Sexism in chess: Female players face ‘gender bias’ even from mentors and parents, study claims

Female chess players in the male-dominated sport face “gender bias” from their mentors — even from their own parents, according to a new study.

Researchers who polled the parents and mentors of chess players in the U.S. found that both believe girls’ potential in the game to be far less than their male rivals.

Parents also said they believe female players have less supportive environments than boys.

GAME OF CHESS TEACHES KIDS PROBLEM-SOLVING, PATIENCE AND CREATIVITY SKILLS

The game for women received a boost with the hit TV series “The Queen’s Gambit.”

Published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, the study — entitled “Checking Gender Bias: Parents and Mentors Perceive Less Chess Potential in Girls” — presents what the researchers say is the first-ever large-scale evidence of gender bias against young female chess players.

A chess board

Competitive chess has long been dominated by men, with just 14% of all U.S. Chess Federation players in 2020 being girls or women. (Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)

But a former female chess champion-turned-beauty queen has said the results did not take her by surprise, as she remembers male competitors acting shocked when she sat down opposite them.

The researchers, from New York University, contacted participants from a U.S. Chess Federation mailing list comprised of 286 parents and mentors of 654 children.

Ninety percent of the adults were men and 81% of the children were boys, in an accurate reflection of the gender disparities in the world of chess.

Sexism and sexual violence in the chess world were cited as “one of the main reasons why women and young girls, especially in their teens, stop playing chess.”

The sport has long been dominated by men, with just 14% of all U.S. Chess Federation players in 2020 being girls or women.

Responding to an online survey, parents and mentors in the federation said they believe girls’ highest potential chess ratings were lower than boys’ — especially if they believed that brilliance was required to succeed in the sport.

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Mentors, though not parents, who endorsed this brilliance belief were also more likely to say that female players were more likely to drop out of chess due to low ability.

Parents, but not mentors, however, believed girls had less supportive chess environments than boys — though neither group of adults believed girls were more likely to drop out of chess because of an unsupportive environment.

Chess pieces

“Gender bias also may prevent girls from even starting to play chess competitively if their own parents and mentors aren’t convinced that they will succeed,” said the lead researcher of a new study.  (Andreas Gora/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The study’s revealing results follow a recent open letter signed by more than 100 high-ranking female chess players and coaches about sexism and sexual violence in the chess world being “one of the main reasons why women and young girls, especially in their teens, stop playing chess,” SWNS noted.

The letter, titled “We, women chess players,” was initiated by 14 women of French chess, but reverberated with female chess players around the world.

Lead researcher Sophie Arnold, a doctoral student at New York University, said, “It’s disheartening to see young female players’ potential downgraded, even by the people who are closest to them, like their parents and coaches.”

Former female chess champion and Miss England contestant Emily Cossey said the study does not surprise her. 

She added, “Gender bias also may prevent girls from even starting to play chess competitively if their own parents and mentors aren’t convinced that they will succeed. Continued structural support for all female players is needed to improve girls’ and women’s experiences in chess.”

Said Arnold, “Our research also suggests that bias can come even from those closest to girls.”

Study’s limitations

A drawback of the study was that it didn’t include enough mothers and female mentors to determine if their views differed from those of fathers and male mentors.

Also, the findings may not reflect the opinions of the public, as the participants were already involved in competitive chess and had extensive interactions with the players they were rating, which usually reduces bias.

Giant chess set

A giant chess set is shown outdoors. One drawback of the new study is that it didn’t include enough mothers and female mentors to determine if their views differed from those of the fathers and male mentors of female chess players. (Donald Mensch)

But former female chess champion and Miss England contestant Emily Cossey said the study does not surprise her in the slightest.

The 25-year-old, who lives in Chelsea, West London, and was once Surrey’s Under 16 girls chess champion, told SWNS, “The study doesn’t really surprise me, to be honest. I remember when I was going to competitions, it was mainly men. When you went through all of the age ranges, some didn’t even have a female representative.”

“It needs to be more accepted that women can be good at chess.”

She said, “Men were surprised that a woman was there. They were nice, but you could tell they were very surprised, like, ‘How did you get into this?’ and comments like that.”

Cossey added, “A lot of the time, they wanted to help you. I don’t know if that stems from them thinking they were better and wanting to show you they were, or if they were just trying to help you … I don’t know.”

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In her view, “Sexism in chess needs to be stamped out and it needs to be more accepted that women can be good at chess. It’s a mind game, not a physical one. The brain is the brain — it’s not like other sports.”

Cossey also said, “One of the reasons I didn’t continue in chess competitions is that there [were] a lot of guys. You didn’t have a lot of people to look up to as a girl.”

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She said, “That’s why I love ‘The Queen’s Gambit.’ It shows that women can do both — wear dresses and play chess.”

There’s been a reported resurgence of interest in chess by both girls and boys across the United States, perhaps since the release of popular Netflix series.

Fox News Digital reached out to the new study’s lead researcher for additional comment. 

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