Tuesday, January 13, 2015

#HeforShe in Chess

I popped into the Melbourne Chess Club today to check out the Australian Women's Master's that is currently taking place, and to touch base with my favourite club. I haven't been to the Melbourne Chess Club for probably over 6 months, and have missed the place somewhat. When I walked in the door, the first person I saw was Elizabeth Warren who used to be vice-President of MCC when I was on the committee a few years back. She doesn't live that far from me and I've always found her easy to talk to and get along with.

Elizabeth told me that she had taken some time off the committee, but she still regularly hangs around the club helping out and playing at Saturday Allegro tournaments, and on a Tuesday night. We had a chat, a laugh about times gone by, and then she dropped that she was standing for President of the MCC, and if elected, the first female President of the MCC in it's glorious 149 years history. Although this doesn't surprise me, the fact that women have been so under represented in positions of authority in Australian chess (and World chess, for that matter) is, when you think about it, quite appalling.

The ACF has no women represented at all in it's staff. I am fairly new to Australia, but I'm guessing that the ACF's history won't be filled with female Presidents, and a look through the archives will probably show that there has been a general lack of representation for women at the administrative level. Chess Victoria does a little better, with Elsa Yueh on the executive, and Katrin Aladjova-Kusznirczuk as ambassador and former President. I have no idea again, if there has been much in the way of representation for women in the history of Chess Victoria, but I would guess not.

While these trends aren't particular to Australia, I've used these organisations as examples because that is where I'm based. Chess is a game organised in a non inclusive way, to the detriment of women, among others. Just the fact that there is a an Australian Women's Championship, and exclusive women's events are organised in this country, but there is no department for women's chess, no officer in charge of promoting or organising this, regardless of gender, is somewhat of an anomaly. But here's a list off the top of my head of some issues which make chess a male dominated game:

- lack of female representation in chess organisations
- lower expectation's of performance, for example the significantly lower norm requirements for women
- lower numbers of girls playing the game, and encouraged to play the game at a lower level. There is a well reasoned article by Greg Shahade on the benefits of girls only tournaments, but why strong girls shouldn't play in them published in 2014.
- women only events (I'm actually rather creeped out by this, it has somewhat the feeling of segregation about it)
- BUT, if women's only events are so important, why was the women's World Championship delayed last year, and still has not been played? There was no such problem for the men's event, even after some difficult negotiating by the parties involved.
- AND, inequity of prizes for men and women. I mean, if they are to be separated, then at least make the prizes similar for men's and women's tournaments, or even girls/boys events where the inequity even exists!

Currently, WIM Anne Haast is playing in the B-section of the Tata Steel event and is on 1.5/3. If she scores 5/13, she qualifies for an IM norm and 7/13 should get her a GM norm. She can also qualify for WGM/WIM norms from this event if I correctly understand rule 1.45 of the FIDE handbook section on Title Regulations. So I guess what I'm saying is what is the need of round robin women's only events? Shouldn't strong female players be encouraged to participate with strong male players, and then we can drop the gender issue and just call anyone and everyone a player of their level? Because even saying things such as a "strong female player" has a bias to it. No women played in either section of the Australasian Masters tournament held in December, round robin tournaments held to offer norm opportunities to players.

I won't be going to the MCC AGM, but I left my vote with Elizabeth as a proxy for her to cast for me. Essentially, I have cast my vote for Elizabeth in the election, and I hope she becomes the next President of the MCC. I personally would like to see more encouragement for women to participate in our great game, at a player level, an administrative level, and as an equal to their male opponents.

For those of you not sure about gender equality issues and why men should take a part in gender equality and feminist issues, then take a look at this video, which helped to kick start the HeforShe campaign that took shape last year.  It will give a good introduction to the subject, and listening to Emma Watson's speech, you can hear things which definitely apply in the world of chess, marking us as acting in unequal ways.


  1. Frustrated, my comment disssapeard when Google wanted my password, to long to write again.
    Interesting read.