Having worked with a number of young female players, I've seen them come up against both blatant, and non blatant sexism that seems to be ingrained in our psyche. The fact that we call chess played by women "women's chess" as if it is a different game to that played by men is an instant sign. In fact, in an event where there is no physical strength advantage for men over women, why on earth do we need to have a segregated game? Because that is essentially what we have! Federations, coaches, clubs, leagues etc all kow-tow to this gender difference though it shouldn't exist.
Now why, you may ask, am I getting worked up about this? Well I follow an author on Twitter, Joanne Harris, who tweeted about the poor press that women artists have received through history, and it resonated with me as being exactly the same issues as affects chess. Let's have a look at Joanne Harris' points and see how they can be applied to our chess world.
1. Make it hard for women to study art by controlling access to education. #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
In chess there has been limited opportunities historically for women to compete with the best male players, and top coaches have given more time and effort to their young boys and men than to the girls.
2. Segregate men and women, allowing only men to study subjects like anatomy and the history of art. #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
Segregation is overt in the chess world. Officials talk about giving female players extra opportunities by staging events such as the European Women's Championship currently being held in Latvia, but this is just another form of segregation. Chess is an activity that all can compete on an even footing regardless of age, social background, race, gender etc. I can understand age group events, but even then there are boys and girls sections as if we are preparing them for their segregated adult playing life.
3. Make sure the writing and teaching of art and art history is controlled primarily by men. #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
How many chess books by women authors do you own? How many can you even think about? There are thousands of chess titles by men, most of which are average or below in quality. How many women coaches can you name? Actually, it is the same in art where I was embarrassed to struggle to name any female artists throughout history. I'm no art buff, but nevertheless, this is a shocking omission in my knowledge, and it is not all my fault as art is presented to me by men of primarily male artists. Chess is the same.
4. Make sure art critics and other influencers are all male. #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
The answer above still applies to this.
5. By limiting the education of women, create the myth that women are intellectually weaker than men. #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
Really? Is the eminent British author suggesting that women's brains aren't "hard-wired differently" to men's like the eminent British chess player once suggested? To be fair to Mr. Short, he is not the only one in our realm to believe this, though others are not so forthright in expressing their opinions.
6. By keeping women in the home, create the myth that women's art is "domestic." #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
This is an argument I've heard so many times in chess circles. Women can't reach the top because of their domestic role. Housekeeping, child rearing, cleaning up after the main bread winner of the household. Couples order their lives based on the joint abilities of each partner. Caroline was the skilled partner in our household and I deferred her the role of main breadwinner happily. In time, circumstances have changed and we are now more even in our professional and domestic roles. It's the 21st century for heaven's sake! Equality is about opportunity for all regardless of gender or social status (though perhaps not in Trump's new medieval America).
If you haven't read anything by Judit Polgar, then I suggest you do, her books are excellent, she is an ambassador for women's rights championing the planet50-50 by 2030 campaign, as well as being the strongest female player in history. In her efforts to become a strong player she encountered overt and covert racism, which she has related in her books and writings. Even so, shemade it into the world's top 10.....7. When a woman does manage to create outstanding art in spite of all obstacles, attribute it to a relative. #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
....where she was branded a man by default, more male than female, and all the other things which belittled her status as a great player who had just been born a girl!8. If a woman suceeds in spite of this, make sure you tell everyone she was unnatural, unfeminine or unhappy. #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
Though I'd rather not go there, this is another jibe girls and women have to endure. I cringe to think about some of the things I've heard people say at chess clubs about female players, and I admire those girls and women to rise above it and just keep carrying on. The same things aren't thrown at men, and this is simply an ignorant form of discrimination.9. If all else fails, comment on her appearance, rather than her achievements. #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
Yes, absolutely. We have "women's chess". It is an inferior form of the game. You don't have to be so good to play it as the 'normal' game'. To be a male Grand Master you have to reach a 2500 rating level, whereas in "women's chess" the Grand Master title is only 2300. The same incremental difference can be seen for International Master's etc. The rationale? It encourages women a bit! WTF??? It encourages them to be worse. It rewards girls for achieving a lower level than boys.10. And most of all, when talking about her art, make sure you call it "women's art", rather than just "art." #TenWaysToSuppressArtByWomen— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) April 14, 2017
Now how anybody can think this is not discrimination is beyond my understanding. The chess world is unfairly biased against women. The chances of us getting a top female player are minimal because girls have to undergo abuse, discrimination, assumed inferiority, segregation, and are given less opportunity than boys to perform at a high level. I'm an #heforshe advocate and it's time that we developed an equal playing field for girls and boys, treating kids the same, adults the same, giving them the same opportunities and rewarding them for attaining the same levels. Until that happens, I'm sad that my beloved game is discriminatory against girls and women.