Monday, July 13, 2009

Girls and Chess

Since people seem to enjoy posts narrating real-life experiences, I'm going to tell a story my friends love to hear to the point of asking me to tell it several times in a row.
I love my sister. She is an amazing, intellectual, professional woman and a true feminist. She is also a very strong chess player. Her coach back in Ukraine used to tell her that she had the potential to become a champion if she dedicated her life to chess. She didn't feel like doing it, though. So now she just plays for fun. And also in order to put male chauvinists in their place.
Several years ago, my sister and I decided to visit our city's chess club. We both love challenging people's preconceived notions and biased expectations. So when we arrived at the club, my sister was dressed in a skimpy blue shirt, tight pants, high heels, she had bangs and little blue hair clips. There were many players that day in the chess club, but not a single woman. When we came in and my sister asked if she could play, nobody wanted to play with her at first. "Erm, this is a chess club," she was told even though the presence of numerous chessboards and a huge chess tournament announcement made the statement really superfluous.
Finally, the vice-president of the club sent a junior member to play. It was obvious that the intention behind this was to make her lose fast and get rid of us. "So, do you know how the figures move?" he asked with profound condescension. Of course, my sister beat this guy (at chess, I mean) in under a minute. Everybody looked very perplexed. They sent another player, she beat him too. Then, the vice-president of the club decided to take matters in his hands and came to play with my sister. Observing their game was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had. The players were huddled around the older, bearded club leader, giving advice, discussing moves, strategizing, consulting books. My sister, in the meanwhile, was glued to her cell phone, only to interrupt to her conversation very briefly to notice the opponent's move and make her own. The club members seethed with resentment.
After she beat him 3 times in a row while conducting phone conversations with everybody she knew, chewing gum and paying precious little attention to the board, the players went to the home of the club's president. They desperately needed someone to beat this woman who defied every stereotype about chess players on the one hand and very young women on the other. Can you at this point guess what happened with the club's president? She won 2 out of 3 games.
When we were leaving, people treated us in a way that couldn't be more different from their initial reception. For a long time after that they kept begging my sister to join their club. She didn't, though. I think she was right. After their initial attitude, they didn't deserve her as a member.


Anonymous said...

It is strange... I obviously enjoyed the story... I like gender stereotypes being shattered...

But in the same time, I am getting more and more of an impression that your life is somehow very determined by the wish to prove something to the carriers of traditional stereotypes of both genders... You not only react to stereotype-based attacks, you invite them. You actively seek them... You diligently read Douthat... :) :) Yes, some shaking is good for those people, but doesn't the degree of your involvement mean that they determine your thoughts and actions more than they are worth it?

Clarissa said...

Well, this was my sister, not me. But I love doing such things as well. :-) I do believe in active engagement with the enemy. :-) I could pretend that I'm above such things, but it would be just cowardice and failing to see the obvious, I think.