Friday, April 15, 2016

Gender in Tarot: A Simple Study

Months ago, sometime back in the autumn of 2015, I started to look at gender representation in the Tarot as a whole. While I can't recall exactly what initially prompted me to engage in this small-in-scope review, I nonetheless think that the data is interesting to consider. Below I've outlined the major elements of this study, and included some graphics that I hope help illustrate more clearly the layout of gender balance across the decks I chose to examine:

Primary Impetus:
        1.      Consider proportions of gender representations in Tarot decks
        2.      Compare percentages/balance across a selection of decks
        3.      Raise the discussion about gender representations: whether or not it matters, whether or not
                 it should (images serve as subtle messages that influence our perceptions of our
                 environment, reinforcing - or challenging - cultural norms).

        1.      The sample of decks used here is small, and from my personal collection (not exhaustive).
        2.      Potential for some subjectivity (figures I see as androgynous others may see as male, etc.)

Worth Further Examination:
        1.      Gender and marital/relationship representations
        2.      More decks

Things to Keep in Mind:

        1. Some decks (like the Stone Tarot, Thoth, and Vision Quest) are styled with less-scenic Minor
                  Arcana cards and therefore figures are limited to court cards and the Major Arcana.

Total Decks Reviewed: 12

1. Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot by Arthur Waite and Pamela Colman Smith
2. Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris
3. Vision Quest Tarot by Gayan Silvie Winter and Jo Dose
4. Tarot De St. Croix by Lisa De St. Croix
5. Fountain Tarot by Jonathan Saiz, Jason Gruhl and Andi Todaro
6. Mythic Tarot by Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene
7. Deviant Moon Tarot by Patrick Valenza
8. Prisma Visions Tarot by James R. Eads
9. Tarot of Vampyres by Ian Daniels
10. Halloween Tarot by Karin Lee and Kipling West
11. Wildwood Tarot by Mark Ryan, John Matthews, and Will Worthington
12. Stone Tarot by Alison Stone

An Initial Overview of Findings (there is far more to be explored than what I list here)

When looking solely at the balance of female:male representations:
Number of decks with more Male than Female: 8 (67%)
Number of decks with more Female than Male: 4 (33%)

When including additional cards:

Number of decks with more Indiscernible/Non-Human/No Figure than Male/Female: 8 (67%)

  • Decks with greatest gender disparity in favor of male cards: RWS, Mythic Tarot
  • Decks with greatest gender disparity in favor of female cards: Tarot of Vampyres, Tarot De St. Croix
  • Decks with greatest male/female balance: Thoth, Vision Quest Tarot
  • Decks with high percentages of "indiscernible" figures: Halloween Tarot, Prisma Visions Tarot
  • Decks with a majority of non-human cards: Thoth, Vision Quest, Stone, Wildwood
  • Deck with greatest overall balance: Deviant Moon

Note: in the charts below the term "Indiscernible" represents cards with human or otherwise anthropomorphic figures that are shadowed, blurred, distant, or androgynous. "Both" indicates the number of cards that feature both male and female characters.


  1. This is a very extensive and interesting research Olivia. I picture you sitting on the floor with all these cards laying around you and with a notepad and pencil in your hand :)

    1. Ha, thanks, Ellen!! Your image is about right, though it was the memo app on my phone that I used to write down the information being collected ;-) Which reminds me that I need some new notebooks!

  2. This is a topic I find fascinating, too! The Manga Tarot from Lo Scarabeo turned things on their head by converting every male character in the Rider Waite into a female figure and vice versa (I reviewed it here: I also love the Gay Tarot, where most of the figures are men (except for a little girl). The Queens are changed to elementals.
    The big question is: what difference does it make to our perception as readers? I find I prefer a deck where the Nine of Pentacles is a woman, unless it's an all-male deck, or a non-illustrated pip deck. It matters, somehow. And that's the insidiousness of gender portrayals, I think... :)

    1. Hey Chloe! Exactly - that last question you pose is really critical, and will be a focus of a future blog post ... here I'm really just posting data without the exploration piece. I agree that the 9 of Pentacles is nice to see as a woman, and I appreciate the Queen/King, Mother/Father dichotomy as well. I do really love the Dark Goddess Tarot, which is all female, and I find it works really well.... It is quite a complex topic!!! :)