In the new Steve Carell comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, there's a moment when Jane (Olivia Wilde), Burt's reluctant onstage assistant, transforms Burt's dollar bill into a butterfly.
It's a charming scene, showing one more adorable step toward Burt and Jane's inevitable rom-com happy ending. Plus turning money into a tiny fluttering monarch is just generally pretty cool. Yet it also got me thinking: Why is this the first time I have ever seen a woman do a magic trick?
This past week, I talked to performers, producers, lecturers, and teachers in the magic industry about the state of the female magician today—and it turns out that although more and more talented women break into the business all the time, female magician really are rare overall. There's little existing research on the topic, but their estimates of the percentage of women in professional magic ranged from "three percent" to "one out of a dozen" to "six to eight percent." A 2010 story in Pacific Standard reported that figure to be around five percent; one magician simply told me that at magic conventions, there's never a line for the women's restroom.
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."