Why Chess May Be An Ideal Laboratory for Investigating Gender Gaps in Science

MungBrainWars_HL Holly Capelo in Seed:

Because chess is competitive and mentally demanding, yet objectively measured, the resulting studies of gendered performance can potentially be more conclusive and less contentious than other approaches to this subject have been. Often, comparisons of male and female brains appear to pathologize the female condition in a manner reminiscent of the Victorian-era pseudoscientific sexism and racism that persisted in opposition to 19th century minority-rights movements. One argument, famously posed by Simone DeBeauvoir and periodically reinvented to support women’s equality, claims that the industrial revolution rendered superfluous the physical strength that long justified masculine dominance. Areas like sports and combat are reminders of male physical advantage, and lead to questions as to why there should not be a corresponding mental advantage.

Marshall responded to this distinction, “In physical sports it’s obvious why there should be a separation. I don’t think that there’s something that shows that men’s and women’s brains are different in a significant sense. I don’t think that chess should be segregated.” She continued, referring to the highest ever Elo-rated players from their respective genders, “The top female player, Judit Polgar, has beaten the top male player, Gary Kasparov, but I don’t think that’s been done, say in tennis. But in chess, it’s been done.”

Though they apparently share equal intellectual potential with their male peers, women in chess and the physical sciences aren’t reaching the top ranks and receiving the highest honors with great frequency. Perhaps, if women were to participate in large numbers for a sufficient period of time, might there arise more prize-winning women intellectuals?