Why Are Women Underrepresented in Chess?

Why Are Women Underrepresented in Chess?

Jan 13, 2014, 8:32 PM |

Hi everybody! It's Monday, so it's blog day!

In all the chess tournaments I've been to, I've always noticed that women have been a definite minority. As a biology major, I'm particularly interested in the how and why of things on the scientific level. So over the past week, I've been doing some scientific research and good old fashioned hypothesizing as to why men and women aren't represented equally in chess.

Now I'm not trying to start a controversy or belittle women here (I am one, after all!) but it's simply a fact that according to the most recent USCF rating, only 2 out of the top 100 chess players in the USA are women. Proof: https://www.uschess.org/component/option,com_top_players/Itemid,371?op=list&month=1312&f=usa&l=Top%20Overall&h=Overall

It's rather obvious, in my opinion that a large part of it is because of our culture. The stereotype of "nerd" in culture and media is portrayed in an unfashionable light- something to laugh at, not to emulate. If you're interested in the same opinion held by someone far better at chess than me, click here:http://en.chessbase.com/post/women-and-men-in-che-smashing-the-stereotypes]

One theory that seems to get passed around (mostly by men) is that women simply aren't as intelligent as men. Well, ladies and gentlemen, let's take a look at a scientific article. Granted, I don't know the math behind statistics, but the article is pretty straightforward that there isn't enough information to make a solid statistical opinion on male vs. female intelligence in chess. Scientific evidence: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40062906?uid=3739256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21103330362993 And looking back at history in all different subjects, women have been very intelligent and successful at more than “housework and making dinner.”

What about the theory that men are more competitive than women? Because we are specifically referring to chess players, let’s just take a look at grand-master games. Statistically, men are less likely to fight for the win and they simply take the draw, whereas female grand-masters more often play to win. So, that kind of shoots down that theory. Again, http://en.chessbase.com/post/women-and-men-in-che-smashing-the-stereotypes

Another theory is that the female drop-out rate among beginning chess players is higher than the male drop-out rate. But studies have also shown that not to be the case. Again, look here! http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2008/12/23/why-are-there-so-few-female-chess-grandmasters/

Obviously, in the end, priorities and interests are things to take into consideration. For example, you’ll find more men on average interested in video games and hunting than women. And this of course goes hand in hand with culture and the activities of one’s peers influencing what they do.

Perhaps another reason why women are underrepresented in chess is because they tend to be underestimated (and sometimes looked down upon) by men at tournaments and clubs. Let’s be honest, no one really wants to participate in something where they get judged for participating. I remember playing men in tournaments who were very open about their disdain for 1. Competing against a woman and 2. Being beaten (or almost beaten) by a woman. Chess is traditionally a man’s game and maybe they feel like we are encroaching on their turf. And my response to that is yes we are- and it’s about time!

But all of those things don’t stop some girls from ROCKING IT: Check out the current standings of the TATA Steel Chess tournament http://www.tatasteelchess.com/tournament/standings/year/2014/group/2 Look at how well the female players are doing!  

Method to Change the World!

Let’s take a look at this great little article: http://www.vivacityinc.com/chess/Articles/BenefitsOfChess.pdf When a school in Pennsylvania began encouraging and teaching chess to students, it actually increased test scores by 17.3% (And I’m still convinced that playing chess is why I passed my college chemistry class) If chess were presented not just as a game but also as a brain exercise, it would perhaps meet less resistance among both girls and guys.

So here’s my advice:

·         Encourage school chess programs (incorporated into the curriculum, preferably, or as an after school program)

·         Have more local chess tournaments and monetary awards

·         We always tell girls that they are just as good as men in terms of becoming doctors and lawyers, so we need to encourage them just as much that they are just as good as their male counterparts in chess, as we would for any other activity or academic pursuit

·         Women who do play chess, go out and talk to other girls- especially younger ones, get them excited about chess, and encourage them to continue

·         Encourage competition! Nothing feels better than working hard and doing well. Healthy competition in chess will lead to healthy competition in other areas of life as well

·         Talk to each other on chess.com and other chess sites and at tournaments and brainstorm with other women. Share stories, be encouraging!

Alright, that’s all I’ve got, folks! Please leave your thoughts and opinions!


Up Next: Are All-Women Chess Tournaments Actually Harmful?