Chess is gendered?

But that’s part of the problem. Male players don’t need to be attractive to draw audiences.

I know. I was pointing that out as an example of the disparity in gender perception in chess.

I enjoy those videos, though for the most part the hustlers know it’s coming, either because the sister is familiar, or because of the camera. Still fun to hear the trash talk though.

I think generally the safest starting explanation when you see disparate outcomes based on gender, and there is nothing tied to known physical differences between the sexes, cultural reasons are predominant. Only if you can find a way to normalize out those, or get a prolonged sample in which cultural differences in how the genders are treated are neutralized, can you easily find if there’s something else going on. It’s entirely possible some difference in typical male personalities versus typical female personalities means more men all things being equal, would reach Top 100 rankings in chess. But given the current data set we have no reason to believe that, and lots of reasons to believe cultural reasons keeping more women from playing are the primary factor.

Take something that isn’t usually thought of as a “man’s job”–cooking. In the West and many other regions of the world, cooking family meals has historically been the job of women. Even in the West where that’s equalized some, it is still a burden born more by women than men. In the late 19th century / early 20th century as fine dining restaurants developed, virtually all family home cooks were women, as were many private cooks in service in wealthy households. But virtually all professional chefs in restaurants were men, as were their sous chefs and line chefs. In fact professional chefs and the “brigade system” they worked in developed a highly masculine reputation, and professional kitchens were considered culturally inappropriate places for women–crude men working rough and not prone to respect a female coworker, and if they had one they’d probably take various liberties in between bullying them in other ways. That’s changed more in the last 35-40 years along with many other male dominated fields, but it’s still the case that among high end, fine dining chefs, the overwhelming majority are men.

Does anyone really believe that’s because men are better natural cooks than women? That would be strange considering so many societies gravitated towards females cooking most of the time for family meals.

AIUI, it’s that in most things, men tend to gravitate towards good or bad extremes, while women cluster more towards the middle.

This is one reason why most high-IQ societies such as Mensa, Intertel, etc. are male-majority, yet women have slightly higher overall average IQ in society than men do. Most geniuses are men, but most “Densans” are men too.


Just to head off the inevitable, membership in Mensa is not evidence of a high IQ, or more properly non-membership in Mensa is not evidence of a non-high IQ. Membership in Mensa is a self selecting group of preening people, and intellectual preening is way more acceptable in men then in women.

“AIUI” is code here for “my opinion not based in any meaningful fact.” It would be very difficult given the lack of research in this area to even begin to speculate on how women and men would perform in a number of non-physical fields in which there is one gender that strongly dominates, without the cultural effects of that gendered element, the pipeline effects it creates etc.

The “men tend more to extremes” hypothesis certainly gets raised a lot, but it’s just as hard to prove that’s inherent (as opposed to cultural) as anything else about gender. Like, sure, most Nobel laureates are men… but that might just be because historically, men have been more likely to go off to college, and to be accepted in fields where one might win a Nobel, and so on. And of course, if you go even more extreme, women are in fact fairly represented among double Nobel laureates, making up 50% of that rarified group.

I don’t know why you think I’d be unwilling to accept the results of a truly fair chess world.

To the best of my knowledge that country does not exist in the present world. That is a very large part of the problem.

It’s not improbable to find highest-ranked woman chess players it is impossible to find them.

I am not aware of ANY intellectual endeavor where women are incapable of excelling. It’s not like, say, Olympic sprinting where the greater size and burst-strength of men even at the same size gives them an irrefutable advantage over women performing the same activity. But, with sprinting, you can point to the reasons why the top men will always outrank the top women.

Chess is centuries old - in the present form between 500-1000 years old. Yet there has (apparently) been ONE woman in the top ten, ever, and that only very recently. So even by your reasoning there should have been at least a handful of exceptional women playing. In that same time period we have had exceptional women doing things that are largely seen as men’s fields, from leading troops into battle to winning a nobel prize (or even two).

If chess does favor traits men tend to favor more than women yes, I would still expect it to be male dominated (as, say, aviation continues to be) but it’s not male “dominated” at the highest level, it’s male only. There are woman who think logically, who have great spatial abilities, who can thing tactically and strategically, who can study prior games and memorize strategies and lay-outs… But we do know that chess is NOT a level playing field, that women are at a disadvantage from the very earliest levels. I can point to that as being a factor, but the whole “well, women just naturally aren’t as good as men” smacks of tired, 19th Century (and earlier) arguments of the allegedly inherent inferiority of women, or various nationalities or ethnicities, which has more to do with the bias of the speaker holding forth than actual innate abilities.

Point to me the anatomical difference between the brains of men and women that completely shut women out of the highest levels of chess and maybe you have a valid argument there - but so far as I know those differences simply do not exist. What does exist is a difference in opportunities and support from bottom to top.

I did. Along with other strategy games.

No, but as a girl there were many things I liked I was strongly DIScouraged from doing. Like sports. Woodworking. Many intellectual pursuits. And by “discouraged” I like to offer the example of my second grade teacher who wanted me put on psychiatric medication due to my “too masculine” interests (I don’t think she was aware of my chess-playing, but it was far from the only activity I did she perceived as “unladylike”). One of the more egregious examples, true, but not the only one.

You and your friends were allowed to play chess in peace. Me and my friends were “encouraged” to find more feminine pursuits. Do you see a difference there, why girls would tend to stop playing chess? Or pursuing a lot of other interests deemed fit only for boys.

Fortunately, thinking has changed largely for the better since the 1960’s and 70’s and women are no longer threatened with a diagnosis of crazy mental illness for preferring an erector set over a Barbie doll. At least in the part of the world where I live. There are still parts of the world where a woman daring intellectual achievement risks getting a bullet in her skull.

Yep. I learned from my father - who had only daughters. Who taught all of his daughters to play chess, and use hand tools, and a bunch of other “guy stuff”. If dad wanted to play chess at night he pretty much had to teach his daughters to play (mom played, but was not enthusiastic about it - I don’t know if she learned as a child or from dad, to be honest).

My late spouse was a very progressive guy - just take my word on it. But he was very surprised to discover that I was better at strategy games than he was. He unconsciously assumed that as the man he’d be better. The surprise was brief, after which continued to play against me with even greater enthusiasm than before because beating me was a challenge and he liked challenges.


However, experience counts in chess. Someone who has been playing for, say, fifty years at a competitive level is usually going to beat someone who has only been playing it ten even if they’re both very good.

Then I stand corrected, as I was unaware of this and thank you for bringing it to our collective attention.

There’s a difference between stamina and strength. There are instances - cold-water distance swimming, ultramarathons, and surviving the Donner Pass party for three examples - where women and their stamina actually seem to have an edge over men. Chess requires endurance, but not brute strength. Learning to concentrate for long periods of time is something women can do as well as men given the opportunity.

Can I speak as a woman who used to be involved in “boys’” pursuits? You may be missing some obstacles.

I once joined a competitive computer programming team. On more than one occasion when I arrived at a tournament site and stepped up to the registration desk I was brusquely told “no girlfriends” and told to leave despite having all of my invitation/credentials/ID’s, etc. AND the protests of the rest of my team. On one of those occasions I was escorted out of the building by security and only intervention by our adult sponsor got me back inside the building to the competition and prevent a forfeit by our team. Can I point out just how quickly this sort of bullshit gets old? Just how many girls are going to stick with this? (Or, to flip it around, I’ve know boys/men to get similar shit when trying to attend sewing or knitting circles - funny, don’t see a lot of guys in those. Wonder why… And yeah, I do sewing/knitting as well.)

OK, you say, that was nearly 40 years ago, things have change, women program now, etc., etc.

Fine, here’s another example of how women are discouraged from certain activities, much more recent: For a time my spouse and I went to indoor radio controlled flying meets. About the third time at one venue I needed to use the ladies room. Found out it was locked tight, although the men’s room was open. When to the front desk of the building and inquired about getting the women’s toilet open. Was told they never bothered to unlocked it on flying Tuesdays because “women don’t fly model airplanes”. I said, well, if you don’t give them a place to piss they sure won’t come! After which I warned the men that I was going to use the toilet and not to enter until I left. Funny, absolutely every week after that the woman’s toilet was unlocked and ready to use.

Another time when I was one the flight line a busy-body tapped me on the shoulder and said “Hey, audience over there, only pilots on the flight line!” And, bless the men standing around me who knew me who turned on the guy and snapped "the rule about not disturbing a pilot while flying applies to woman pilots too! And then informed him that I not only flew models but had my private pilot’s license, and flew experimental-classed homebuilts as well so STFU, step back, and let the lady fly. Which had a LOT to do with why I kept going there for a number of years.

Can I point out that I was the first woman flyer to come back more than once to that venue, and by the time I left there were a half dozen other girls and women flying, too?

So… it’s not just a matter of whether the girls are talented and interested. How long would you participate if everyone but you had a place to piss over the course of a day? How long would you participate if your teammates didn’t stand up for you when you got harassed/dismissed (and absolutely this continues for anyone not of the social majority, which is why minorities are also often under-represented in some activities)?

I’ve done a lot of things where I’m the only girl/woman. It is often uncomfortable, even these days. Sometimes, it’s very obvious you’re merely tolerated by the men. Other times the men are happy to have you around. It is very, very easy to tell the difference. Sometimes, you get men who are outright hostile. That is scary. Even more scary when it’s a group of hostile men.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the support and encouragement I have received from men in my life, whether family or teammates or brief acquaintances who treated me as an equal human being. But there is still misogyny out there and a lot of pressure to NOT do certain things if you’re a woman. Nor does it always come from men - some of the most hostile responses I’ve gotten for being a pilot have come from other women and not men. Downright vicious.

So girls participating in “boy stuff” get a double-whammy - hostile boys AND hostile girls. I don’t have any great answers for either of them, either, despite battling both all my life. Add in bullshit obstacles like not having a place to pee and being doubted that you are even a participant… it not just about having an interest of a passion, or having your dad coach you, it’s also all the little things that make it clear You Are NOT Welcome Here.

^ This.

I know being able to conceal gender made a big difference in a lot of on-line activities. In chess it might help a lot with leveling the field.

It is sadly true that people see inequalities all over the place and assume that it must be a result of unequal opportunities. If that is not you then it does not apply.

But it would be reasonable to suppose that countries who have moved more towards such equality might have many more women in top chess positions.
You wouldn’t have to have a perfect example in order to see such a result, if the effect is strong enough.

Well, if after centuries of no top women players the 21st Century has produced a woman who reached #8 that might be an indication that it’s been cultural barriers and not an innate problem with women chess players…

Due to institutional bias in society I expect it would be at least another generation before we see equalization due to the fact that top chess players have to start in childhood and keep at it for decades.

This article popped up in my feed recently. It’s about a woman who started playing chess young, and her experiences.

Wow! Just wow. That was certainly worth the read.

Why I broached the subject of internet chess, though I have no idea how far you can play that way at a professional level without revealing your identity. Though, if you think about it, it would not be impossible to run a blind tournament where people cannot see their opponents.

It might be, It is a certainty that if you reduce the pool of women playing you will reduce the number of women who attain high level.

Perhaps, but chess ability seems to blossom fairly young so the identification of top performers wouldn’t take long in any society that did offer equal opportunities.

I feel that the best indication that differences in M/F attainment are due purely to social factors would be to find a country that encourages female participation and track the difference between male and female ratings in that country.
If the societal hypothesis holds then we’d expect to see that difference narrow in comparison to other countries.

Personally I think the difference is likely to persist at the top level but would not be surprised at all to see the average ability of women be greater than that of men.

When we talk about top chess players we are talking about cognitive freaks and it is generally accepted that men outnumber women at the tail ends of such distributions for certain types of intelligence but that’s not conclusively proven.

I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying here, but it appears to be a common misunderstanding of statistics. If Group A has an average advantage over Group B, then the highest levels will frequently be Group A only.

As an example, women have a higher average life expectancy than men. There are a lot of very long lived men, who lived much much longer than the average woman. So men can “excel” in living long lives. But the top 10 longest lived people and the top 10 current oldest people are all female. So at the highest level it’s indeed female only.

I don’t think this is true. The top international grandmasters tend to be fairly young.

Your facts are incorrect in the case of ultramarathons. In the specific case of the Donner Party, I believe the women were allocated food rations similar to those of men despite smaller body size and also did less strenuous work. Not sure if that makes your point. You might be right about long distance swimming, though.

FTR, I don’t think any of this has a bearing on the discussion here, but am just commenting on some facts that you’ve asserted.

Of course, the downside to anonymous online play is that you’re going to get a few jerks (of either gender) who run a computer chess program alongside the online play window, and just feed moves back and forth from it, so you’re really playing against a computer, not a human.

I suppose one could design a tournament where the players can’t see each other, but proctors can, to make sure that isn’t happening, but that’d be extra hoops to jump through, and wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of discrimination by the proctors.

I think it’s a very interesting topic to look at different hobbies/pastimes/professions that were, back in “fully sexist” times like (just pulling this out of my ass) the 1960s, heavily male dominated. Some of them are basically exactly as male dominated. Some are now perfectly integrated or even now majority female. And some are somewhere in between.

What’s the difference? Why are MDs and law students now nearly dead even between men and women (50.5% of MDs went to women in 2019, 52% of law students were women in 2018) while computer programming is more than 90% male?

Interesting graph here showing percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women in different fields. In particular I find the shape of the line for engineering fascinating. Steady and significant progress from 1973 through around 1987… and basically flatlined ever since. What that means, I have no idea.

No such nations exist at this time. Your hypothesis can not be verified in our world.

Jiroemon Kimura was 116 years and 54 days old when he died, which would put him not only into the top ten but the top five if he was still alive today. So while there are, at present, no men in that top 10 there have been men in that age in the past. There are multiple instances of men exceeding 110 years in age, which would be a minimum for “top ten oldest” over the past 50-100 years. So your assertion that the top ten list of “oldest people” is female only is refuted.

Women are also less capable of strenuous work than men are, so yes, in a survival situation they tend to do less of it than the men. But you neglect to consider that women start off with more body fat - crucial in famine situations - and also tended to have more family. Having relatives around was also correlated with survival in the Donner Party. All the single men with no relatives in the group died if I recall correctly. So social factors definitely mattered there.

But that illustrates where confounding factors are, indeed, a factor in success vs. failure. The people in the Donner Party did not receive equal rations adjusted for body size, nor were their expenditures of calories equal. And, perhaps most important, some were willing to resort to cannibalism and some were not.

What seems “obvious” as an explanation sometimes isn’t the actual cause of a situation.

how do you know no such nations exist?