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Why Are Women's Events Dying and Should We Care?

The daily bulletin from today's Nationals in St Louis carried an article on the very low attendance for National Women's team events in recent years. The Woman's Swiss to be held this weekend, had 16 teams last year and 14 teams the two previous years. The Women's KO held at the summer nationals has been 11, 17, and 16. These events are clearly not popular enough to be continued, so why has that happened and do we care?

Well it used to be that your team had to win one of the four woman's team events in the cycle of four nationals to make it to the team trials to select the team to represent the USA in the next world championships. Then the size of the trials was increased to include about eight teams who had earned enough placing points by finishing well in these events. So any team with any ambitions would play all those events. Most, but not all, of those teams still play, now that the reward for finishing well more than once is a bye past the first round robin in the women's team trials, which has become open to all female entrants.

It also used to be that there were some separate men's and women's events opposite each other so there was no choice. This was unfair to regular mixed and married partnerships and a certain lawsuit changed them to Open and Women's events. Attendance in the women's events has been falling ever since.

Society has also changed radically in the last forty years or so in terms of what is open to women and what we have accomplished. So we no longer consider ourselves second class citizens and therefore may feel that playing in women's events is somehow denigrating. Many male experts and husbands encourage this view. Other women have told me they do not enjoy the women's events because of the poor behavior of the other women. To quote a friend "... and if you get a good board or two... they become condescending and rude to upset you. Why are people afraid to mention this bad behavior by the 'frequent winners?' I'd rather play in an open event where you can hear yourself think."

I used to think one of the reasons for US dominance in world women's events was the plethora of women's events at home to give us practice but we no longer dominate. Now I think that American women were just ahead of the rest of the world in having the killer instinct and "can do" attitudes. When I watched some wonderful old Twilight Zones recently I could not help noticing that in the 1950s office the women were secretaries and the men were managers, no exceptions. How strange that seems today.

But if you look at the very top bridge and chess players, they are all male. Most are also younger than 60 and even under 50. There are very few women in either of these mind sports that can compete at the highest level with the men. Once I thought this was just discrimination on the part of men. They would not choose to play on serious teams with us or mentor us (unless other considerations like dating ...). But now I am starting to think there is a bent of mind that is needed to be the best at these games and testoterone helps with it. So is this one of the drugs tested for? We don't swagger enough girls!

The late Alan Truscott had several interesting theories on this. One was that women were more sensible than men and just could not devote themselves to a game to the same extent. Another was the bell curve of intelligence, the theory that there were more male idiots and geniuses than women; see this blog post for a discussion of and link to that study and the bell curve charts for it.

Whatever the reasons, women are not as successful at the very highest levels in both mind sports. So there will always be a place for a separate female division at the world level but clearly women only events are not popular enough to have quite so many at the national level.

I would propose a four day woman's KO at the spring nationals where there is now a pair event and a swiss event. If attendance improves run a one day swiss the first day to come down to eight teams. Possibly a woman's pairs for the last two days of the KO. No summer women's events. Keep the fall women's schedule perhaps unless attendance continues to drop in which case get rid of them too.

Any thoughts? Or are there too few women here to express an opinion...

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