"The Witch Is Dead" - sexist or not?

Submitted by martin on 15 April, 2013 - 7:05

Excerpts from a discussion among Solidarity readers about the using the phrase "The Witch Is Dead" about Thatcher's death.


I'll admit to laughing when I first saw "The Witch is Dead". But then I spoke to a comrade pointed out all the language being used to describe her was sexist, and she felt there would not be as much hatred if Thatcher had been male.

While I disagreed with the latter I did feel completely ignorant to the use of language, especially when I chaired our trades council and a number of people were laughing and using the terms "witch" and "bitch". While that was going I saw some woman delegates with looks of despair on their face.

I intervened pointed out the sexist language and asked why do we get taken in by shallow campaigns especially when, (as previously mentioned) there are a number of songs that describe the feeling towards her - Elvis Costello's "Tramp the dirt down" would have been my choice.

Whilst there are people who are intentionally sexist, I believe there's a lot like myself who are ignorant, and when they understand this they won't use the language and they will challenge people that do.

R

"Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" is not a sexist song, in the context for which it was written.

Is it sexist to use it in reference to Thatcher? Probably.

But, it is surely a very good thing that a song celebrating her death is at number one during the week of her funeral. Similarly to the way in which it was very very good that the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen was number one during the Silver Jubilee.

Much though I would have preferred The Beat’s ‘Stand Down Margaret’, The Blow Monkeys’ ‘Celebrate (the Day After You’) or even Morrissey’s ‘Margaret On The Guillotine’ to go to number one, it’s not going to be any of those, is it?

J

Anyone notice good witches are always 'pretty' and bad witches ugly horrid single women? Just saying.

Maybe with exception of Buffy witches, but then Buffy rocks generally.

I agree it is a sexist song. What is the equivalent that would be sung about a man? Not good enough she was an evil right wing woman, no, she has to be caricatured as a witch.

RW

I must admit to not remembering the Oz film from my childhood even in the vaguest terms, so I have no understanding whatsoever of the significance of the witch, the West, the munchkins, etc. But the use of the word "witch" is a term of a abuse reserved only for women, and witches in fiction are invariably evil and wicked women (not just evil or wicked people), and all this has its origins in the persecution of real women in the real world - literally, in fires that blazed across Europe, at one point.

P

If you look at the original L. Frank Baum novel there is a clear association with 'the west' and evil - whether this is conscious or not I don't know - 'look to the west where the witch lives and you cannot fail to find her'.

The track itself will not raise gender issues within the central discourse within which it is situated - not Trevor-Roper's witch trials of the 17th C, but Oz itself as an imaginary construction. So, in this sense I disagree.

The wicked witch of the west is totally dissociated from any actual (gendered) historical experience and more rooted in the uprising of the munchkins, the alliance of the poor and oppressed (tin man, cowardly kion, scarecrow) against overwhelming totalitarian power which (hugely important) creates a slave mentality of the oppressed.

M

I don't think it's something we would have initiated, and I agree that any use of the word "witch" is potentially problematic, but in this particular context, and given the fact that the song is a rather jolly number celebrating the death of an evil character (who happens to be a witch) in a popular children's film, I don't think it's inevitably sexist.

'Ditch The Bitch' clearly was, in any context - and the people who used the slogan knew it. It's not that they didn't see or intend it as sexist (they did): it's that they didn't care. Just like the militants who shouted homophobic chants about Heath.

I think there's a qualitative difference, though I must admit I find it difficult to explain or analyse why that is.

JD

I think pretty much all uses of the word "witch" to describe a woman unless, like the character in the Wizard of Oz, she actually is one are sexist.

It's true that the Yip Harburg song is not itself sexist but surely its use now around Thatcher's funeral is. I can't really see how you can contextualise that away. There are much better ways to celebrate her demise and remember all the victims of her government's policies.

MT

I think 'witch' in the way it is being used here is sexist, but this has become front of the class struggle and has to be recognised on those terms.

God, that's what the class struggle has come to.

V

The latest edition of Solidarity is quite right to raise the issue of sexist language being used to curse Thatcher. It went on in the 1980's (eg "Ditch The Bitch" and worse, especially during the miners' strike) and there seems to have be some of it since her death.

I do not, however, agree that the promotion of the song 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead' by anti-Thatcher protesters/celebrators is necessarily or inevitably sexist. The song was certainly not sexist in its original intention (it was written for a scene in the Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz by the leftie songwriter 'Yip' Harburg, who also wrote Brother Can You Spare A Dime) and I do not believe the campaign to get it to No 1 in the charts is motivated by sexism. It strikes me as a minor, but quite legitimate, act of protest and defiance against the Tory's nauseating campaign to construct a consensus of national reverence around Thatcher's death.

Of course, use of the word "witch" can be sexist, but contest is all. In this case, I don't think it is.

By the way, the Ella Fitzgerald version is far superior to Judy Garland's.

JD

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