"It's a world of glamour and mystery, but also of sexism," begins an article in today's Guardian written by Fanny Johnstone. She's talking about stage magic, where men dazzle audiences with illusions and women are "lovely assistants," there to hold doves or get cut in half. In 1921, PT Selbit was the first magician to "saw" a person in half. He deliberately chose a woman because it was the height of the suffragette protests. The next time you see a woman sawed in half, you'll know its Selbit saying, "Oh, you want to vote? Try and vote now!" Johnstone interviews a magician named Marisa Carnesky who loves turning that stunt on its head: "Female magicians don't tend to cut people up," she says. "But I'm interested in cutting people up - especially boys. So I have a male assistant."
But in general, it's an uphill climb for women making magic. Joanie Spina worked with David Copperfield on 10 television specials (he hired her in 1985). "David never introduced me, so I, and other female dancers, appeared anonymously for years," she says. "I did find fault with the term 'assistant' because it sounds like someone rolling props on and off stage when many of us were highly trained actors and dancers."
Has anything changed since the '80s? 18-year-old Lexi Watterson, the Young Magican of the Year runner-up, says: "When I first started out people were surprised because I was a girl," she says. "Some even asked me if it was OK for women to do it. It can get quite annoying because whenever I say I do magic people assume that I'm the assistant. It's kind of sexist: the girls do all the work but the magician just stands there and waves his wand."
So why is magic such a boys' club? Do little girls not dream of making magic? One of the biggest audiences for magic is kids: What messages are sent when women "assist," disappear and get pierced by knives?
Breaking Into The Magic Circle [Guardian]