In June 2020, Indy Mellink was teaching a card game to her cousins during the lockdown in the Netherlands. Then a thought struck her. Why should a king be worth more than a queen? And the queen worth more than a jack? She had extra time on her hands, so the 23-year-old forensic psychology graduate decided to create her own deck of gender-neutral playing cards that don’t continue the history of sexual inequality that places men above women.
“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 said. “Even subtle inequalities like this do play a big role.” 
New Gender-Neutral Playing Cards
She discussed her epiphany with her parents and how there’s no gender neutrality in the deck. “And that is when my dad said, ‘Why not make one yourself?’ That is when my creative juices started flowing.”
After many trials and brainstorms, she created a deck where gold bars, silver coins, and a bronze shield replace the king, queen, and jack. She chose precious metals because it’s a hierarchy people are already familiar with. Mellink made 50 copies of the gender-neutral playing cards, and they were sold rapidly. So she made more to sell online.
After a few months, she had succeeded in selling 1,500 decks worldwide, including the United States, Belgium, France, and Germany. Even game shops have contacted her about the gender-neutral playing cards.
While testing the cards, players mentioned to Mellink that they hadn’t considered the sexual inequality in the classic game before. Swapping kings, queens, and jacks for precious metals does take some time to get used to, depending on the game.
“It is good that we reflect on gender neutrality,” said Berit van Dobbenburgh, head of the Dutch Bridge Association. It would be difficult to make an official switch in the organization because rules would have to be shifted, she added. “I wonder if it’s worth it. But gender neutrality, I am all for it! It’s great that someone of this age has noticed this. It’s the new generation.”
Backlash Against the New Cards
For the most part, people are accepting of the new deck. However, it upset some people online, including Piers Morgan. On social media, people have responded to Mellink’s deck by decrying the patheticness of “snowflakes”. Piers Morgan replied on Twitter with a succinct, “Oh FFS.” 
One tweet responded to Morgan with, “Imagine being mad at this. She simply saw a gap in the market and is making money from it, she isn’t campaigning to make all cards gender-neutral.”
Mellink herself said she didn’t intend to cause controversy. “I would really like to stress that I do not wish to polarize people and take away something…”
She agrees that playing cards are not close to the forefront in the grand scheme of fighting inequality. “There are bigger problems and better ways to tackle this demon, and we should focus on those… I just wanted to provide an alternative, a small solution to a small problem.”
She’s empathetic to people who dislike her idea. “They get the notion that they are being blamed and that something is being taken from them, so of course, you will lash out then. Next to that, people do not understand the effect of subtle inequalities on people’s lives as they reply with ‘we are going too far, it’s just a game’ or ‘I never thought about, and no one did so why does it matter?’
“I’d like to show them studies and case examples of how subtle inequalities do affect people, and that is why I designed this alternative for those who do not wish to play with the traditional cards.” 
Fortunately, for those who dislike the idea of gender-neutral playing cards, the classic version isn’t going off the shelves any time soon. Neither are all of the wonderful and crazy other decks of cards featuring dinosaurs, puppies, Batman characters, zombies, and any other edition you could imagine.
The History of Playing Cards
The earliest references to playing cards are in 10th-century Chinese literature, but there’s no clarity of the games they were used for.
Then they appeared in Europe in the 1370s. These were beautifully crafted and considered luxuries. The invention of woodblock printing in Germany in the 15th century reduced these prices, as did the French practice in the 1480s to simplify the design with stencils. The distinct look of cards with hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades originated here. (In other versions, they were bells, acorns, and swords.) 
The cards increased in popularity, as did the games people played with them, evolving into what we have today. The biggest difference is that playing cards now are mass-produced instead of individually crafted like in the days of old.
There’s no clear answer to who originally invented the cards and where. “There are different theories about that,” said Peter Endebrock, a playing card historian, scholar, and collector from Germany. “They come from Asia, that’s the one thing that’s rather clear, but where exactly they came from and how they came to Europe, that’s not clear.” 
- “King toppled from throne by gender-neutral card deck.” Reuters. Esther Verkaik.January 19, 2021
- “Piers Morgan is furious about this ‘gender neutral’ deck of playing cards.” Indy 100.Iana Murray. January 24, 2021.
- “23-Year-Old Woman Creates A Gender And Race-Neutral Deck Of Cards, Can’t Keep Up With The Orders.” Bored Panda. Jonas Grinevičius and Denis Tymulis. January 21, 2021
- “Playing cards.” Britannica. David Parlett. December 20, 2017
- “Playing Cards Around the World and Through the Ages.” Atlas Obscura. Dan Nosowitz. July 13, 2020