Now, even I'm not a goofy enough feminist stereotype to get all up-in-arms about 17th-century witch-burning as a tangible, pressing, current lady-problem. Buuuuuut...sometimes (all the times) we do feel the echoes of long-past injustices in our largely mundane modern lives. And aren't thought experiments fun? On the heels of the release of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, the Atlantic asks possibly my favorite question in recent memory:
Why is this the first time I have ever seen a woman do a magic trick?
And I just have to say, SERIOUSLY, Y'ALL. There was a pretty intense campaign in this country to train women to never, ever do magic in public. And now we're surprised that there aren't gallant lady-magicians traipsing around Vegas pulling pine martens in tiny bowler hats out of the underpants of visiting sultans? (That's the kind of outside-the-box flair that modern magic is missing by excluding women, bee-tee-dubs.) Is it so far-fetched to think that ladies might have some lingering anxiety about appearing mystical and witchy in close proximity to many, many pitchfork and butane vendors?
Yeah, it probably is. But still. In interviews with both male and female magicians, the Atlantic mentions this [TOTALLY AWESOME WITCH] theory in passing, along with a gaggle of other possibilities. Based on rough estimates, magic is an extremely (and casually and unquestioningly) segregated vocation, with women making up only 3-8% of the professional magical workforce. Which is bullshit. Hermione's the best witch in their year—why does Harry get to be the chosen one!?
Maybe women shy away from magic for our own reasons. We already absorb enough abuse about being frivolous idiots—women have a hard time being taken seriously even when they're running the world—and, though I say this in the most loving way possible, magic is some pretty frivolous shit. Or, maybe, everyone's just so accustomed to women serving as decoration that it's hard to conceive of one running the show.
Right now, there are no female magicians headlining their own shows in Las Vegas—the "Magic Mecca" of the world, as Sue-Anne Webster, an Australian magician and lecturer on magic from Australia, puts it. And female magicians are enough of an oddity that, like Jane, Webster has found that "if you work with another magician, and that other magician is a male, people will naturally think you're the assistant. Which is annoying."
So what are the other theories? Well, there's the regular old boys-club stuff:
And when the Industrial Revolution came around, it was the golden age of secret societies and fraternities. These were generally men's-only clubs, and one of them was the Society of American Magicians in New York City, at Martinka's Magic Shop. Houdini was one of the officers.
The "math is hard/let's go to the beach" stereotype:
Another part of that is the same as how math and science often attract more boys than girls. Magic is a puzzle. I was in the math club—it's no coincidence that I became a magician.
The outfits (because ladies can't wear suits, I guess?):
Most magic that you learn assumes that you're wearing a jacket with long sleeves, and a pair of pants with pockets—so that if you put your hand in your pocket to put your pen away, you can secretly take out your gold coin. But you don't have a pocket in your gown! So you have to rework it into your purse or something. If you're hiding a couple of doves on your body somewhere, those are bumps.
And finally: Ladies have tiny hands, plus the road is grueling and makes it difficult to have a family. (You know how we baby-machines love our families.)
So, unsurprisingly, what this all comes down to is the same old self-perpetuating trap. Women were historically excluded from the magic establishment; discouraged from pursuing (or having confidence in their abilities in) math and science; expected to maintain traditional gender signaling (i.e. stuffing doves in gowns instead of just changing their clothes); written off as physically less capable instead of being encouraged to develop tricks friendly to smaller hands; and forever expected to prioritize duties in the home over their own ambitions.
Holy shit, did magic just become a flawless microcosm of the modern gender gap?
Anyhow, support your local lady-magicians. And kindly do not burn them. Good night.
Why Are There So Few Female Magicians? [Atlantic]
Photo credit: Wallenrock / Shutterstock.