How Gender-Neutral Playing Cards Can Shatter Sexism

A one-off event, such as a Diwali taash party, shows women's presence on the cards scene. Outside of that, it remains a men's club.

Tanvi Akhauri
Jan 22, 2021 16:05 IST
Gender neutral playing cards Indy Mellink

The biggest evidence of the utter rampancy with which sexism pervades the world perhaps lies in the way even our games are designed. That even the simplest leisure activities - such as a deck of playing cards - reinforces the apparent "gender hierarchy" through the king, queen, jack line-up shows the conditioning we have been given without our realisation. In an attempt to break those very norms down, Indy Mellink, a 23-year-old Dutch woman, came up with a solution. The young forensic psychology graduate devised a genderless playing deck sans the king, queen, and jack, replacing them with gold, silver, and bronze respectively. 


“If we have this hierarchy that the king is worth more than the queen then this subtle inequality influences people in their daily life because it’s just another way of saying ‘hey, you’re less important. Even subtle inequalities like this do play a big role," Reuters quoted Mellink saying. Her genderless card decks have reportedly been rolled out in the US, Germany, and some other places. 

How Playing Cards Have Been Reinforcing Gender 

Mellink said many people she tested her genderless deck on admitted to not having been aware of the warped gender hierarchy a regular card deck preaches. But is that really surprising? Since we often have to pay keen attention to eke out gender hierarchies in the most usual things, given how "naturally" entrenched they have become. For instance, when buying toys or clothes for children, it is still common for many people's hands to reach towards the pinks for a girl and blues for a boy, even if often subconsciously. 


Cards, even as a game, has long been seen as a pastime meant for men. Poker, rummy, blackjack - these are all playing domains populated by more men than women. In India, a one-off event, such as a Diwali taash party or a rare family game, would show women's presence on the cards scene. Outside of that, it remains a men's club - too reminiscent of dingy rooms filled with cigars and sexist laughter. 

The Queen may reign over the British throne or be the most powerful player on a chessboard. In the real world, she is only a second gender on the playing deck. 

Are Things Changing? 


As far as kids are concerned, we reported last year how parents discovered disturbing “hidden sexual messaging” in the wildly popular toy product LOL Surprise! Dolls. Read about it here. For impressionable young minds, shouldn't mega-retailers have more responsibility? Take more accountability? 

There are, however, faint traces of change incoming. Mellink's genderless deck, which also beckons inclusivity for the queer community, is one such starting point. Netflix's recent miniseries The Queen's Gambitwhich has become one of the platform's most-watched shows, is another gamechanger (literally) since it shows an adept female chess prodigy in a world of male players. Some online video games, like Animal Crossing, have begun offering players options to choose from gender-neutral characters. 

So even though conventionally hyper-feminine Barbies and hyper-masculine Hulks still dominate the playing market, it's heartening to know that children growing up now do have more inclusive options to choose from. As for adult pastimes like the 'male' card game, no better way to break the stereotype than just play. 

Views expressed are the author's own. 

Image Credit: Reuters

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