The first issue of Sabrina's Secrets, a magazine spin-off from popular TV programme Sabrina the Teenage Witch has just hit the UK high street, confirming after 2,000 years of bad publicity, witches have been transformed into alluring symbols of female power. A recent study by Rachel Moseley, researcher at the University of Warwick, reveals that witches are no longer seen by young girls as dark-arts-practicing evil crones best drowned or burnt, but magical sorcerers with more glamour and girl power than Miss Dynamite.
Although a belief in witchcraft has not been an integral part of mainstream Western culture for hundreds of years, teen films and TV shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Craft, Practical Magic, Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are increasingly popular. Rachel Moseley argues in her paper Glamorous witchcraft that witch feminine power is expressed through bewitching femininity.
At the heart of witch focused film and TV, such as The Craft, is the glamorous makeover where feminine identities are constructed through glitter, clothes and make-up. In the pilot episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sabrina is introduced to her powers following her sixteenth birthday, giving her hex appeal. Rachel Moseley states in Glamorous witchcraft: “[T]een witches usually acquire their powers at a moment which both marks adolescence and captures the moment of transition from child to woman, and thus the potential attainment of adult femininity and (sexual) power…Significantly, then, Sabrina’s first experiment with her new powers is in relation to her appearance and the possibility of self-transformation.”
Teen witches take on the post-feminist concept of girl power. The unconventional wild female space of feminist witchcraft has become a powerful, girly, sexualised space- a post feminist space. The character of Sabrina offers a fantasy of teenage female power, her magic giving her a way of negotiating the tricky emotional teen world of cliques and romance, as well as addressing the issue of growing independence. Witchery is about empowerment, dressing up and showing off.
Redefining feminism is a challenge even for those with supernatural powers. Not a witch, but a girl with magical powers and witch friends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer continually struggles to reconcile the conventional pleasures of being a girl with the responsibilities of being a powerful woman with a job. As Buffy stomps around on demons in her high heels and prom dress in the episode ‘Prophesy Girl’ she is defining what ‘being a girl’ means now and flouting stereotypes.
Rachel Moseley said: “With the exception of Harry Potter celluloid representations of witches are still typically female. Historically, witches have been outcasts and much of this unease clearly stems from a fear of female force. The teenage witch genre articulates a new powerful image of femininity. It’s not that the Hag and herb potions have become hip, rather witchcraft has become synonymous with power and girly magic.”
For more information contact: Jenny Murray, Assistant Press Officer, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 574255, Mobile: 07876 217740, Email: email@example.com Rachel Moseley, Film and Media department, University of Warwick, Tel: 02476 573000 Email: Rachel.Moseley@warwick.ac.uk
Glamorous witchcraft: gender and magic in teen film and television is published in Screen 43:4