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Sexism - and Physiology

Justin, thank you for posting Ida’s thoughts about sexism in the bridge world. I so cheer young people taking up our game. In particular, super to see young women playing – and excelling – at our tough sport.  Like so many others, I am frustrated when some seem to want to diminish women as giggling creatures fixated on clothes and accessories. Where was the corresponding video about silly men?  Yeah; not there.

Yet, the more I read this post and the comments following, the more I felt that no one wanted to mention The Elephant in the Room.  I am guessing I am going to receive a torrent of abuse for posting this. But, as I think it is important to say, here I go; full speed ahead.

First – is there sexism in bridge?  Sure.  There is sexism in most human activities; why should ours be any different? Whatever may be there, however, you can bet that the situation today is far superior than it was decades ago. Look at what the world was like when I began to learn the game. If you were a woman and wanted to work, most of us became teachers, nurses, secretaries or entered other similar careers.  Yes, there were women who became doctors, lawyers, corporate executives – but far, far fewer than there are today.

Today, if you go to purchase a car, few women ever get asked when your husband is going to show up. Ditto for getting insurance.  Hell; it’s only been slightly over 100 years that women in America had the right to vote!  So yes; bridge has sexism. But, like much of the rest of society (at least Western society), it’s gotten much better than it was in times past.

Second, I find there to be quite a distinction between men who tell a woman “We could play together at a lot of tournaments if you would (fill in the blank) with me,” or are otherwise rude and crude to women (yes, this did happen to me long ago) – and men who assume that because you are female instead of male, you cannot beat the pants off of them at the bridge table.  Again, whether you are at a bridge event, in business, at a university or wherever, men can and will talk and act sexist and inappropriately.  Of course they should not – and again, we try to reform the situation. We’ve made progress; we have not at all reached perfection.

That, however, is quite different to me than the men who quite stupidly automatically assume that a woman cannot play damned good bridge.  Of course they can – and do.  I am not going to name names, but anyone with any sense whatsoever appreciates that there are female players who are superior to at least 99% of the male bridge players – and some at the very pinnacle of success and ability.

But – that statement gets me to my third point. That is, men and women are not physiologically identical.

No, I am not talking about the fact that most men have larger muscles than women, are taller, etc. I am talking about our brains.  On average (which is a critical point, as every human is unique in contrast to all others), but on average, the brain of a man and of a woman is different.  And, although I would be the last to claim that men are superior to women – or vice versa – I do believe there is evidence that because of these differences in brain structure depending upon sex, men have a physiological advantage over women at the game of bridge.

This is not a terrifically scholarly article, but it at least is one that explains what some of these differences are:

On average, the brain of a male is able to focus with tunnel vision on one task at a time, thinking of nothing else, in contrast to that of a woman.  On average, the brain of a female is able to juggle a number of items in her brain at once, in contrast to that of a male.  Both useful skills at various times – but the “tunnel vision” feature is extremely useful at bridge when you are attempting to concentrate and solve a bridge problem.

Then there is visual-spatial relationship thinking.  It seems, on average, that more men have a heightened skill of this than women do.  Again, this is a skill that plays a role in working through bridge problems.

Does this mean that women are overall inferior to men, and that it thus is fine for men to denigrate them, joke with them or sum them up as nothing more than sexual body parts?  Does it mean that we ought to return to men’s and women’s events?  No and no.  Indeed, I am someone who wishes that women’s events would go away.  I believe that women overall, whatever their innate abilities and talents are, would become superior players competing more in open fields.

But what it does mean is this.  It is not surprising that if you look at the top players in the world, you see a preponderance of men. While sexism and prejudice likely play part of a role in this, it is only a part.  I think that the other part is that – again, on average – at the top, fewer women have the innate ability to quite match the skills of the best male players in the world.

On the other hand, if you assume I am correct (which I am sure a great many will think I am not), no one should forget this.  You cannot tell by looking at someone and seeing that they are female rather than male, that they aren’t either a very good player, or a fine player, or perhaps one of the best players in the world. Because there are women at the very top, who can – and do – compete against the best of the best and win.

I cannot speak for any other woman who plays bridge.  I can speak only for me.  So, this woman wishes that more men would recognize that some of us are fine players.  Alas; I am not at all in the “world class” category. A dream that will and has happened for some women; not this one.

Yet, I have had my moments. I am proud when anyone, male or female, recognizes my modicum of abilities and accomplishments.  I am grateful when competitors do not assume immediately because I am a woman, that I cannot falsecard, or calculate the best way to play a hand or perform any other task at the bridge table.

Some years ago, against a suit contract, I underled an ace at trick one.  I got lucky; declarer had to figure out at trick one that I had done so – and it was the only way to beat a game.  At the end of the hand, he turned to me and remarked, “Nice lead, sneaky bitch.”

Declarer was a friend; I took no offense and accepted it at as the compliment it was.

So.  Please give women respect at the bridge table. Recognize that some of us can play really well – and some of us can play rings around most men.  Everyone should try to lighten up a little. I personally like it when people like Christina smile at the table – and encourages others to do so.

And remember that our game is an incredibly complex, difficult, frustrating yet fascinating game to play. No one is the best at all the skills needed to excel at it – irrespective of sex.  Make the most of what you have – and don’t let anyone else prevent you from achieving what you can and want to do!

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