypes of the wild woman. The untamed woman that refuses to conform to society’s restrictive ideas of how females should behave. The woman who is in touch with her inner knowing and moves to her own rhythms and saturates in her own desires. A woman who knows her own power and embraces her personal magic. Dressing up as witch and fortune-teller allowed me to tap into my own wild woman.”

    Oh and I got a chance to see “Wicked” on Broadway last Saturday. Great timing! The story really mirrors the real-life story of witches: basically good, but unfairly demonized.

    BTW, thanks for the plug!

    • diahannreyes says:

      I was happy to plug you and your wisdom. Also love that we had similar motivations for Halloween costumes. As for Wicked- it’s a great show, isn’t it? Not just for the message and storyline but for being a musical with such wonderful songs. (The novel itself didn’t resonate much but it might now that my eyes are open.)

  4. Jay says:

    I wish this was the case, but every time I go out on Halloween, it seems people are determined to showcase only their sluttier side. When did we become this?

    • aqilaqamar says:

      Well, if you don’t go as a slut it feels you are left out. Also, I think it also has to do with being a “slut” in general. You can’t be sexually aggressive without that red flag so even the particularly chill people adopt that red flag for the night so that they can indulge a bit and say they have more sides to themselves. Others just wanna follow a trend and not be left out.

    • katherinejlegry says:

      Awww come now Jay, how ’bout no slut shamming? That’s not necessary, is it? Due to the current trend of online porn being abundantly free, playboy magazine (under the stewardship of Hugh Hefner’s daughter) is not going to be displaying nudes any longer.

      But so, follow the money and how it relates to Hollywood control over the fashion and beauty industry and how actresses feel sexually harassed and exploited by the industry that sells product but if that’s you’re calling you do what you have to, etc… and you have the why and how.

      I noticed this year it was all about adults in costumes and the kids seemed a side note. So I was disappointed in that part. I love costumes and making them tho.

      Perhaps the “slut” is something many women explore in fetish because men like sluts and women like to please men and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Maybe it’s like watching horror films in a way and exploring fears or concepts of “sin” in a safe way.

      In any case, peace.

    • Are you really slut shaming here, Jay? Gross. As a reader, I love this blog because it has always proved a safe place of no judging or victim blaming and most importantly a place to sing the praises of women’s bodies and their power…which seems the point of Diahann’s piece here. Your comment compromises that sanctity. Disappointing.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I wonder if perhaps folks are wanting to dress/feel sexier than their usual and Halloween might be a time to let their sexier, more clothing-revealing sides out. I doubt that people go out deciding they are going to dress like “sluts”- a word that has it’s own charged history for how it brands women in a certain unpleasant light and has me questioning it’s purpose. What is a slut, really? And is it a word that we as a society-both men and women- have been conditioned to use to insult a woman for her clothing, sexual choices? I also wonder if one women’s dressing with “revealing-sexy” in mind is her version of the wild woman as she understands it or another woman’s way of expressing her desirability or even just enjoying revealing herself physically because it makes her feel good. Definitely a whole conversation can be had around this.

  5. aqilaqamar says:

    Seeing that sexualisation of females is a stereotypical concept just as sexualising males I think this is an important article. On Youtube a woman was criticising another woman on how “girls should help guys” when it came to dressing provocatively as in not be a distraction. The explanation she gave was internalised misogyny and sexism. Not only was she unaware of the feminist principles (so she pretty much thought women’s complaints are trivial she also deemed that because mammary glands served a function and guys chests don’t women needing to cover up their chest more is practical. Not only has she missed that male’s chests are eroticised as much as topless women but her comments were also silly as in how she thought men do not complain and men are not told to suck up their weight and that men do not complain about “bringing home the bacon.”

    So, I instantly told her that men can help themselves and her very concept about women is flawed. What really got to me was she said going out to work is a chore and staying at home is a “vacation” and you know women’s roles are a privilege and should not be taken as a burden and should be “embraced” – that in itself was a deeply damaged answer. I mean I told her by saying housework is a holiday she has pretty much shown why feminism is important and why women, who do not work outside of home, are also struggling to get recognised. That she inadvertently disrespected women who even raised her. Women who walk 10 mile tracks to get water from home and women whose teats hurt as they suckle an infant who tugs hard. I really thought she should be ashamed of herself. Clothing may be inappropriate or appropriate but that gives no men and/or women rights to harass another human being. When men in sports get almost naked women can go and harass them (as men do female sportsman) but because society has deemed it unacceptable that is why women cannot do that.

    I told her that by showing that women’s work is a “holiday” she had perpetuated a very biased idea of male and female work which were used as a form of punitive or restrictive apparatus that aided in the economy of wage slavery. Wage slavery has happened like this. Has happened when women who also worked for the economy but at home or from home was relegated and excluded from the decision making process to what their own production was entailing forging a subordination paradigm that has been used even on men in the working class. By making private and public more a dichotomy and not fluidity made women’s contributions to family and home and economy more elusive and vague and cut out from the long equation though they righteously need to be included. So, I told her in the end that because she is one of the women who have been put into believing that propaganda and she truly believes she is on “holiday” that is why she will work twice as hard but reap nothing and always find things missing in her life. As holidays cannot replace work and if she thinks of these things as not work her life is incomplete.

    I said all these things because on Halloween this was my genuine scare – a brainwashed Stepford Wife of a woman who cannot do anything but embraces her abuse as legitimate rather as illegitimate and considers women who see something wrong with even a domestic situation as a naggar rather than someone who has a point. I think this just proves why we need both individual empowerment and female empowerment with male empowerment. I also explained to her that a person who keeps house is doing more than a 9 to 5 job because they are helping to construct and individual and social identity which is important as without the home and hearth people get psychotic or neurotic and do things that are self detrimental. I was actually furious with the comment because it relegated and censored women’s and even men’s experiences. I have had men tell me that they wish their wives got out more and were not self-conscious homebodies or just not a homey person. In light of that frustration, that dissatisfaction, and also the numerous psychopathologies that women go through that remark was hot as the branding irony of humiliation and another form of slut-shaming.

    Your comment, as I was reminded by the comment above me, also reminds me of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” which may have a nice tune and I don’t mind listening to it: But it;s a fucking problematic and a bit sexist song. Drake has the gall to say he wonders how the girl in the lyrics is getting down with someone else is all he thinks about especially doing nasty aka sexual things he TAUGHT her with someone else. I was thinking well she probably taught you TOO: if she also hadn’t served as a canvas of pleasure to you as you to her you wouldn’t know the value of longing and being longed for. And I am thinking how he thinks staying at home is a “good girl”when many women who stay at home also entertain men and do solicitation of other kinds. So, this stereotype of good women only being homebodies is so ingrained into mainstream culture, and also the “housewife” who is like a trophy rather than a real person. I am happy you brought up how a witch or gypsy was the wild, untamed, non gender normative women which made sense to me. Best part is that witches stay at home A LOT hahahaha.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Some really in-depth points here, Aquilaqar- thank you for unpacking them and also for reblogging this post. It definitely is interesting how often women are judged by their appearances or what they do and how often that internalized misogyny and sexism, as you pointed out, causes people to project all that onto females. There is so much going on beneath the surfaces of each woman’s unique lived experience beyond what we think we see- and often, what we think we see is really conditioned, which means we aren’t really seeing what’s going on. I agree- it’s not women’s job to cover up so as not to arouse men. I love the subversiveness in the that witches- who have been viewed as outcasts- may also opt to stay at home.

      • aqilaqamar says:

        I think if covering up was an issue it should be both sexes and not only a gendered thing. Men and women can both control arousal and chastity. It is simplifying both sexes when we think only showing skin is the only factor for arousal.

  6. livelytwist says:

    Yes, you brew stories with words! 🙂

  7. SirenaTales says:

    How cool that you chose costumes for two archetypes of tremendous feminine power: wise, resourceful, perceptive, and yes, magical. I even love that you presented them as beautiful. And why not? The feminine so often is both beautiful and powerful….I’m thinking of everything from a tigress to you, Diahann. Thank you brewing and sharing another potent potion of a post (sheesh, I almost hurt myself with that one–but not quite :)). xoxo

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Chloe, I’ve been struck a lot lately at how the feminine can hold so many contradictions at once- receptive while taking action, fierce while tender, creative and dissolving, the list goes on. Thanks so much for being here and for your support.

  8. katherinejlegry says:

    Alyssa Milano was always a really good witch when she played that role too. Love the wonder woman mom! 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      I loved that show, Kate and watched reruns obsessively when I had a schedule that allowed me to- 9am Mon to Friday. I loved the idea of these three sisters working together to rid the world of evil and how they didn’t know they were really powerful and then when they did, they had to learn how to use their powers for the greater good.

      • katherinejlegry says:

        Aw, thanks for indulging me Diahann! 🙂 I liked it for the same reasons.

        A slight aside, is a t.v. show that’s new called Salem I think? and I never watched it and didn’t follow if it made it or not with the viewers, but it was very tricked up with supernatural-special effects and lusty witch stereotypes set in historical Salem when they were doing witch trials (as one could see from the commercial-trailer-previews) and I think this betrays women’s history and makes light of the real women they murdered. It was disappointing they were going with the glorified myth and perpetuating the images and excuses to burn women.

        So, I like how when you do halloween you are having fun with witch and gypsy costumes but are also always in touch with their true spirits and you pay homage to the real medicine women and shaman women, etc. who were deemed witches for their plant and earth science-knowledge.

        • diahannreyes says:

          I haven’t seen that show but it always drives me batty how witches are portrayed as evil and related to the devil somehow. Or, like you said, how the witch burnings are treated as justified, stereotypes and all. You are so right- this is another hiding/betrayal of women’s history and the violence perpetrated against them. Thanks for naming that so clearly here.

          Mary Daly in her book Gyn/Ecology the number of women who were burned may have been in the millions. Interesting in the history books at school it always felt like barely a blip.

          I am a huge fan of the show/books from the Outlander series and I appreciated their portrayal of the lead being branded a witch and what that was like for her. And then there is the Harry Potter series – there are good witches and bad witches just like there are good people and bad people.

          • katherinejlegry says:

            After your comment I feel like compiling a library of the witches!

            They were a blip in school history books for sure, but I do remember in my 9th grade glass we got to create “old time newspapers” for a project and write articles of our choice as long as they stayed within the time period we were studying… so I did a few on the women being framed and burned from all the different sides.

            Lately when I have time to spare I’m enjoying watching reruns of the show Xena the Warrior Princess and I’d never paid attention to the story arc in the days when it was on, and had never caught all of them…and it’s true some episodes are just silly but over-all it’s wonderful for diversity and myth and challenging history by changing the context to Her-story as well as featuring really talented actresses who can do martial arts and ride horses, manage comedy, and play every role on the feminine – masculine spectrum. It is full of different witches! And gypsies! And goddesses!

            Anyhow, I better go to work now. sadly I’ll have to wait until my weekend to have time for Xena. 😦

            Thanks for reminding me of Mary Daly’s work again too, btw and adding your picks. I haven’t embarked on the Outlander series. Thanks for the recommendation!

            Hope you have a beautiful day and are writing!

            • diahannreyes says:

              I think that would be an awesome project. I personally loved Xena. In the 90’s I worked the graveyard shift and so on my days off I’d be up all night watching Xena reruns. I didn’t quit pick up on the feminist references since that wasn’t something I was awake to back then but I loved that she was so strong and fierce. Be curious to watch the series now and see what I notice this time.

              • katherinejlegry says:

                I’m realizing I missed most of the Xena series as I plow through it on my breaks. I didn’t know it was feminist either…really, as it’s not the primary agenda. It just doesn’t degrade or make women stupid even when utilizing sexuality and nudity or playing with stereotypes. It seems to understand respectful boundaries and so can push the limits, if that makes sense. It’s taking a while to see the whole series, but I have found it has an enormous feminist and entirely creative/sensual and playful core, so I’m in it for the long haul. The physical comedy of Lucy Lawless as well as her skills as an athlete, her horseback riding, singing, is all remarkable. They experimented with everything as actors… and the sets are lovely! There is a major influence of martial arts and using the tao or the way… and I hadn’t realized was central either… but anyhow, it has an actual story arc and seems to cover every type of female experience…

                I can see why they took shows like this off and we have actually suffered regressive roles, as Xena was truly forwarding.

                I think Lucy Lawless as Xena might be my “goddess” 🙂

                Thanks so much for reliving your fun with me. I hope you do check it out again sometime and see what you think!

                • diahannreyes says:

                  Are you watching it on Netflix or something? I went through Greys Anatomy’s first five seasons again and noticed this time around how much more fully draw the characters are – both men and women – than other tv shows especially 10 years ago.

                  • katherinejlegry says:

                    Naw, I’m an old school dvd renter willing to pay dollar late fees for keeping them past the allotted time (because I can’t humanly watch them that close together or that often and still manage to have a real life!!!)

                    I think being able to watch these shows back to back re-run style years later revealed to me the story arcs I’d missed that do develop characters, too.

                    Is that Shondra Rhimes, who writes Grey’s Anatomy? I am a pretty harsh critic of her work so far and think she is largely pandering to white men’s tastes, but I will spare you my lecture on that… I didn’t watch much of Grey’s Anatomy… I think it made me feel like doctors should not be having time for that much sex. And I couldn’t take the co-ed locker room stuff seriously… so I missed all the character development and plot… and would need to give it a fair look before judging it like I have.

                    And also maybe what I go for in Xena would have you calling me a hypocrite instantly! (not that you call people out like that.. that’s more of what I do…but uh…) Oh well…

                    Thanks again for the dialogue! And for the inspiration on goddess, witch, gypsy energies…


                    • diahannreyes says:

                      I think there is always room for contradictions in our preferences so I doubt I’d call you a hypocrite. 🙂 Interesting your perspective on Rhymes’ work. I personally thought her series was all fluffy the first pass yet enjoyed it nonetheless. It seems to have taken an even more feminist bent this season with so many strong female leads. Good to dialogue with you!

                    • katherinejlegry says:

                      I love how you actually keep me current Diahann… I need to update my Rhyme’s knowledge base anyhow and grant her room for growth as a writer and also consider the industry she is working in… I’m interested in your take on a stronger season and will see who is leading roles now for sure. I appreciate the heads up. 🙂

  9. markrenney2 says:

    Celebrations like Halloween can also be very private and individual experiences. Nicely expressed Diahann.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thanks, Mark. At our house, Halloween is definitely a stay at home and watch scary movies occasion as opposed to braving the grown up crowds having fun. Hope you had a good one!

  10. Peter Schreiner says:

    The archetype of the witch was perhaps the product of religious patriarchal dominance, I would highly suspect. Knowing but a few witches as I do, I can assure you they are quite beautiful, internally and externally.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I agree, Peter! I hear that a lot of those who were burned were medicine women and artists and lesbians and others who were not fitting into the suppression and compression being done by the patriarchy and the church. And the few I know as well are quite amazing 🙂

  11. Sweet post, D. Always love the honesty here. I can relate to the wonder of womanhood in that photo. And you don’t need to be a mother to feel it – as you know. =)

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you, D! Yes – so good to include here, that all women are wonders – and that the Wonder Woman moniker is not just reserved for those who can/choose to create another life.

  12. I love the messaging that power is yours to take it as you want, whether or not you are a witch! Great food for thought year round.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thank you! It strikes me that real power is far more interesting and useful than the fairy tale kind I know I wished for to have as a girl. I love how you put it- that “power is yours to take as you want, whether or not you are a witch!”

  13. alohaleya says:

    I love this post! You’ve reminded me of my favourite Halloween costume from years ago – where I was that gypsy woman, with harem pants and a bling head covering. I didn’t make the connection to the wild woman but when I think about it now, I very much relate to what you say: “I was using the occasion to go out in public dressed up as myself.” Yes!! ❤

  14. Alice says:

    “Looking back, I realize that…I was using the occasion to go out in public dressed up as myself.” Such an interesting observation. What occasions do we do this on, as adults? For I am quite sure the impulse to dress up as those selves we wish we hold more closely than we do, is not something that dissipates fully after childhood…

  15. Jean says:

    Was pretty boring dressing up for Hallowe’en. Just a face mask. Parents couldn’t afford more. But that was ok. Still Hallowe’en was fun.

    I had not thoughts of wild women at any time. But looking back, I probably seemed uncontrollable in life path to my parents at the time.. 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      I wonder if most parents feel that way when their kids go off and do their own thing as many are likely to do beyond parental expectations or ideas of how life should go.

  16. reocochran says:

    I love Wonder Woman and her natural photo with baby nursing. (Alyssa Milano rocks!)
    On another note, I did post a rather interesting article about breastfeeding Mother Mary with baby Jesus. How the Catholics in 1600-1700’s, censored and destroyed beautiful artwork and statues. There was a great exhibit where my youngest daughter went to college at University of Dayton. If you look at my tags on right of blog posts, “breastfeeding,” will take you to October, 2014. Just FYI, in case anyone wants a different sort of serious read. You cover this subject well, Diahann.
    I like to wear gypsy clothes or dress in 70’s clothes, sometimes for adult parties. I also have been a “slutty” firewoman or French maid. I can see this would be considered objectifying myself. . . Oops, oh well.
    Anyway, I liked being Snow White one year and Little Red Riding Hood as a girl. I like your conversation here and the idea of portraying Xena and Wonder Woman. Since my name could be Batman’s better half. 🙂 Smiles, Robin

    • diahannreyes says:

      I will have to check that out, Robin! Thank you. I say if you want to dress like a French maid or anything that’s completely your choice and no one’s business and “slutty” would be just someone else’s sexist judgement about it – what does a “slutty” person look like anyways?

      Have been enjoying the new take on Supergirl lately. Have a great day fighting crime today, Robin 😉

  17. That picture is the best! And thanks for this reminder. Embracing my inner strength and power feels like a dance that I’m always engaged in. Sometimes I feel in it, connected, alive. But so often I feel small and numb. Your posts often remind me that that power is always there, I just have to tune in and pay attention.

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