Terry Pratchett gave a talk in 1985 titled Why Gandalf Never Married.
(Well first of all because Tolkienland is almost entirely male. Tolkien clearly didn’t want no stinkin’ women cluttering up his myth. Women are downers; everybody hates them.)
While I was plundering the fantasy world for the next cliche to pull a few laughs from, I found one which was so deeply ingrained that you hardly notice it is there at all. In fact it struck me so vividly that I actually began to look at it seriously.
That’s the generally very clear division between magic done by women and magic done by men.
*waves from the back row*
I notice it. I notice things like that. Feminists do notice things like that. It’s why everybody hates us, even more than everybody hates women. We notice things like that, and what things like that imply about what everyone thinks about women. And then we get very pissed off and worried about the future for girls, and we talk about it a lot, and everybody hates us even more.
Let’s talk about wizards and witches. There is a tendency to talk of them in one breath, as though they were simply different sexual labels for the same job. It isn’t true. In the fantasy world there is no such thing as a male witch. Warlocks, I hear you cry, but it’s true. Oh, I’ll accept you can postulate them for a particular story, but I’m talking here about the general tendency. There certainly isn’t such a thing as a female wizard.
Sorceress? Just a better class of witch. Enchantress? Just a witch with good legs. The fantasy world. in fact, is overdue for a visit from the Equal Opportunities people because, in the fantasy world, magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff, while the wizards are usually cerebral, clever, powerful, and wise.
Well yes. Welcome to the wonderful world of Being Aware of Cultural Stereotypes Everywhere.
Of course magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff, because that’s how women are in the stereotypes. That’s why we fight them. Because they self-perpetuate, and they lead to all sorts of shitty consequences.
Now you can take the view that of course this is the case, because if there is a dirty end of the stick then women will get it. Anything done by women is automatically downgraded. This is the view widely held — well, widely held by my wife every since she started going to consciousness-raising group meetings — who tells me it’s ridiculous to speculate on the topic because the answer is so obvious. Magic, according to this theory, is something that only men can be really good at, and therefore any attempt by women to trespass on the sacred turf must be rigorously stamped out. Women are regarded by men as the second sex, and their magic is therefore automatically inferior. There’s also a lot of stuff about man’s natural fear of a woman with power; witches were poor women seeking one of the few routes to power open to them, and men fought back with torture, fire and ridicule.
I’d like to know that this is all it really is. But the fact is that the consensus fantasy universe has picked up the idea and maintains it. I incline to a different view, if only to keep the argument going, that the whole thing is a lot more metaphorical than that. The sex of the magic practitioner doesn’t really enter into it. The classical wizard, I suggest, represents the ideal of magic — everything that we hope we would be, if we had the power. The classical witch, on the other hand, with her often malevolent interest in the small beer of human affairs, is everything we fear only too well that we would in fact become.
Yes…That’s the same thing. That’s not a different thing, it’s the same thing. The classical wizard represents the ideal, and the ideal is of course male. That’s the same thing. Always, without even thinking about it, thinking the ideal, the standard, the generic, the typical, the best, the most usual, the classic, the normal, is male, while the female is always the exception, the weird, the not as good – that’s the same thing. It’s the entrenched stereotype, that we’re all stuck with (unless we grew up in a very unusual and very isolated bubble), that males are general and right while women are defective.