Magic the Gathering: Part 1.5 – male versus female mages

Preamble: This is a bit of a tangent, but not really

All right. It’s been too long in coming, but after the debate that erupted in the comments after my first post about M:TG my husband suggested comparing male mages and female mages so that I could compare apples to apples and see if mages really are more passive and to see if there was a difference between gender depictions just among mages. There was just one problem: I had to go through and count all over again.

See, when I initially did the counts I only tallied totals. What he suggested, while a great idea, required going back and recording variables for each figure individually – a much bigger task! While I was at it, I also added a variable called “no class” for figures with no discernable hero archetype; FIgures without a class comprised a large percentage of all figures and I wanted to see if there were any interesting trends to be observed by looking at classless figures. All of this has been a lot of work, what with the re-counting and the fiddling with Excel formulas and the interpretation. Add to this the previously-mentioned decrease in time I have in which to work on research for this blog and that is the result of the radio silence. I apologize folks, but the posts that involve math always take the longest. (Hey, I majored in Fine Arts.)

The numbers I’m looking at today only involve cards from my husband’s collection of cards from the mid-90’s, which is why this is Part 1.5, since this is not quite a tangent but also doesn’t compare the old with the new. As long as it took to put these numbers together, the thought of going back and counting the new M11 set all over again makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spork. So I’m not going to.


[note: the charts didn’t compress too well, so if the numbers are hard to read on your screen, click through to the larger version that will be much easier to read.]

As with looking at the set as a whole, the comparison of male and female figures who are mages displays clear sexist trends:

Women comprise only slightly more than 30% of all mages in the set. Interestingly, female mages are very slightly more active than their male counterparts by a small margin (4%). However, male mages are still more likely to be fully covered. And, unsurprisingly, the majority of suggestive depictions are female – 43% of female mages in this set are depicted as suggestive, accounting for a little more than 60% of suggestive mages overall. (Although, it still deserves mention that this is far better than other areas of gaming where around 80-95% of suggestive depictions are female.)

What is interesting is when the numbers for figures depicted as mages are compared with averages for the entire set regardless of class:

In the overall set, women actually account for a smaller percentage of figures than with the mages. Also, in the overall set the average woman is slightly less active than female mages and slightly more passive (or neutral), which would seem to disprove my hypothesis that female mages would be more passive than other non-mage females in the set.

Now there was something else I hadn’t thought to examine in the old set initially – figures with no discernible class archetype, which account for a large portion of all counted figures:

The proportion of female figures is roughly the same as with mages – again women make up a bit more than 30% of all figures with no class. However, while male and female mages displayed very similar rates of active and neutral poses, female figures with no class are significantly less active than their male counterparts, with less than 30% of all active figures with no class being female. Female classless figures are also less covered than the males with less that 40% of all fully covered classless figures. (Though, interestingly, female classless figures are very slightly less suggestive than female mages.)

What is most striking though when you look at the class archetype (or lack thereof) as a percentage of total representation by gender. The mage archetype accounts for a larger percentage of females than males, though the difference is pretty small with 23% of all male figurs counting as mages as compared to 29% of females. That’s not terribly exciting, I know. But consider the difference in depictions of figures with no class. Not only are female figures with no class less active and less covered than their male counterparts, they also comprise a much larger percentage of all figures; male classless figures accounted for only 31% of all male figures while female classless figures weighed in at a whopping 44% of all female figures! That’s almost half of all female figures!

This is important, because in the majority of instances, hero characters in M:TG and in fantasy art in general will fall into a discernible class archetype. The have such a large number of female figures, who are already vastly in the minority, be depicted as peasants, victims, seductresses, townsfolk, or other non-heroic roles sends a very clear message about the unimportance of women.

Something else I found bothersome is what happens when you look at figures with no class and mages together. These two categories combined account for only 54% of all male figues. Considering that the thief archetype represents a tiny proportion of figures for both genders, the lion’s share of the remaining 46% will be fighters. Contrast this will female figures where the two categories combined make up 73% of all female figures, leaving a little less than 27% of all female figures to be fighters once you take out the handful of female thieves.

And here’s where I reach the end of my ability to point at numbers and venture out into Opinion Land. To me, that difference feels significant, and I really, really don’t buy the argument that the difference in numbers of representations of male and female fighters is due to “historical” or “biological” accuracy. In a universe where dragons, elementals, gods, angels, and magicians exist, the “accuracy” argument doesn’t hold much water.

Also, women don’t have to be kitted out in full plate male to be fighters (though I always do love good images of non-boobular female plate mail.) The fact that women are not as strong as men doesn’t make them any less in their potential to be fighters; there is no law that says in order to be proficient in fighting that one has to be heavily armored and rely on brute strength. And, frankly, in a fantasy universe it’s easy to wave your hands and say ‘well in THIS universe there is no social stigma against women pursuing a career as a fighter’. It seems ridiculous to rely on the “accuracy” argument to back up the under-representation of women in any kind of fantasy art when fantasy as a genre is based on being not realistic.

Anyhow. That’s my rant for today. Since I’ve had my fill of graphs and numbers for quite a while, I’ll be going back to looking at actual images from both sets as originally planned, which should take much less time to finish since it won’t involve numbers.

Magic the Gathering: Looking at sexist trends over time (Part One)

[Brief note: Hi, folks. This was a bit longer in coming than I’d like, but I’ll address that shortly in a separate post.]

So the project that got this blog started in the first place was an article that I wrote for See Page XX, a webzine published by Pelgrane Press, examining sexist trends in official game art across all areas of gaming. In the original article, I analyzed a set of images taken from the official Wizards of the Coast promo kit available for download on the official M:TG site because I didn’t know of a good way at the time to obtain a representative sample of the vast library of M:TG cards, since distribution is randomized. Since then, with help, I’ve worked out what I think is a pretty decent way of comparing current Magic cards to Magic cards of the past, which I’ll go more in to after the methods section.

Since writing the original article, I’ve done a few posts using the same methodology. However, I’ve gotten a lot of new readers since then, so I’ll start off this blog with a brief explanation of just what it was that I’ve been doing, including a description of my methodology and criteria. Those of you familiar with this part can skip on to the following section.

Methods and Criteria

In each set of images I examine, I look at four sets of variables: numbers of male and female figures, active versus neutral poses, fully clothed and suggestively attired figures, and class archetype:

Ratio of male to female figures: In each set of images I examined, I recorded the number of male figures and the number of female figures. Since I wasn’t sure how to easily differentiate between focal and non-focal figures in a way that wasn’t entirely subjective, I simply counted each figure that had an easily discernable gender and did not count those figures where gender was ambiguous.

Active poses versus neutral poses: All poses are classified either as neutral, static poses that lack movement, or active, poses that are dynamic and convey action. For an example of these criteria, you can see this image here.

Fully clothed and suggestively attired: Fully-clothed and suggestively attired are not opposite ends on a spectrum. Some figures that were not fully clothed were not counted as suggestively attired while some figures that were fully clothed were also counted as suggestively attired. (For examples, please see the original article.)

Class Archetype: It was not always applicable, but when possible I looked at what class archetype a figure was depicted as: fighter, rogue, or mage. I counted all archers as rogues, as well as thieves. I counted anyone casting a spell as a mage, even if they had a sword. Fighters were any characters wielding only melee weapons and not casting spells.

Selection of Sources

In looking at current Magic cards, I was able to find pages that list all of the cards in the current 2011 core set (often referred to as M11) along with thumbnails of each card. Since these core cards are expected to form the base of most decks, rather than examine every card that is still legal in tournament play – a list that is exhaustive and constantly changing – I confined my examination to the M11 set which contains a mere 248 cards (including lands and artifacts.)

I also have access to a source of older cards in that my husband was (in the mid-90’s) an avid Magic collector and player. I didn’t count the number of cards total, but he possesses 348 unique Magic cards (not including lands) of all colors. The actual total is much higher since there are multiple copies of the commons and such, but because the collection was amassed over a few years and is taken from all colors, I felt that it comprised an adequately randomized sample of mid-90’s magic cards.

I applied the same criteria to both the M11 set and to my husband’s collection, and here’s what I came up with:

Results: M11 Core Set

Looking at the numbers, it’s pretty clear that the M11 core set of cards displays clear sexist trends across all variables. Women are consistently under-represented, with only 20% of all figures being female. Surprisingly, this is lower than the figures that were tabulated for the Magic press kit by a substantial margin, as the figures found in the Magic press kit were roughly 37% female – a difference of 17%! Furthermore, this under-representation is by far the lowest of all sources examined in the original article, with the exception of Warhammer Online. The D&D 4th Edition core books contain roughly 40% female figures. When looking at the top five North American MMOs, the official artwork found on all of their sites averages out to around 32% female figures. And even Xbox 360, the console with the lowest representation of females on its game covers examined in this period, had roughly 25% female figures.

Looking at other variables, women are more likely than men to be depicted as neutral. They are also significantly more likely to be depicted as mages and significantly less likely to be depicted as fighters; a clear example of the classic female = mage = not involved in direct combat stereotype that female characters in game art are often shoehorned into.

The only variables that are demonstrably superior to other areas of gaming are fully clothed figures and suggestively attired figures. Women are significantly more likely to be depicted as suggestively attired than men, with 60% of all suggestive figures being female. They are also less likely to be fully covered, comprising only 40% of all fully covered figures. However, while these numbers display clear sexist trends, they stand out in stark contrast to the numbers from other areas of gaming, especially MMOs. The top five MMOs averaged had almost 85% of all suggestively attired figures as female. Guild Wars in particular had 95% of all suggestively attired figures as female. So while suggestive depictions are still unequal, they are markedly less sexist than some other gaming sources.

Comparing M11 Core Set with Older Randomized Sample

Okay, I know this looks cluttered, but I wanted to be able to clearly show the changes in these trends over time. Pale columns represent old figures, saturated columns represent new figures.

What is interesting from looking at this comparison is noting which trends haven’t changed. Most variable sets have remained roughly the same over time. Active and neutral poses, suggestively attired figures, and class archetypes have all remained largely unchanged between the two sets of images. (The thief variable I was reluctant to include; the numbers for each are so small as to be very easily skewed.) The trends that have changed significantly are the ratio of male to female figures and the percentage of fully-clothed figures.

Women are actually less represented in the M11 core set of cards than they are in the randomized sample of mid-90’s cards, making up only a fifth of all figures where they accounted for a quarter of all figures in the older sample. Also of note is the fact that in the older set, women accounted for a majority of all fully-covered figures at 60%. In the new M11 set, however, they now account for only a 40% minority. So while the percentage of suggestive depictions is mostly unchanged, women are less represented in the new set and are wearing less clothing overall. This is an interesting result when one considers that D&D – a product also owned by Wizards – has been been growing less sexist in its game art over time. (Though the 4E art still displays noticeable sexist trends.)

What’s next

As with my look at the re-launched WoW art galleries, I intend to look at comparisons of images that were counted as suggestive for both male and female figures, but that will have to wait until I can finish pulling images together.