Feminine Arts with Male Superstars

I mused in an earlier post about the number of women who read cards. Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin assert that 88% of Tarot readers are women, confirming my suspicion that the field is “feminine,” in the sense that it has considerably more women than men. 1800155_10200670506004243_428732006_o

Similarly, I suspect poetry is a “feminine” art as well. I have not conducted the kinds of surveys that Katz and Goodwin have, but I do have a good deal of anecdotal evidence from being a student, tutor, and teacher of poetry in the college setting for over a decade. I find that English classes tend to have more women than men.

Beyond simply the number of women involved, I think that Tarot and poetry are perceived as ”feminine” arts by society—they are linked with stereotypically female traits such as intuition, emotions, and imagination. However, both Tarot and poetry have male superstars.

While women have been writing verse since the Hellenistic period (my Greek art and poetry class included Sappho alongside Homer), the biggest names in poetry tend to be male. Arguably, Shakespeare is the most famous English poet—people who don’t know of any other poets can name the bard. But how many people can name a female contemporary of Shakespeare? Admittedly, Queen Elizabeth I is a pretty famous figure, but few know that she wrote poetry, and even fewer have read her verse. poetry and TarotSimilarly, the most famous Tarot deck is referred to as the Rider-Waite for its male printer (William Rider & Son) and inventor (A.E. Waite). A standard box calls it “The Rider Tarot Deck Known also as The Waite Tarot and The Rider-Waite Tarot“; while it does list the female artist’s name (Pamela Colman Smith), she is not a titular figure. Tarot enthusiasts know about Smith but—like scholars who know the poetry of Sappho and Elizabeth—they do not represent the general public.

People who become poets and Tarotists are sometimes derided, disowned, or dismissed for pursing these “feminine” arts. However, few people who choose more “masculine” paths encounter the same reactions. When was the last time you heard someone say, “you’ll never get a job with that law degree” or “you’re wasting your time studying medicine?”

While women struggle for equal pay and respect in “masculine” fields, men are generally successful in “feminine” arts. In response to the statistic Katz and Goodwin posted on Facebook, Mary K. Greer noted that about 50% of Tarot authors are male, despite the high percentage of female cartomancers. The traditional canon of poetry includes more men than women.

One interesting connection between Tarot and poetry is collaboration between men and women. Modern poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell had a famous friendship that included writing poems for each other, and a recent play was based on their letters. Likewise, many modern Tarot decks have male and female authors, such as Kim Huggens and Erik C. Dunne creating the Tarot Illuminati together.

I would argue that women are more welcoming to men in their arts than men are to women in “masculine” fields. And, perhaps, this too upholds a stereotype about women: that we are kind and accepting rather than exclusionary and competitive.