Magic is for Girls
The 8th of March was and is International Women’s Day. It’s a day designed to mark the launch of a yearlong campaign and part of the long term goal of helping bring about gender parity. This year I chose to highlight female magicians, mostly on twitter. Some I know, some I’m just a fan of, but each of them has one thing in common: They are working in an industry massively dominated by men. I've written a little on this subject before, but this is a little more involved.
Last month I was at Blackpool. It is the largest magic convention in the world. There are performances and lectures from all around the globe. This year there were 57 different artists listed. Only two were women. One was Issy Simpson, a nine year old who was a finalist in last year’s Britain’s Got Talent who did a few spots in the gala. The second was Fay Presto, arguably the pioneer of close up table magic in this country, an industry legend for over 35 years, and a mentor to some of the best magicians I know. Her lecture received a standing ovation. This was the first time she’s been asked to lecture at Blackpool.
The Artists Biography for the Blackpool Convention. It's like 'Where's Wally', if Wally was a female...
This got me thinking about a post by twitter user @girlonetrack put up about the responsabilities I, and every other man has when it comes to heping to end sexual discrimination.
Now, there is no way I’m getting asked to lecture at Blackpool any time soon... or for that matter any magic club. But if I were asked, what would be my reaction? Would I turn down the opportunity? The simple truth is I don’t know.
One of the only justifications I can imagine the organisers might use to account for the lack of female guests might be that there isn’t enough female magicians to book a decent number at an event like Blackpool. I’m not sure if that’s true but even if it is, what are we as an industry doing about it? How are we promoting women within the art? How are we attracting women into magic? Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are all areas traditionally dominated by men, but it’s acknowledged as a problem by the industry with organisations such as WISE and STEMettes are working to actively promote and recruit women. Not just that, their achievements are celebrated as well. There is the Women in IT Awards, Best Business Women Awards, heck, just googling ‘women literature awards’ – a field that, though not perfect, is definitely more diverse than we manage - gets you a wiki page with two sub categories and seventeen pages. But after looking on line for fifteen minutes I’ve not found a single equivalent for female magicians.
The other day I decided to take a look at the stated objectives of The Magic Circle. We have ten of them, and the first one is this: To promote and advance the art of magic. So how are we doing that? The Circle is a society with over 1,500 members, yet only something like 73 are women. That is a shaming statistic. How is this good for magic in any way? So many voices that won’t be heard. How does that kind of ratio make it more likely that the art of magic will be advanced? On a selfish note, how is it good for the society itself? There is no reason that men should like magic any more than women, and if that’s right then there are 1,500 potential new members out there that should be EASY to recruit. You don’t need to make it any more appealing, you just need to make it as appealing. An entire, untapped market. What are we doing to promote and advance the art of magic to 50% of the population? I mentioned Issy earlier. I’m not a big fan of her magic, but at the Blackpool convention I saw more young girls walking around the place then I have ever seen before. It was a noticeable increase. I believe that Issy has managed to do more to promote magic to young girls in a few episodes of a TV show than the Magic Circle has managed, at least since I became a member. Of course she has a massive reach and audience, but the stated goal of the Circle it to promote magic. It’s not to promote *magicians* or *magic acts*, but magic. If that promotion doesn’t include getting young girls to realise that can enjoy the art just as much as boys their age, what on earth is the point of it?
When I’ve had this conversation with friends at the Circle I have, on occasion, heard the argument that doing things for women and not men is discrimination. Yes, of course it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. In 2012 Craig Froehle created a fantastic graphic that he used to show different ideas of what equality means to different people. Since then it has been adapted, and this version, using it to illustrate the difference between equality and equity, is spot on.
Assuming that helping everyone the same means that everyone has the same chance is just plain wrong. We need to get over ourselves. We need to be honest about the fact that for whatever reason(s) women are not as into magic as men. Even when they are they struggle for the same level of recognition.
It isn’t my place to speak for women. I don’t have that experience, I don’t have the vocabulary. But it is my place to speak as a man, and as a man I have both the right and the duty to call out inequality when I see it. I do have a few ideas that I think might help with what I see as a real problem. Over the next few months I’m going to be talking to people, offering suggestions and help, and seeing if I can be the ally I want to be.