Is this the same conversation as weightlifting and swimming?
Are women at a biological disadvantage competing against men in chess tournaments?
Them’s fightin’ words for many feminists. Those familiar with science must acknowledge men’s biological advantage over us in physically competitive sports which is why the world’s weirdest controversy rages over transwomen on women’s athletic teams. But chess? No physical advantage required, unless it’s sitting in a chair for hours on end. Then, points for women with more fat in our butts.
Mostly, women and men compete regularly in chess tournaments, and no one questions this. We know that intellectually, there’s virtually no difference between male and female brains, although it was a male conceit until the last few hundred years that male intelligence outranked pinkie-boo brains. It’s kind of hard to fault them when they didn’t have sociologists, psychologists and neuroscientists armed with MRIs to refute their contention. Women’s intelligence had been oppressed and marginalized for so many thousands of years it truly must have sounded bugspit insane to suggest otherwise.
History offered a few intelligent, capable, and sometimes despotic women to challenge that view, but were largely regarded as outliers.
Even today one might suspect it’s the truth if you’ve ever watched—or been—that woman who folds under male authority or succumbs to a crappy male argument without enough information or confidence to properly challenge or refute it.
Hell, I sometimes more cynically wonder about it myself as I watch so-called intelligent, enlightened, otherwise feminist women fall into line like good little girls under the spell of far-left narratives that marginalize, stereotype and patronize women just like men did before Second Wave feminism.
History’s widely scattered accomplished chickie-boos with seeming outlier brains include Ada Lovelace, who powerfully contributed to Charles Babbage’s early pre-computing Analytical Engine, and recognized it possessed uses beyond mathematics; so of course the Babbage Machine shares no hyphenated glory with her. Hedy Lamarr, one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood, pioneered today’s WiFi, invented a tablet that could turn a glass of water into a soda drink, and improved traffic light design. She spent her off-time in her workshop rather than nuzzling Clark Gable or guzzling champage at star-studded parties. And let’s not forget the black brainiacs who helped put white men on the moon in Hidden Figures.
Given a fair shot, intellectually and cognitively, women can often go toe-to-toe, or maybe cortex-to-cortex with the boys. Although there’s no sex parity in the STEM professions yet, and may never be for reasons that may or may not have to do with cognitive ability (the jury will be out on this for awhile), women’s undeniable achievement in science, business, education, and on the Supreme Court indicate that what we lack in weightlifting and swimming speed, we make up for in cognitive competition.
So why, then, has the International Chess Federation placed a moratorium on transwomen competing with women?
Are transwomen worthy competitors?
I can’t stand Will ‘Lia’ Thomas, but if he wants to compete with women in chess, as a man or a woman, I support his right to do so.
He’ll probably get his ass kicked, since it’s not his thing, and identifying as a woman won’t alter his advantage.
The chess article on a Reality’s Last Stand Substack argues women may not ever be truly competitive chess players against men, supported by a clearly established cognitive skill men customarily have over women. A female Harvard evolutionary biologist speculates that “males have a large spatial-ability advantage over women,” and offers legendary hockey player Wayne Gretzky’s visualization skills as one superlative example.
I acknowledge men customarily have this advantage over female brains; which themselves possess certain advantages over male brains, like with language processing and emotional expression, not all of which can be explained by socialization and growing up in ‘patriarchal’ culture. Neuroscience has come to show that parts of our respective brains work differently, including the hippocampus and the amygdala.
But I find the RLS article unpersuasive that women may not have just the right cognitive skills to defeat men in this challenging game of the mind, despite never having won a world championship, and the very best female player only ranking 116 worldwide. Women have been competing with men since the ‘80s without political drama, and while there’s still a big performance gap, we can’t say with any certainty that female brains simply can’t comparatively perform.
Of course, we can’t say that they can, either.
I find unpersuasive the argument’s ultimate contention that perhaps transwomen, and ergo other men, shouldn’t compete with women, because it fails to address questions I considered while reading the article. Let’s start with the least persuasive, in my own opinion (bearing in mind that I don’t play
Women’s brains may not be as refined and optimized as men’s
The Patriarchy wasn’t built in a day and it’s been only 150 years or so since women began chipping away at the fortress. I’ve never seen evidence women are less smart than men, but thousands of years of organized civilization designed by men, for men, and assigning women to serve men, lays out valuable skills exercised by men that I don’t see in women, and I have no reason so far to believe it has to do with brain matter rather than evolutionary mapping. Like:
Women may not yet have the confidence to win
Testosterone production in men may fuel the commonly observed male desire to compete, dominate, and win at all cost. The RLS article cites a child prodigy and chess champion as the ‘Terminator’, who ‘will not stop, ever, until you are dead’. How many women have this drive? How many of us hold ourselves back, valuing wanting to be ‘liked’ and approved of, often preferring to preserve relationships over achieving what we really want?
And do we have the confidence to win? We certainly witness countless female sports champions exhibiting the same drive and relentless desire for victory, and it’s absolutely critical they cultivate the ‘growth mindset’ male athletes exemplify to achieve it. But until recently they only ever competed against other women. Removing the Lia Thomases, the drive to win may well work better psychologically against female competitors.
For chess, where the physical advantage is removed, does perhaps the subconscious female fear of challenging a man, wired into the female brain for protective purposes over thousands of years, play upon her? Does the knowledge that the world’s eyes are upon her in this ‘battle of the sexes’, that she’s letting her ‘sisters’ down if she loses to her male opponent (including trans) play upon her? Does, deep within the recesses of her brain, she fear losing to a man? Are his ‘psych out’ strategies more successful, especially against her own skills to do the same? And does she even have those skills?
Women may still have some unfortunate catching up to do
I’m not convinced that certain clear male cognitive advantages (like spatial visualization) mean that women can never learn them.
Men must surely have doubted Catherine Elizabeth Brewer Benson, the first American woman to receive a college degree, in the years leading up to her graduation in 1840. They must have laughed their asses off forty years later, while Mary H. Graham worked toward her philosophy degree, the first American black woman to earn a university diploma.
Now women attain more university degrees than men. But men still earn more STEM degrees, and many valid theories hold both the nature and nurture hypotheses.
It’s possible women simply have a lot of catching up to do. We don’t have the long established history of female accomplishment as do men, often misunderstood by traditionalists who point to men ‘having invented everything’, forgetting that they had time to do it because their wives were busy with the household, and even if they had servants, women weren’t allowed the education or employment efforts to acquire the knowledge, skills and experience men customarily did.
God only knows where Ada Lovelace, Hedy Lamarr and Katherine Johnson got it.
I don’t know if women will ever achieve parity in chess, and I’m as equally uncertain whether we will in STEM professions. It’s possible that male brains truly are more adept, overall, at both. Perhaps the goal should be not that women must be equally represented everywhere in order to acknowledge we’re equal, but that each individual be permitted to achieve whatever their talents are best suited for. We know that countless ridiculously bright people will achieve, given the opportunity, but nevertheless will likely never achieve the heights of accomplishment as Albert Einstein.
Where does that bring us with women’s chess and competition with men, regardless of how they identify?
With as much information as I have, I lean towards women’s chess performance gap possibly being rooted more in long-established brain wiring affecting their confidence, underdeveloped strategy skills and behavior under pressure. I suspect ingrained (but not permanently rooted) self-doubt residing like a negative little Terminator in their amygdala’s fear center.
There’s a clear male competitive advantage in physical sports that female athletes can never overcome, but perhaps women’s inability to even approach the global chess championship finish line is a longer-term goal requiring several, or many generations of progress. There’s no better way for women to do so than to compete with men regardless of pronouns.
I don’t know that parity is the real objective, in either chess or STEM professions, as long as every female brainiac is given the opportunity to maximize her brain’s potential, and thrive in an environment, however short on females, that’s not a boys’ club. Can we develop Gretzky-level visualization skills? Can we compensate by developing other strategic skills? Can we become better psych-out masters than the guys, trans or not?
After all, women are downright evil at manipulating others when we want to be. A skill developed over thousands of years of patriarchy in which it was the only way to get what we wanted or needed for ourselves or our families.
Stay tuned, for the next couple of hundred years or so.
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