Wanna try something new the next time you play poker or blackjack? Learn about gender neutral playing cards and how they might be just what you’re looking for.
In late 2020, Indy Mellink made waves when she created a new style of playing cards. With a little imagination, she ended up producing something quite intriguing: gender neutral playing cards.
The Dutch Ph.D. student had been trying to explain how playing cards work to her younger cousins when she realized that the whole setup carried some old, implied biases — mainly that kings were worth more than queens. She started to question this quirk of the system: What exactly makes the king more powerful than the queen? And she didn’t have a satisfactory answer, so she wanted to create an alternative with her gender neutral playing cards.
When designing her own deck, she stepped away from the whole idea of depicting people on the face cards altogether. Instead, she wanted to show the cards’ worth through easily recognizable values that are more common across a multitude of cultures and age ranges.
Her solution? Bronze, silver, and gold.
It’s an easy concept for anyone to grasp, as we see it on a global scale whenever we watch the Olympics. Here’s how she designed them to look:
Bronze shields: replace jacks
Silver coins: replace queens
Gold bars: replace kings
The rest of the cards in Mellink’s deck design (also called GSB playing cards) have remained the same, so if you grab your own deck of gender neutral playing cards, you’ll still have the same four suits you’re familiar with. The only thing that’s changed is the face cards — even the classic aces are the same.
Why Gender Neutral Playing Cards in the First Place?
Some folks are probably wondering what the fuss is about anyways. It’s just a deck of cards, right? It doesn’t really mean anything.
However, Mellink has her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a master’s degree in forensic psychology, so she understands the subtle messaging that we can get in our popular culture and how it can impact how we look at the larger world.
She has studied how, when we’re presented with subconscious inequalities, this can impact our minds and our lives. And constantly being told that a man is more powerful than a woman in something as simple as a deck of cards can build these subconscious inequalities that we constantly carry.
Playing cards may seem like a small thing, but add it on top of so many other direct and indirect lessons we get about how men are stronger or better than women, and it can feel like you’re seeing that message absolutely everywhere — right on down to the cards you’re playing with.
Another Interesting Aspect About Gender Neutral Playing Cards
On top of removing gender from a typical deck of cards, Mellink also tackled the lack of racial diversity on your traditional playing cards. Think of all the times you’ve seen those jacks, queens, and kings at the blackjack table — they’re all very, very white.
So not only does Mellink’s design remove gender, but it also removes the subtle impression that only white people can be royalty. By removing the faces from the face cards, she has worked to make her design as inclusive as possible by excluding no one from its imaging.
Other Versions Do Exist
While Mellink’s design has caught on this past year, other designers have also made their own versions of playing cards that address the gender issue.
In 2017, Mayan Segal created her own deck that she’d named Queeng. Instead of wholly replacing the kings, queens, and jacks, she reworked them:
Prince/Princess cards: replace jacks
Duchess or Duke cards: replace queens
Monarch cards: replace kings
Rather than eliminating gender altogether, Segal wanted to show two genders as possibilities for each face card.
Addressing Criticisms of Gender Neutral Playing Cards
Some folks might get their feathers ruffled at the idea of changing up something as basic and long-established as our playing cards. But there’s something important to remember here. Traditional playing cards are just that: traditional.
If we always stuck to traditions, we wouldn’t get any new versions of anything — no new games to try and no adaptations or modernizations of old favorites. We wouldn’t have so many versions of poker to play. We’d have no new slot technology. We’d be stuck with the same old thing just because it’s “tradition.”
So while it’s easy to say that we’re destroying traditions by creating new playing card decks, we have to ask ourselves what traditions we feel are ultimately worth upholding in the first place.
Besides, this is all meant to be an alternative to the traditional playing cards out there, not a replacement. If you want to stick to your traditional cards, no one is stopping you.
But if you’re looking for something a little different, a little more egalitarian in its thinking, maybe pick up a deck of gender neutral playing cards. Mellink has set up a website where you can buy your own GSB playing cards to add to your collection.