Jean on Gender Stereotypes


A couple of weeks ago, I ran into my first chess teacher—Jim Tallmadge—at the Arizona Grade School Championships. As we reminisced about my elementary team, Mr. Tallmadge retold a story about the time the girls on our team “proved the boys wrong.”

Once, Mr. Tallmadge overheard players from another team talking about how easy the next round would be for the ones that were paired against girls. Chuckling, he explained how much he enjoyed watching not only as our team won the round, but also, and perhaps more importantly, as all the girls on our team won their games.


Gender stereotypes are prevalent throughout the chess world; unfortunately, they are not always debunked. I recently read "Checkmate? The role of gender stereotypes in the ultimate intellectual sport” a paper that examines just how difficult “proving the boys wrong” can be. 1 The paper describes a study conducted by Anne Maass, Claudio D’ettole and Mara Cadinu from the University of Padova. According to the study, gender stereotypes not only affect the under-representation but also the under-performance of female chess players.

Maass et al. examined the effect of gender stereotypes on performance by creating a series of Internet chess matches between male and female chess players. The chess players were paired against players of the opposite sex of equal ability. Maass et al. found that when unaware of the gender of their opponent, female chess players played approximately as well as male chess players.

In contrast, they found that when female chess players knew they were playing against males, the female chess players under-performed and played less aggressively than the males. Interestingly, when these same women played the same male opponents but were told (falsely) that they were playing women, the females performed approximately as well as the males.

These findings raise interesting questions regarding the responsibility of chess teachers and coaches to address the negative effects that gender stereotypes can have on the performance of female chess players. Not only is it important for chess teachers to actively recruit and support female chess players, but also, like Mr. Tallmadge, they can make a point of citing situations when these stereotypes are proved wrong.


What else can coaches, teachers and players do to combat stereotypes? Please leave your comments, suggestions and ideas below.


1. Maass, A., D’ettole C., & Cadinu M. (2007). Checkmate? The role of gender stereotypes in the ultimate intellectual sport. European Journal of Social Psychology (in press). Published online in Wiley InterScience.

Daniel Alvarez said,

February 27, 2008 @ 3:44 am

Hi Jean, I see your doing very well.Well I don’t have any suggestions but this is very true and its a very interesting topic.

D'Angelo Barksdale said,

February 27, 2008 @ 5:50 am

… the queen… she smart, she fierce. she move any way she want as far she want. and she is the go get sh*t done piece.

jshahade said,

February 28, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

I wrote a response to this study on, challenging the assumption that women played worse when playing against men. Maybe men just play better? More detailed opinion at:

Hi D’Angelo, I thought I would never hear from you again.

Deb said,

February 29, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

I haven’t read the complete paper, only the abstract. But I did read a paper written in 2005 ” Why Do Women Underperform
Under Stereotype Threat? Evidence for the Role of Negative Thinking” co-authored by Anne Maass (Psychological Science, 16, 572-578. ) that is similar in nature.

I know when playing chess on the internet under a female handle, I would sometimes get razzed and it would definitely effect my composure. The more my opponent would harass me about being a “girl” and consequently not a good chessplayer , the more I felt the pressure to prove him wrong…( Which I did sometimes and sometimes didn’t.)

Dax Tucker said,

March 4, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

This is indeeed a very intriguing subject. I have read a number of different theories as to why chess is such a male dominated sport including both sociological and biological explinations(e.g., it is very aggressive and war-like, chess is a left brain activity and men supposedly are more spacial oriented and logic minded, etc.) Perhaps, like so many other things in life, it is a combination of reasons both socialogical and biological that there are fewer women involved in chess. Every chess tournament my son and I go to has about a 95% male participation. However, while the fact remains there are fewer women involved in chess, in my opinion this does not mean that women can’t perform just as good as men in chess. I am sure that in the future we will begin to see an equal number of both men and women playing chess. And I think organizations such as yours will play a big role in this by bringing more women to the table so that they too can experience the intrinsic values and joys of chess.

Eleanor Barkley said,

March 15, 2008 @ 5:14 pm

I’d be interested to see this study with the culture of the females factored in (using a more diverse female sample). I coach a scholastic club where we have kids from several different ethnic backgrounds. Some of the girls have older brothers in the club who are ’stronger’ players than they are. It is amazing to see their confidence and abilities crumble when playing their brothers. I think that some of it is role scripting from within the families or culture, which affects their ability to play their ‘usual’ game. (these girls are from middle eastern families) When these girls play other boys who are American or Asian, they don’t have the same problems with confidence. My husband and I coach this club and we try to help the girls with their confidence, which seems to be their biggest limiting factor. I also think that in this situation, the girls really benefit from having a male mentor who believes in their ability, which is something they might not have otherwise.
In general, as to gender, I don’t think it should make any difference when it comes to performance. One’s mental state going into a game can be influenced by many things including sociological role scripting, but this can be overcome. I don’t often compete against other women so to me, a chess game is a chess game.

jeff pool said,

March 25, 2008 @ 1:08 am

Its like priest said everything is in the mind, perhaps men play better simply because they decided to do better, in all sports confidence is needed. I dont think you need stereotyping to stop you need to give women confidence then they will be better and people will have almost no choice but not to stereotype

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