Monday, October 19, 2009

the WSJ article about women's titles

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, "Abolish Women's Chess Titles," has been generating some discussion recently (Mig, Kosteniuk). I'm somehow convinced by both sides of the argument.

But here's my problem with the article: Barbara Jepson knows almost nothing about chess.

I know this because she contacted me in August to ask some background questions and get Irina Krush's email. I'm pretty sure the opinion she expresses is simply Irina's opinion. Jepson obviously contacted a number of other people, and got some good quotes/points from them, and I'm sure it's possible for a non chess player to form an opinion on the subject of women's titles, but somehow it feels like a weird kind of journalism. Just pick someone famous/knowledgable in the field, ask them for their thoughts on a subject, and then write an editorial? Or maybe it's done all the time?


Arun Sharma said...

I agree that it's a bad idea for someone who really has no knowledge of chess to write a piece which carries such a strong opinion on something which is so mainstream in the chess world.

Like most things in this game there are many arguments for both points of view, and it seems that if someone who really has no first hand knowledge of the topic wants to write about it, it would be more sensible to write from a perspective that makes sure readers are aware of the varying opinions on this.

It's obviously good that she got top players opinions' who would have insight to the question at hand (like Krush). But I don't understand why the article wasn't written from the perspective of "Should Women's Titles Be Abolished" or something of that general nature while giving opinions from people on both sides rather than something so strong as "Abolish Women's Titles" and giving only one point of view.

dezi said...

so she had nothing, went to someone who did, and regurgitated it. sounds journalistically par... at least she presented womens chess in a respectable light. a lot of people who " know something" about chess, know little about presentation. between hula chess and "chess girls gone wild" photo shoots (with phallic rooks, what else?) women chess, or the chess world its self has to find a new identity. getting rid of womens titles is a start, another would be people that know something about chess doing more so that the people who don't know don't have to...

Anonymous said...

I don't see any reason why a non-chessplayer couldn't have a valid opinion on the subject. Nor do I see why Irina's opinion concerning Women's Titles should be any more valued than someone else's.

Women's titles do seem to be a polite way of patting women on the head for adequate performance. I don't have any problem with women-only tournaments, but the women-only titles are blatantly stating that women are less capable than men, so we need to establish lower standards for them.

Chris said...

It is done in my industry (executive compensation consulting) all the time. Journalists provide a small glimpse into the area, but shouldn't be relied on for specialized knowledge. Hence for those more intimately involved with chess, it makes more sense to rely on the opinions/insights of actual players.

Alexandra Kosteniuk said...

Thanks for your support, Elizabeth. I agree with you.

I got 91 comments up to now to my blog post about the WSJ and have made my final comment there:

Best wishes to all and thanks for supporting women's chess!

Arne Moll said...

You're right, Elizabeth, the article is very one-sided and probably just Krush's opinion (as I also noted in my piece on chessvibes about it).
By the way, Alexandra, do you realize you're being quoted in the WSJ piece to make it look like you agree with the opinion expressed in it?

Best regards, Arne

gurdonark said...

I, too, find the arguments each way quite workable. At this particular moment I believe that womens' titles make sense for now, but that the goal should be a day when no gender titles are required.
I don't consider the issue particularly pressing. If we have a female title status quo, why change it?

I am less concerned with the author's lack of knowledge of chess than with her lack of knowledge of the history of gender discrimination in chess, and the justifiable bases for womens' titles as a way to encourage participation and eradicate gender inequality.

Anonymous said...

Not only should we not abolish women's titles, we need to expand our enlightened and progressive horizons, realizing that there are other disenfranchised groups who need to feel better about themselves. I personally advocate a Married title system. It's well known that marriage negatively impacts one's chess training and tournament schedule, and so it is only fair to take these disadvantages into account. I am a solid class A player, but I am also married and so should get the MFM title. Reduced entry fees would be cool too. Don't you want more married people to play chess?

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 8:45 is right. We need Black FM & Gay FM. We need to petition FIDE, because it's unreasonable to have the same expectations of gays and blacks as of white hetero males.

I'll let Kosteniuk, or some other equally qualified misogynist, decide where the rating qualifications for blacks and gays should be. Will it be higher or lower than the womens' standards?

This discussion makes me miss Bobby Fisher.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm a WIM and I think that women's titles serve a useful purpose. But I agree there is a double standard. We're always complaining about how men exclude us, so in the interest of fairness, I think we should allow men to earn women's titles. I know a lot of guys who would be ecstatic to be WIM's or WGM's.

Globular said...

So if I was a married black lesbian, my 1700 would get me a MBLIM title and free entry to big tournaments?

Count me in!

-Matt, er... Maddy

Chris said...

Some of these anonymous comments are borderline ridiculous. If you don't feel that there should be women's titles, that's cool. But the (intended) satire of the comments is off the mark. Go read Kosteniuk's blog for the reasons why women's titles exist. It is an attempt to provide role models and financial incentives for young female players today.

Even if you feel that these reasons are insufficient for maintaining women's titles, you should be willing to engage in an honest discussion about the reasons rather than attempt to mock their existence.

Anonymous said...

How about honestly funny discussions, are those ok?

But I apologize for my (hilariously funny, completely non-malicious) post at 11:18. And I accept in advance (and not a little graciously, I might add) your apology for incorrectly reading my intentions, if, in fact, you were referring to me. You other posters, however, are truly beyond the pale, and I challenge you to a duel, each and every one of ya.

- Your friendly neighborhood WIM impostor

Steve H said...

I don't see any harm in having separate women's titles. If it gets more girls/women playing chess then it does some good. As to the brouhaha over WGM = GM without the same level of skill ... well, who cares? It is common knowledge in the chess world that the level of skill required to attain a WGM title is less than a GM title so I don't see it as a case of false advertising and I doubt the 'W' titleholders are disillusioned as to their actual skill levels.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it could alienate some girls, if they find it patronizing? What do you guys think?

Anonymous said...

"It is an attempt to provide role models and financial incentives for young female players today."

Ahh, how sweet. Now try to form an argument on why these feel-good things justify creating gender-based titles. The reason the Anon comments above hit their mark is that such arguments can be used for any "minority" (in the field in question). And so while a gay eskimo title system is ridiculous, explain why it's more ridiculous than a gender-based title system. One may argue that it's nice for young girls to play chess and they should have incentives to do so. It's another thing to say that such incentives have to involve bastardizing the title system.

Anonymous said...

I am in favor of giving titles to Gays because research shows thery havve more estrogen(womean's hormone) than straight men. I believe Gay men shoukd be able to earn Women's titles. As for titles for Blacks, look at Maurice Ashley: a weak GM whi made quite a bvit of noise and publicity for himself on account of beinh the first black to doi it. Clearly someone thought, maybe Ashley hgimself, that Blacks have some kind of disadvantage compared to Whites. Why is it OK to dicrinintae/distinguish chess ttiles soley based on Sex but not OK to do so for other groups whoi are normally protected in terms of equal rights. Or how about affirmatuve action in chess, taking into account past inequaties and discrimination.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Kosteniuk, who is my opinion is a great player and a great amvassador of chess, her long drawn out arguments fail to convince me-- all she is doing is protecting her turf the satus quo for women. I can make the same arguments why we need titles for parapeligivs or blacks.

Anonymous said...

Chris, reading Kosteniuk's blog is what got me started. Essentially, she states:

-Men are stronger, so they can play chess better. Furthermore, she cites reknowned gender studies and physiological genius, Anatoly Karpov.

-Women are distracted by the constant need to make babies and therefore cannot play chess. Apparently, in Kosteniuk's mind, girls must start preparing for having a family by age 7 otherwise they 'risk' being doomed to speed dating.

Those two statements alone are more ridiculous than any of the anon comments I've seen here.

Leon Akpalu said...

"It is an attempt to provide role models and financial incentives for young female players today."

What about role models and financial incentives for black, gay, etc. players?

What about all the young gay men in Iowa and Nebraska who don't have a role model showing they can be a chess star *and* pose for scantily-clad cheesecake photos just like Kosteniuk?

On the other hand, to the extent that the separate system pumps more money -- and hence more (semi-?) professionals into the system, it's probably good for chess in general.

Chris said...

My views on the actual issue are muddied as i can see the pros and cons, i only intended to move the discussion to the actual merits which i think is occurring. My response to several posts follow:

"Maybe it could alienate some girls, if they find it patronizing? What do you guys think?"

I think that those that don't want the titles don't have to accept/use them, but it is a concern.

@Steve H. - I concur.

"Chris, reading Kosteniuk's blog is what got me started."

You're right. I don't mean to defend all of what she wrote, i guess i only remembered what i agreed with from her post. And she does have several very valid points.

"One may argue that it's nice for young girls to play chess and they should have incentives to do so. It's another thing to say that such incentives have to involve bastardizing the title system."

How does WGM + WIM bastardize the rating system? Those who are familiar with chess know exactly what it means. Those that don't want it, don't have to accept it or use it.

"Why is it OK to dicrinintae/distinguish chess ttiles soley based on Sex but not OK to do so for other groups whoi are normally protected in terms of equal rights."

No one is stopping you or anyone else from creating rating systems or titles for other "protected groups". In the US they do have separate tournaments for blind players.

Anonymous said...

Separate tournaments for the blind DOES NOT equal separate titles..and more important separate Financial Incentives. The last point is key, without financial incentives of separate Title system for female players these titles in and of themselves would become meaningless, and on the whole this entire discussion would be moot. If kostenuik has to play with the best men to make a living, she isnt going to do very well, regarless of wheather she is a good looking chick who likes to pose in underware, she is keenly aware of this and tries to justify the current system. I can make the same arguments for the blind, parapeligics, blacks, gays, people born with both male and female organs, etc.

Rami Sleforty

Anonymous said...

Any REAL feminist will take the position that female titles in a discipline where one mind competes against another represents a DOUBLE STANDARD. WILL ALL THE REAL FEMINISTS PLEASE STAND UP, JENNIFER SHAHADE, WHAT DO YOU THINK HONEY?

Anonymous said...

I recall Alexandra Kosteniuk being booted from the Dos Hermanas internet tournamnet held anually on icc a fewe yrs back. She happened to play like a super GM, way above her current icc rating and she got caught doing something unkosher.

Doug said...


Is that anything like Tupperware?

Leon Akpalu said...

And, for the record, I would be happy to accept a WGM/WIM title.
Certainly, in my 2150 days, I'd have had a good shot at WIM.

Chris said...

@Rami - If you want to provide those incentives for different groups then go ahead. Certain people feel that more incentives for female players is a good thing, how does that take away from you or anyone else?

"Any REAL feminist will take the position that female titles in a discipline where one mind competes against another represents a DOUBLE STANDARD"

It may appear that way on its face, but let's dig a little deeper. The argument is that due to historical societal factors (not inherently gender-based) women have not had the same opportunity, thus titles provide a way of leveling the playing field.

soissons said...

I am opposed to the 'W' designation for titles as it clearly perpetuates the stereotype that women cannot play chess as well as men. Regardless of what these titles do for promoting women in chess, its wrong, wrong. Alternatively, why not drop the W and add M to the male title? I think it is precisely the perspective of someone who doesn't play chess that points up so clearly why this is wrong. There are other alternatives to the sexist "W" designation, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they could rename the titles so they aren't sexist, like Societally Handicapped Master, Societally Handicapped International Master, and Societally Handicapped Grand Master.