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Originally published Friday, August 16, 2013 at 4:07 PM

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Guest: Why there are so few women magicians

Magic is the territory where men shove women in boxes, chop them up and set them on fire while an audience applauds, writes guest columnist Maritess Zurbano.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Actually never even occurred to me until I read your article. Guess it's just something... MORE
Well written. Enjoyed this! MORE
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THIS year, there were nine magic productions on cable, on the Internet and in movie theaters, including the recent films “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and “Now You See Me.”

Most people will never see a magic show in person, so why all the fuss? Our society is already obsessed with Harry Potter, vampires and superheroes (who are actually magicians — people who possess supernatural powers). A closer look at magic was inevitable.

Magic is the fantasyland where men’s desires are expressed. If you really want to gauge the psyche of mainstream America, don’t look at legislation or online trends. Look at magic shows.

Everyone wants to be magical. Flip though any town’s business listings. Magic Nails, Magic Car Wash. There’s the magic of cooking, the magic of painting, the magic of the movies. It goes on forever.

Most people already know that the world of illusion is male-dominated. This is the territory where men shove women in boxes, chop them up and set them on fire while an audience applauds.

My career as a magician began in 1992, when I was one of fewer than 50 professional female magicians in the world. By my count, these statistics hold steady in 2013.

Although I knew some really great effects, such as how to turn $1 into a $100 bill, I was ashamed that I didn’t understand the most basic magic secrets, such as how to make a dove appear in my bare hands or how to make someone vanish from a chair.

I also aspired to become one of the best card workers out there. I went to blackjack-dealing school, bought books, invested thousands of dollars in apparatus and spent hundreds of hours networking, but my efforts always seemed superficial.

What shocked me was the workplace environment. Male magicians openly traded pornos. Top-notch magicians proudly began their magic lecture notes with a picture of them with a porn star. Others illustrated their advanced magic books with photos of women in bikinis. It was hard to distinguish between their porn and their magic.

Two decades later, changes have arrived. According to Magic Magazine, the number of topless magic shows in Las Vegas has fallen to zero. Women are no longer naked, but that does not mean we have achieved equality among wand-bearers.

The movie “Burt Wonderstone” spotlit an old problem: the dearth of female magicians. This glaring absence sparked discussion within a New York Times blog, in The Atlantic and on NPR.

To its credit, the film “Now You See Me” does feature a female magician. Unfortunately, the filmmakers’ progressive tendencies ended there. The female magician ultimately reprises her original role as assistant by acting as eye candy in short skirts and holding props for the other magicians to use.

The message was retrograde: Women can hold the same jobs as men, but not at the same level. At one point, one of the characters in the film refers to a mysterious book of magic. This is a book similar to the first real-life magic book, “The Discoverie of Witchcraft.” Published in 1530, this text was designed to save people from being tortured and killed as witches. Those were some of the real first female magicians in history, women who were ostracized, tortured and murdered.

How could men compete with female sorcery? After I gave birth to my son, I could not convince myself to perform any other magic for a year. It just seemed silly in comparison.

I’m not disillusioned. Female magicians perform at conventions, trade shows and international competitions. Some own magic businesses, invent magic, write magic books and even have their own full evening shows.

The future for magic and for women lies in supporting girls and the next generation. The new magic is this: Reclaim your power.

Maritess Zurbano of Seattle is a mentalist and magician currently working on a memoir about how she became a Las Vegas magician in a male-dominated field. Website: www.Maritess.com


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