Sterotypes In The Salem Witch Trials

Stereotypes are one of the most prominent groupthink symptoms. According to Irving Janis in Groupthink, “the victims of groupthink hold stereotyped views of enemy groups: they are so evil that genuine attempts at negotiating differences with them are unwarranted…” (pp. 366) There were various stereotypes that colonists used to control Puritan women and the mass hysteria that caused the Salem Witch Trials to become so prominent. During this time there were the normal stresses of a 16th-century Puritan in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

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A strong fear of the devil and competition among Salem Village families and conflict with nearby Salem Town produced a fertile ground for suspicion. This suspicion turned into the Salem Witch Trials that resulted in more than 200 accusations and 20 executions.(Blumberg, 2007) Most of the accused and executed were women, although some men. The Salem Witch Trials originated in a patriarchal society, a belief that men are the superior gender. To understand the stereotypes that originated in the Salem Witch Trials, we must first understand how women were seen in this Puritan community. Puritain women were without a doubt, as mentioned before, inferior to the men in the community. Women and young girls were both somewhat distanced from the teachings of the Bible during this time.

According to Josephine Colburn and her thesis Gender and The Salem Witch Trials, “Women only learned what the men in the town taught them. They did not read the Bible for themselves.”(pp. 4) This separation between women and the disciplines of the Bible established the assumption that women seem to have more of a connection with the devil than men. The Puritan community during the mid-16th century was centered around “the witch,” a stereotype used to control women at the time. Stereotypes, while destructive, do not emerge from thin air; they have a past. This “witch” stereotype began with postmenopausal women who could no longer bear children. One of the primary roles of women during this time was to produce more Purtian children and when this was longer achievable, women were seen as “wicked” and “evil.” (Rosen, 2007). Witch-hunting was a method to castigate Puritan women who did not display femine acts set for them by the community.

According to Maggie Rosen, in her Feminist Perspective on the History of Women as Witches, “Physical attributions that correspond with age, socioeconomic status, or deviance were used as tools to incriminate women.” (pp. 28) This stereotype was accepted by members of the Purtain society purely because, as stated in Groupthink By Irving Janis, “once the group has accepted this stereotype, it becomes almost impossible for any adviser to introduce a more sophisticated viewpoint.”

The remedy of stereotypes interpreted by Irving Janis in Groupthink can be summarized as adopting an impartial stance. This means to make decisions and solve problems while being as unprejudiced as possible.

31 August 2020

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