The Pandemic is Burning Women’s Careers into Ashes and Dust

When I was sixteen, I discovered a deep dark family secret. I was the descendant of a witch. This secret was passed on over the generations in hushes and whispers like a smooth breeze blowing over a hill before a raging winter storm. Something exciting, perhaps normal, but not to be discussed least it cause great shame and embarrassment to the family.

I was entranced. Could it be that I was the descendant of a woman who made such an impression her village felt the literal need to burn her at the stake? A woman who some 350 years later is still discussed at my family’s dinner table for her unusual ways and who is memorialized with a plaque in the town center of Trondheim, Norway where she was burned at the stake. A plaque in honor of all wild, untamable women of that era.

As a teenager I owned this witch. She was my family’s personal story of a biblical Eve, a woman refusing to follow along in an age where men made the rules. A woman with her own free-thinking mind who used her knowledge to heal those around her — her magic mystifying the sagest village elder.

Herstory

According to family folklore, her story goes something like this…

In 1670, my great…great grandmother, Lisbet Nypan, at the mature age of 60 was burned at the stake, accused of witchery. She was the last Norwegian “witch” to be burned at the stake. One of the more famous, and, as such, Torbjørn Prestvik wrote a book about the trial in 1962.

Lisbet lived on a farm with her husband and children. Farm life did not come easy. The use of herbs and other natural medicines to heal sickness and injury being one of the only options available at that time in such a place. Lisbet’s knowledge of these healing techniques made her well known throughout the area, and people came from afar to seek her help. Her knowledge mystified (…and provided her with extra economic resources for survival).

One day a sickness overtook the neighbor’s cows, many of them dying. Neighbors and town villagers accused Lisbet of casting a spell on the herd of cows, causing their death. This led to her eventual trial where a group of aldermen (most likely) from the town found her guilty. Shortly thereafter, they burned her at the stake in the town center. An example to all other women possessing knowledge gained from learned experience or passed down from generations to proceed with caution or risk brutal death.

Today’s Pandemic Is Quite Literally Burning Women’s Careers at the Stake

These methods of controlling women’s behavior repeat themselves over and over in history. Today’s complete lack of communal action or prioritization to mitigate the damaging impacts of this pandemic on mother’s careers is yet another example of how we as a society keep women down.

The pandemic is burning us at the stake. Quite literally. It is killing us. Not only in terms of physical death, but in terms of our careers and ability to work. Women are making the ultimate sacrifice, once again, for their own family and society as a whole. All this because we live in a country that has never properly planned to create a supportive environment where all female able-bodied working age adults can have a family and prosper in paid labor outside their home.

Dedicated journalists, many of whom are passionate mothers, keep reporting on this issue. Their stories on repeat, looping through time. Believing that one day someone will listen. Something will change. They keep pressure on this issue not only to make sure mothers know they are not alone, but because they hope for a better future — and for policy change — that will make it feasible for all mothers to work while still making sure their family is safe and thriving. The only way to achieve this is through workforce policies that lift women up and remove the silent burdens we have been living with for centuries that hinder our ability to achieve economic freedom and independence.

We need the men and women who are leading us through this pandemic crisis to act, and we need action now. If our respected leaders do not act, the vicious cycle burning up women’s careers and economic wellbeing continues. Just as we agree today that burning women at the stake for witchery (or any other act for that matter) is horrific, we must acknowledge that not taking action to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on women’s careers is equally egregious.

Mothers everywhere are crying out in primal screams. Hear their calls. Act. Now. If, as a society, we cannot muster enough courage to do it for women’s sake, then do it for the sake of your children and the next generation that follows. They are watching you. Your action (or lack there of) teaches them how much you value the (paid and non-paid) economic contributions of women in society. What do you want to teach them?

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Misty L. Heggeness

Misty L. Heggeness

Eternal optimist. Economist by day. Writer by night. Mother and wife 24/7. Opinions all my own.