Where are all the women magicians?

women magicians

Where are all the women magicians? Find out more about women in the Magic Circle and the world of mentalism…

Name some women magicians without hitting Google. Go on, name just one.

Unless you’re a committed member of the Magic Circle and your answer was, perhaps, Magic Jade, Jayne Corrigan or Charlotte Pendragon, you’ve probably fallen short of producing a name out of a hat…

Sure, the magical profession is becoming edgier, trendier and more contemporary thanks to street magicians, endurance acts and headline-grabbing danger stunts like Derren Brown’s ‘Heist’ or ‘Russian Roulette’. However, one of the true remaining mysteries of the trade is why women are still so notably absent. With the art returning once again to the forefront of popular entertainment, the question remains: where are the girls?

Although the halls of fictional fantasy are crammed to burstung with wand-waving anime super-girls and feisty, charm-casting witches, the ‘real’ world of magic is practically monopolised by men, with women typically given a permanently sidelined role as ‘The Assistant’.

Where are all the women magicians?

Frocked out in sequins and feather boas, the magician’s assistant is best known for bringing props on stage or being sawn in half as she acts out the vaguely sadomasochistic Damsel in Distress routine. She provides the glamour and beauty to the magician’s awe-inspiring intrigue. In reality, the assistant is subtly setting up stunts and ensuring that they work whilst the magician reaps the applause. Considered a distraction, the assistant is able to move objects and enable the success of tricks, creating the illusion of magic.

It is in this fashion that the magical community has come to be viewed as misogynist, boxing women into an over-sexualised, under-valued subordinate position. Despite being considered an ‘alternative profession’, historical magicians applied to the same rules as the traditional disciplines of teaching, law and medicine. Given that they held a position of power, responsibility and magnitude over an apt audience, it was assumed that stage magicians must be male.

In the 21st century these stereotypes no longer apply but women are still put off the profession by the overwhelming machismo that seems to have infiltrated the world of magic practitioners. There are only a handful of women magicians in the prestigious Magic Circle and it has proven difficult for women to gain respect and recognition within it. With a lack of resources and support available for women, and limited opportunities once they finally infiltrate the network of secret-keepers, it’s no wonder that young women aren’t rushing out in droves to buy white rabbits and special packs of cards.

Times are changing in the world of magic, but slowly. Debbie McGee became an icon of the changing face of the magician’s assistant. Although decked out in traditional tights and sparkly Lycra leotards, Debbie shared Paul Daniels’ credits and they made their household name as a duo. The Pendragons also shared the line-up and applause, until Charlotte Pendragon branched out on her own (she now markets her own stage magic items, like the Wonderball). Charlotte Pendragon was, in fact, the first woman to be allowed to enter the Magic Circle (it had been man-only for over 100 years).

The way was paved for these women in part by the wife and assistant of The Great Tomsoni – Johnny Thompson was a former actress who refused to become another prop. She developed her role in the form of a character. Although still an “assistant,” her precocious gum-chewing and eyeball-rolling comedy was as important to the show as Johnny’s magic.

However, women still have a long way to go before they are taking centre-stage solo in Vegas as much as they should and could. At the time of writing there are approximately fifty full-time female magicians (or ‘magiciannes’, as they may prefer to be known) in the world to date. Not one of them has achieved the same level of fame and notoriety as their handkerchief-waving counterparts. While men proudly flaunt representatives such as Dynamo filling huge arenas and getting their own shows, women in magic are typically represented by professionals performing at children’s birthday parties not on TV.

But yes, there are women out there. They bring diversity to the stage magic discipline not only in terms of gender but in terms of diversity of acts. Magic Jade, for example, uses accessories such as scarves and butterflies to create ethereal distractions and suspend belief. Unlike the big-box, big-bang, big-animal variety of stage magic, magicians like Magic Jade have offered unique performances and new perspectives for an entirely different kind of audience.

Where are all the women mentalists?

Another developing branch of ‘magic’ concerns cold reading, neuro-linguistic programming and psychological illusionism – known under the umbrella term of ‘mentalism’. This type of magic has existed since the 19th century and has recently been popularised by Derren Brown. These techniques are used expertly by those who claim to perform telepathy, give precognitive information or contact ‘spirits’.

Unlike jumping through the hoops and ‘thou shalt not pass’ attitudes of Magic Circle stage magic, mentalism is a skill that perceptive persons of all genders could harness in their part-time – particularly if they enjoy analysing and interpreting the behaviour of others. Mentalism involves using subtle sensory clues and body language and planting subconscious clues to create the illusion of mental transparency.

Like traditional stage magic, women too are absent from the field of mentalism (19th century women possessing the skill preferred to work under the guise of clairvoyants and mediums). However, it is much easier to develop amateur interest in mentalism, which does not rely on showy theatricals and costly contraptions. For example, Derren Brown’s book Tricks of the Mind features detailed information, tips, tricks and practical techniques on mentalism that allow the reader to develop their own mentalist abilities.

Contrasting the typical shrouded-in-mystery pact of Circle members, mentalism is an almost scientific phenomenon that anyone with the necessary time, interest and enthusiasm can explore. While it may be harder for women to reach the coveted world renown of Houdini or Blaine, girls with an interest in the magic arts are encouraged to develop their techniques – whether this is through trick boxes, hypnotism or cold reading their friends.