In a post at Aeon magazine, Hana Schank poses a simple question with a not-so-simple answer: “Where are all the women chess players?” Scan the list of 1,479 grandmasters if you don’t believe her, a list with all of 31 female names. So what’s going on? Schank, who used to play as a young girl, takes note of centuries-old sexism about the game, a prevailing attitude that men are innately better because women aren’t aggressive enough. Bobby Fischer, for example, called women “weak” and “stupid” and said they should leave the game alone, writes Schank, who can’t resist noting that Fischer learned the game from his sister. In April, UK grandmaster Nigel Short asserted that men are “hardwired” to be better. Schank writes that this “stereotype threat”—that males are naturally better chess players—pervades the game so thoroughly that even girls just starting out are aware of it.
A big reason “there are so few women chess players at the top,” writes Schank, “is that there are so few girls at the bottom.” What’s more, the lack of women players results in a lack of women coaches, making it all the harder for up-and-coming female talent to thrive. Schank’s 6-year-old daughter is now playing in local tournaments, and the author wishes she had company. “There might not be a direct correlation between playing chess and academic excellence, but there is undoubtedly a benefit to young girls learning that they can compete on the same intellectual playing field as boys,” writes Schank, who works in technology. “Faith in one’s intellectual abilities can go a long way towards overcoming the soul-rattling feeling of being the only girl in the room.” Click for her full post.