The Oppressive Inequality Of Playing Cards

One woman’s mission to dismantle the patriarchy through the redesign of something no one ever gave any thought to.

We might all have our own definitions of what constitutes First World Problems and the determined search for oppression by people who are, by any reasonable standard, hugely privileged. but I suspect that fretting about the sexism of playing cards must come pretty high up the list. However, for Dutch forensic psychology graduate Indy Mellink – who I think we can safely say has probably not had a life filled with struggle  – the inherent inequalities of the standard playing card deck have been too much to bear.

“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’,” she told Reuters. “Even subtle inequalities like this do play a big role.” Well, that’s one way of looking at it I suppose. Just how many people have been actively held back from being all they can be by playing cards is hard to gauge, but I’ll wager that even in the intersectional wars, they haven’t generally been seen as symbols of oppression until now. Indeed, even Mellink’s own guinea pigs have failed to back up this theory of oppression, with the report commenting that they said “they had never been conscious of sexual inequality in decks before”. No shit. Still, micro-aggressions, eh? Just because you can’t see them, never think about them and have no concerns about them, it doesn’t mean that they are not quietly chipping away at your self-esteem and equalities.

Undeterred, the 23-year-old set out to bring an end to centuries of patriarcal dominance by redesigning the cards. After ‘a lot of trial and error’ (which makes it sound like the search for a Covid vaccine rather than a redesign of three playing cards), she replaced the King, Queen and Jack with Gold, Silver and Bronze. We can only imagine what the other options were during the exhaustive research and development of this project. The first fifty sets were sold to friends and family, and some 1500 have been sent out around the world. Well, good for her. I’m sure it’ll make all the difference, and if it doesn’t, she’s probably made a decent amount of moolah on those sales (if they are sales – the story is a bit vague about that).

In the grand scheme of things, this is a trivial skirmish in the intersectional culture wars. There’s even some amusement to be had in the fact that they have invariably sent the likes of Piers Morgan into a furious rage, and if that had been the plan all along, I’d applaud like a superspreader standing on their doorstop supporting the NHS. But just because something provokes the reactionaries doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t mock it vigorously, and marvel at the desperate clutching at straws behind it.

And… we might question why she was not concerned with the inequalities that come with the implication that Kings, Queens and Jacks are better than the rest of us. But monarchical hierarchies and the inherited privilege that comes with them seem, oddly, to be quite far down the intersectional list of concerns, possibly because inherited privilege – the ability to go through life without having to ever worry about where your money is coming from – is what allows people to spend their time fretting over such non-issues as the gender of playing cards rather than having to deal with the day to day struggles that affect most people, regardless of race, gender, sexuality or religion.

There are bigger windmills to tilt at; indeed, more obvious and outrageous genuine inequalities to be outraged by. But this sort of thing – simplistic, empty gesturing with the potential of profit behind it – will always win out. Don’t fall for the hype.

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