This is the painting of Mad Meg (or to give it the proper Flemish title: Dulle Griet). It was painted in 1562 by Peter Breughel the Elder not only during a time when the Spanish Inquisition happened to be at its most fanatical height, but also when the characteristically misogynistic witch-hunting period was starting to get in full swing.
The painting depicts Mad Meg as she leads an army of women to pillage the very depths of hell. She sounds pretty fearless, daring and resourceful to me. Which makes me wonder whether ‘mad’ here is used as a highly politically incorrect way to dismiss someone as acting irrationally through mental illness, an insult even – or whether it’s used as a term of endearment by those with a sneaking admiration for someone who is fearless enough to launch an attack against seemingly insuperable odds?
Then there’s also a long history of a supposedly rational male-dominated culture dismissing those who dare to be different or have different ideas as mad. The employment of such punitive psychology can not only be found as recently as a tactic to discredit dissidents in the former USSR, but branding women as crazy – the typical ‘hysterical’ label – has been and continues to be a constant tactic of a sexist misogynist society. Btw…before I go any further –
IF YOU’RE HERE BECAUSE OF THIS YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Anyway, back to Meg: one wonders had she been male whether or not she would have earned the epithet of Meg the Great instead? But then, I rather like her as Mad Meg. She sounds really kewl.