The Shapes We Mae

SALEM: The Best Feminist Show on TV

Mindful MediaLily MyersComment

This past spring, I became obsessed with WGN’s Salem, a show that reimagines the seventeenth-century Salem witch trials as if there were real witches in the town. It’s a fantastic show; there are convoluted and complex plotlines, gruesome special effects, and a fascinating array of witch lore and mythology.

But what makes Salem so utterly satisfying to watch is the wide range of strong, complex female protagonists. It’s sad to say that most female protagonists in the mainstream media today are hardly protagonists at all; they usually exist to fulfill tired female stereotypes, or to chase or be chased by a man. Not so with Salem. This show follows the power struggles between several different female witches, all fighting for their own dreams and desires. There are some male witches, but they don’t take center stage, and they don’t exist as love interests. I like a good romance as much as the next person, but it was completely refreshing to realize that I was addicted to this show because I loved watching the women discover their powers, and fight for themselves.

This became clear to me while watching the show’s love story between Mary Sibley, the reigning witch of Salem, and her long-estranged lover John Alden. While the two ostensibly share true love, it’s portrayed as a pretty bland affair. Their love story repeatedly falls to the wayside, while the magic, power struggles, and witch war wage on. I truly am a hopeless romantic—I always root for the love story—so it was an exciting change to find myself rooting for the witch-sisters and not the romance.

Another rarity: none of the male characters hold any real power, compared to the witches. All of the most powerful characters in the show are women. Take the formidable Countess Von Marburg, the immortal leading witch of the ancient German coven. She’s merciless, incredibly powerful, and downright frightening. Or Mary Sibley, who controls her husband’s every move so that he can be her mouthpiece in the town, while it is she who wields the real political power. Or Anne Hale, who begins as an unassuming, rule-abiding young girl until she finds the bottomless depths of magic within her. Though frightened, she chooses to explore her newfound powers on her own. It’s a touching and relatable portrayal of a coming-of-age, the discovery of a young woman’s deep reserves of strength.

I have never seen another television show with this range of complex, powerful females. It’s intoxicating to watch these women rule over the town, to follow their rivalries and triumphs and discoveries. If you’re looking to inject a little magic feminine power into your life, I can’t recommend this show highly enough. The entire first season is on Netflix. You're welcome.