Exploring the Male Dominated World of Chess – Part 1

Recently R Vaishali won an impressive game of chess that takes here title to Woman Grandmaster. This in itself is a great feat, even more remarkable is that her sibling is Praggnanandhaa, the 2nd youngest Grandmaster in the world. But in the modern-day environment of a game played by so many worldwide, the strangest thing is that it isn’t the year old who faces such an uphill struggle but in fact his sister.

For a very long time now chess has been a male dominated activity. This no doubt comes as a surprise as a game that is seen as the sport for the extremely intellectual parades a slew of heroes and not heroines, as we have seen throughout history when it comes to anything involving brains. Females it seems have only recently been celebrated as pioneers and only in fields that seemed to suit the gender roles of whichever time they happened. For example, the idea that women are unquestionably more nurturing than men mean that heroines such as Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa fit the bill. But when the ‘inherent’ skills that were aligned to males such as brawn, tactics and breadwinning were needed only men show up as the leaders in the history books. This type of cultural bias happens often, and the pattern can also be seen with people of colour who often go unaccredited alongside their Caucasian counterparts.

But why did this shift happen in a tabletop game and why is it happening now?

Florence Nightingale

Many people still argue that there is a genetic variance between the sexes that gift males a skill set allowing them an advantage over females. The focus on spatial awareness and cut-throat tactics needed to execute opponents leans towards this theory. Through an evolutionary perspective the hunter gatherers that we once were did have more clear gender roles, just like the ones seen in the animal kingdom. As we grouped together for safety it would be the males who often hunted while the females and the young would reside in the safety of wherever they had chosen to call home. This means the males would have needed to improve skills that involve navigating the landscapes, mentally generating maps and using landmarks as waypoints to find there way around. When coming into contact with hostiles whether that be an animal or males from a foreign tribe the male would put his life on the line to defend his pack, learning to embrace dangerous methods in order to survive.

These ideas though based on old and questionably validated data have carried through time. Many of these ideas have become encased in stereotypes that again discourage women in particular fields. For example, the idea that women make worse drivers derives from these same ideas, once again spatial awareness, navigation, orientation and this time the operation of machinery (which is also a male-centric area) create this idea of a genetic inferiority. And yet around the world, despite these factors many women excel in these fields – so how true is this?