Often the face of evil

NPR asks an always-timely question: Why Are Old Women Often The Face Of Evil In Fairy Tales And Folklore?

Because everybody* hates old women.

Typecasting is one explanation. “What do we have? Nags, witches, evil stepmothers, cannibals, ogres. It’s quite dreadful,” says Maria Tatar, who teaches a course on folklore and mythology at Harvard. Still, Tatar is quick to point out that old women are also powerful — they’re often the ones who can work magic.

Well, “powerful” until they’re killed at the end. Not a particularly desirable brand of power.

Tatar says old women villains are especially scary because, historically, the most powerful person in a child’s life was the mother. “Children do have a way of splitting the mother figure into … the evil mother — who’s always making rules and regulations, policing your behavior, getting angry at youand then the benevolent nurturer — the one who is giving and protects you, makes sure that you survive.”

Veronique Tadjo, a writer who grew up in the Ivory Coast, thinks there’s a fear of female power in general. She says a common figure in African folk tales is the old witch who destroys people’s souls. As Tadjo explains, “She’s usually a solitary woman. She’s already marginal. She’s angry at something — at life, or whatever — and she will ‘eat’ — that’s the expression — people’s souls, in the sense that she’s going to possess people and then they die a terrible death. And everybody knows it’s the witch; it’s the old woman.”

As I’ve mentioned, we’re seeing a lot of that in the commentary on Germaine Greer. Even PZ – whom I would have expected to know better – went there:

My personal feeling is that Greer really is saying hateful crap, and my sentiment favors booting her antiquated butt off the campus.

Boot all the antiquated females butts off everything. Get them out of public life. They’re the face (and butt) of evil, so get rid of them.

*Everybody in the Anglophone world, that is.

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