With the emergence of self-proclaimed tradwife influencers and the rise of gender essentialist “divine feminine” rhetoric on TikTok, we are currently living through an undeniable anti-feminist backlash. Despite somehow already being seven years old and a painstaking recreation of late ‘60s aesthetics, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch provides the perfect antidote to the regressive trends plaguing our current times.
The film follows Elaine on her desperate quest to find a man who can love her as she loves him. She loses weight, presents herself as hyperfeminine, and uses sex magic in order to unlock men’s “love potential”, but somehow it never works out, and the bodies just keep piling up.
Elaine is fascinating in that she is a female misogynist through and through (“brainwashed by the patriarchy,” as one character puts it). She believes that it is a woman’s job to please men, and if she only does a good enough job, she will finally be rewarded with love. Most films would cast her as the villain, but The Love Witch presents her as sympathetic, even tragic. In one of my favourite scenes, her love interest says that she’s “[his] girl and there’s no one around to tell [him] otherwise.” “Except me,” Elaine counters immediately, unthinkingly. She quickly drops it, but at that moment, we see the contradiction at the heart of Elaine. She is a ‘bad person’ but also a full person, desperate to assert herself even as she rejects her own personhood to fit the male fantasy.
While tradwifery and “divine feminine” woo-woo might seem like very different ideologies, The Love Witch expertly illustrates the link between them. Elaine strives to be the perfect traditional woman, egged on by her coven, who state their beliefs in a darkly ironic scene at the strip club:
“We strive for male/female polarity and to regain our primal power as goddesses. We need to teach men how to love us using ways they can understand. So goddesses, use perfume, wear high heels and makeup […]. Be a mother and a lover. […] Use sex magic to destroy his fear of you and to open his heart to the floodgates of love. Only then will he begin to see you as a human being with all of your inner beauty.”
The film is concerned not only with women but with the idea of traditional gender roles as a whole. Elaine works her way through a number of men, discarding all of them for being too emotional (“just like a little girl”), before she finally meets The One – Griff. Griff is the epitome of ‘traditional masculinity’ – he’s ruggedly handsome, confident, assertive, and a raging misogynist. As Elaine falls more deeply in love with him, he monologues in disgust that love is unmanly and that he could never love a real woman because the “feminine ideal only exists in a man’s mind”. The terrible irony of The Love Witch is that “male/female polarity” (i.e. traditional gender roles) could never lead to a respectful, “equal but different” relationship because it is that very ‘traditional masculinity’ which prevents men from seeing women as people.
The Love Witch is a biting satire of anti-feminism and gender essentialism, stating in no uncertain terms that whether you seek to be a domestic goddess or a primal witchy womb goddess, these things will never be a true source of empowerment. Elaine is a wonderful character because she embodies the internalised misogyny in all women; she is all of our worst impulses, and The Love Witch reminds us just what happens if we don’t resist those impulses and seek true equality.
Image: “Anna Biller” by bregon83 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.