WOMEN IN MAGIC
Ask anyone to name five well-known magicians and I suspect all of the names would be of men. Ask a magician to name five female magicians (and I hope they could) but I wonder how long it would take. Now ask I.B.M. Ring or S.A.M. Assembly members how many women there are in their clubs and I’m pretty sure that the number can be counted on one hand. Finally, look around you at a convention and note the ratio of men to women. There is only one conclusion that we can draw from all of the above. Our artists, hobbyists, professionals, and practitioners in general are predominantly male. Does this bother anyone?
Others have written about the misogynistic imagery of stage illusions that have women sawed in half, or moved their body parts around in Zig-Zig fashion, or had them stuffed in baskets that are then penetrated with swords. Yes, we all know many of these effects are vestiges of a time gone by, and clearly they don’t represent the tone and tenor of today’s politics. But the fact that many of these “classics” are still performed for contemporary audiences should not be overlooked. They speak to an antiquated notion that men have other worldly powers, they are the stars of the show and women are merely supporting actors.
I do believe that many magicians have been sensitive to the need to update these “classics” and present illusions that are more palatable to audience members of all genders. So we are on the right track. But why is there such a paucity of females participating in our clubs and associations?
We live in an era of cultural upheaval and while the roles of women in society have changed dramatically since the 1950s, we still read about sexual harassment, domestic violence, and income discrepancy, among other data reminding us we have a long way to go. But what is it about magic or magic clubs in particular, that attract more males than females?
Many magicians will tell you that women make the best spectators. They will tell you that women are more expressive and uninhibited in reacting to one’s effects. They laugh more and smile more, whereas male audience members are often uptight and reluctant to participate. Magicians will tell you that women in general enjoy magic more than men. So why are they not joining in if it’s so much fun?
Despite the recent “me too” movement and a collective awakening of how women are treated at home and in the workplace, there are still cultural mores that may be part of the explanation for why few women participate in magic clubs. It was only two years ago when the magazine covers of Boys’ Life and Girls’ Life made the news. The contrast between the two was both startling and disturbing. Boys’ Life had a heading that read, “Explore Your Future,” and it was surrounded with images of a stealth bomber, a satellite, science equipment, a law enforcement badge, a fire fighter’s helmet, a computer, a hammer, and other supposedly “masculine” objects. Girls’ Life on the other hand, showed a picture of Olivia Holt (an attractive young blond woman) and was surrounded by a number of subtitles including “Your Dream Hair,” “Fall Fashion You’ll Love,” “Wake Up Pretty!” and “My First Kiss.”
It’s pretty obvious that despite all of the strides women have made over the last several decades, our media still reinforce the notion that girls should be pretty while boys should be strong. If one looks at the corporate world or in politics a woman is often labeled as “aggressive” while her male counterparts are identified as being “strong.” It’s a double standard for certain. Even just the other day when a female pilot safely landed a Southwest Airline jet that had a life threatening engine explosion (indeed, one passenger was killed), it was noted that the pilot had been denied combat opportunities in the military because the perception was that that wasn’t a woman’s role.
So getting back to my question about women in magic, it’s perhaps not surprising that there are sociological and cultural factors at play in explaining why less women participate in magic in general, and in magic clubs in particular. And perhaps the more important question is what are we going to do about it?
I am raising this topic because I believe we all need to be cognizant of how we often unwittingly support and reinforce these gender-biased ideas and practices. It is also a fact that participation in magic clubs and their parent organizations has diminished greatly, and though many argue that the Internet is to blame, I still can’t help but wonder if this is also due to the perception that groups of magic enthusiasts are just gatherings of old guys.
Since I believe that what motivates most magicians is our desire to bring joy and wonder to the world, I pose the issue of gender discrepancy as food for thought. Obviously, I don’t have an answer but I think it’s an issue worth considering.
These are my thoughts and I welcome yours.