2015 is an exciting year for young female players in chess.
This year, three teens played in the Women’s US Championships: Women’s International Master Annie Wong (12), National Master Apurva Virkud (16), and Women’s FIDE Master Jennifer Yu (13). They placed 10th, 9th and 12th respectively.
Disney is making a movie featuring Lupita Nyong’o as Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan teenager who overcame incredible odds by learning and excelling at chess. Her story was told on ESPN, where Phiona’s epic journey from extreme poverty to the national and international chess stage is being billed as “the ultimate underdog story.” Phiona is now chasing her dream of becoming a Grandmaster and a doctor, and her chess achievements have allowed her family to move from the difficult slum life into a new home. Read more about her here or in the book about her here.
Also, there is the story of Carissa Yip, who just this year became the youngest female chess master in US history at the tender age of 11. According to Chesskid.com, a year before, she is became the youngest person to beat a Grandmaster in a classical game. Her goal in life is to be a world champion chess player, a professional golfer, and a policewoman. Read more about this amazing preteen here.
More on these amazing players:
To read the article about Jennifer Yu,
To read the article about Phiona Mutesi,
U.S. Women’s Championship players,
If you have been following chess news at all, you will have read about the controversy regarding GM Nigel Short’s comments about women’s “natural” chess playing abilities (see links below for more information). In a sense we agree with Greg Shahade (read his entire post here) when he says “who cares”…
“The only thing that matters and should be talked about is the
following: If a girl is talented at chess, has desire and
she is willing to work very hard, she has every chance of
being a great chess player.”
However, we also know from studies about girls’ math performance, that when these discussions promulgate negative stereotypes, they can have a powerfully discouraging influence on performance.
So, what about the science? At this point, there is no way to draw any definitive conclusions. Differences in brain size and structure are influenced by our environment and vice versa. In addition, they do not necessarily correlate with differences in performance or ability in the ways we might expect. For example, differences in brain structure that we once thought were largely genetic are now thought to be strongly influenced by environmental impacts such as poverty and abuse (see this article for one example). In addition, we now know that parts of our DNA can be turned on or off based on our experiences (click here for Neil Degrasse Tyson on that topic). Furthermore, some of the performance differences that we once thought were solely due to genetics and then realized were substantially influenced by long-term environmental factors seem to be significantly impacted by the anxiety one experiences when they are in a situation where a negative stereotype exists for a group to which one identifies. (Learn more about stereotype threat in Claude Steele’s book Whistling Vivaldi and also here). Together these findings indicate a much more refined, but still quite fluid understanding of the multiple influences on performance.
In all fairness, GM Short’s comments in the original article were not as inflammatory as they have been portrayed by some media sites. Much of the narrative about women and girls in chess that we are hearing in response to his comments sound unfortunately familiar to past discussions about the supposed biologically-based intellectual inferiority of other groups of people (you can read about a similar debate about Blacks and chess here). Because of this we cannot, in good conscience, ignore these types of discussions because children who hear unrefuted negative portrayals tend to internalize them. A study by Rothgerber and Wolsiefer cited in this article that found 6-11 year old girls were already aware of the stereotype that boys are better at playing chess than girls. And, recent research suggests that when we think that intellectual abilities are a fixed characteristic, it has a powerful impact on our success. We are much less likely to stick with things and do what we need to do to improve (read about Mindset here).
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies…but the silence of our friends.” So, as friends and family members of girls and women, what can we do? We can read some of the articles (click the links below or head over to our FB page for more about this topic) and talk about these issues with our girls AND boys. We can also watch what we say as cultural attitudes are often unintentionally be passed on through our words from one generation to the next. And, we can encourage them all to play and excel at chess or anything else that they feel drawn to, to make mistakes and learn from them, to be persistent in the face of challenges…regardless of what the naysayers may say. For our part, we will continue to strive to make our camp welcoming to all kids. What will you do?
Original article by Nigel Short: http://www.chess.com/news/media-storm-over-grandmaster-gender-column-9730
Article that first stirred the pot: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/chess/11548840/Nigel-Short-Girls-just-dont-have-the-brains-to-play-chess.html