The good news: There are more women in chess than ever before.
The bad news: They’re being noticed because of the way they look, not the way they play.
The New York Times reports on women in competitive chess who are showing off more than their brain power to get noticed in the traditionally male-dominated field.
Vanessa Reid, a 16-year-old student from Sydney, Australia, runs cross-country, plays touch football, enjoys in-line skating, swims and goes bodyboarding. She also has a cerebral side: she plays competitive chess. She represented Australia at a tournament in Malaysia in 2002 and played in a tournament in New Zealand this year.
While Ms. Reid is clearly no novice at the game, she isn’t exactly taking it by storm. She is not on the World Chess Federation’s list of the world’s 50 top female players. In fact she is ranked 47,694th among both men and women. But Ms. Reid, who has auburn hair, light-blue eyes and a winning smile, is arguably the top player in the world based on a more subjective criterion: her looks. A Web site called World Chess Beauty Contest (www.1wcbc.com) ranks her as the world’s most beautiful woman in the game.
…Alexandra Kosteniuk, 21, a dark-haired, porcelain-skinned Russian grandmaster who is ranked fifth in the world among women and 525th over all, models and uses her Web site to sell photos of herself posing in bikinis next to giant chess pieces.
Maria Manakova, 31, who is the fourth-ranked woman in Russia and who is ranked eighth on the Beauty Contest site, attracted attention last year when she posed nude for Speed, a Russian magazine.
Of course it’s sad that these women are only being noticed because of their physical assets, but it’s their right to promote themselves however they want. It was something else in the article that really disturbed me.
…Mr. [Steve] Immitt recalled a tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla., in which a male player complained that his female opponent was a distraction. Mr. Immitt went to investigate.
“She was distracting,” he said. “But there was nothing I could do. It was the beginning of April, right after spring break, and she was dressed appropriately for the time of year. It wasn’t anything against the law. I told the guy, ‘You are going to have to call upon yourself to overcome the distraction.’ He ended up losing the game anyway, but I am not sure that was from being distracted.”
Huh. Even though I find the idea of someone having to “investigate” an attractive woman being distracting in a chess game totally hysterical, this anecdote reveals something really troubling. It’s fine and dandy for women to pose in bikinis next to chess boards, but when it comes to playing the game they’re a “distraction.” Which of course is why a guy would lose a woman–not because a female player could actually outplay them, but because poor guys lose smarts by the second when in close proximity to vaginas. Such a sorry excuse.