Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One form of sexism in poker

I see that the final nine of the WSOP Main Event have been determined since I went to bed. Every news story I have seen so far--and, I predict, every one I will see in the future--prominently mentions that two women were eliminated just short of the final table, in 11th and 10th places.

More troubling is that as Day 7 played out, my Twitter feed was full of people openly expressing their hopes that one or both remaining women would make the final table. Poker being a zero-sum game, if you hope that a female makes the final table and/or wins, it is the same as hoping that a male does not do so.

None of the people I follow on Twitter who hoped for the women to advance did so on the basis of knowing them personally, or because of them having superior poker skill and thus deserving the victory. It was entirely because of their sex, and for no other reason.

If you want for a good outcome to happen to one person and a bad outcome to happen to another person for no reason other than their respective genders, well, we have a couple of words in our language for what that makes you: (1) sexist, and (2) bigot.

I think I expressed this as well as I'm capable of doing four years ago when Tiffany Michelle was garnering attention for being the "last woman standing":
Yes, women are statistically under-represented at poker tables generally and in big poker tournaments specifically. But that is true of black people, too, so that fact does not constitute a rational justification for paying attention to one group but not the other.

If you privately are glad to see that a black person will not win the Main Event this year, then you are obviously a racist. Of course, if you are upset about the fact that a black person will not win the Main Event this year, then that makes you a racist, too. Similarly, if you hope that Michelle is eliminated because for whatever reason you can't stand the idea of a woman winning, you are sexist. And, in parallel, if you were rooting for her to win solely because of her gender, that, too, makes you sexist. It's all the same. If you favor or disfavor a person because of race, you're a racist. If you favor or disfavor a person because of sex, you're a sexist. You're a bigot either way.

One of the great things about poker is that it simply doesn't matter whether you're male or female, black, white, Hispanic, or Asian, young or old, tall or short, skinny or fat, physically handicapped or a perfect specimen of humanity. Not only is the game equally open to all, but none of those characteristics intrinsically impact one's ability to learn and succeed at the game.

Frankly, I find the attention heaped on female players in the spotlight demeaning to women. Every time there is attention lavished on a female player specifically because she is female, there is at least a vague undertone that she merits the attention because she's doing something one would tend to think she shouldn't be able to do, like a pig learning to play a Brahms piano concerto.

What would be most genuinely respectful of women, in my never-humble opinion, is silently accepting, as a simple matter of fact--so obvious that it's not even worth mentioning, let alone dwelling on--that women are just as capable of playing the game as men are.

To the media outlets and bloggers who focus on the Last Woman Standing, but completely disregard the Last Black Standing, I ask you to justify why you deem one worthy of your attention but not the other. Can you do it?
I think it should be noted that nobody either in or out of the poker media took me up on the challenge to explain why the sex of a poker player was newsworthy but race was not. I'm still listening, should anybody care to try.


lightning36 said...

There are very few things in our lives that are totally black or white, yes or no issues. Considering that poker is a game of nuance, which you seem to understand quite well and use to your great advantage at the table, I am somewhat surprised to see you take this absolutist stand.

btw -- I am correct. Totally. : o )

Nsidestrate said...

One non-sexist reason is that one might be focused on what they believe is their personal self-interest. Poker players frequently believe (possibly erroneously) that having a winner come from a demographic group that is currently underrepresented at the tables is likely to increase the number of participants from that group at the tables. More new players, the theory goes, mean more money for experienced players. Therefore, they might cheer for women or Chinese or Russian winners, in the hopes that the pool of players will expand and bring dead money into the game.

Wine Guy said...

Well said. I agree with your opinions in that it is negative to fixate on a particular "type" of person rather than just the person themselves. Unfortunately society has long gone this way.

As with any venture or opportunity, let it be the "best" person(s) rising to the top.

ASG said...

IMO, 2 words: Phil Ivey

Jordan said...

This is an easy one. There is nothing controversial about Last Woman standing, but there is a taboo about race. I understand your point, but this is definitely a "grump" position. Let's be real for a moment. If a black man wins the WSOP, it'll be big news and the race angle will be addressed. It's not like it is a non-factor. The difference is that it is much more "sexy" (and safe) to look at the woman-in-poker issue than the blacks-in-poker issue. Poker is known as a male-dominated activity, not a white-dominated activity, even if both descriptions are accurate (I do not have an opinion on the race breakdown...not enough data available to me).

Being aware of race does not make one racist. Being aware of gender does not make one sexist. Rooting for something rare to occur does not make one racist or sexist. That is a leap in logic that I, for one, am not willing to take.

Gary said...

I wonder if it's not just a matter of steps, Grump. Perhaps first we have to cheer a woman at a final table BEFORE we can come to eliminate gender from any expectation of success or failure. Rome, and a day, and all that.

darrelplant said...

The problemis you don't understand what racism or sexism actually are.

Both are forms of prejudice where the belief is that a person of a particular race or sex is inferior because of that trait. There's been a concerted effort by some folks to muddy the waters and claim that policies that attempted to combat both over the decades were themselves racist or sexist, but the textbook definitions are discriminatory views.

Thinking that a woman shouldn't be at the final table because women aren't good enough poker players to be at the final table would be sexism. Hoping that a woman makes it to the final isn't sexism any more than an older player hoping Badih Bounarah would make it last year was ageism or that a player from (your country here) is nationalism.

Michael Moulton said...

We've seen plenty of successful non-white poker players, but we're still waiting for that breakout star female player to make the words "in poker, it doesn't matter if you're male or female" ring true.

Of course, people who really follow the game know that there are plenty of successful women playing the game, but for the casual fan, seeing a woman at the final table of the WSOP on ESPN would make a big difference in the perception of poker as a "man's game."

Barry said...

Everything in these cases does not have to be so black and white. Rooting for one person does not necessarily mean you are rooting against someone else, like you have repeated multiple times. I think most people just feel it would be good for the game if a woman were to make the final table.
Do you believe Chris Moneymaker winning the Main Event was good for the game of poker? It caused a boom in the interest of online poker, gave hope to amateurs that they could indeed win on the big stage...even coined a phrase, the "Moneymaker Effect". Was the growth really because we were all so excited that a Lebanese player, Sam Farha, lost? I know I was relieved.
Had I been alive when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, I hope I would have been happy that the best players, regardless of race, would finally have the opportunity to compete on the same field. It wouldn't have been that I was hoping fewer whites would be in the big leagues now.
Most people will probably acknowledge being happy when learning of the first women in space, or even the first American woman in space, Sally Ride. We weren't celebrating that "whew, I'm glad all the other men in NASA didn't get to go."
Other athletes like Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters have raised interest in games previously not seen in their communities. Sometimes it's just good for the game.
I don't know if you are a movie buff, but do you ever have a rooting interest in the Oscars? Many people were happy Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Does that mean they were happy that Jonah Hill and Nick Nolte lost? No, of course not. And for that matter, did they really lose? Being nominated for an Academy Award seems pretty nice. They didn't lose, they just didn't win. Likewise, did the two ladies really lose? They both cashed for 590K. They didn't win, but I don't see how you can say they lost either.
The bottom line is that women are a minority in poker. In the Main Event last year, there were 242 women out of 6865 entrants. 3.525% It seems to reason that if a woman were to win, that number would increase. More women means more players. Can you not agree that if that were to happen, everyone wins?

Richard said...

I'm puzzled by this post. Did someone tell you that there were no differences between men and women? Sexism is GROUNDLESS discrimination. If you can't discriminate women from men, you're got a long road in front of you.

There are very few good women poker players compared to men. We could argue about why this is -- I think it's because of innate psychological differences in the average man and woman, though you could continue to beat out the moribund argument that it's social conditioning -- but when they win, it's news.

THOMAS said...

this is just like how the media makes a big deal anytime someone of a different race or gender does something for the first time. i really don't care that a woman swam the distance from cuba to florida for the first time or that some black person was the first president of harvard or something, but i do care that someone achieved that...screw the gender and race and be happy for someone to achieve something that most others can not do...

Moviedogs said...

Welllll..... I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Grump. While I could care less about the last woman standing business I don’t agree that one’s characteristics don’t impact one’s ability to succeed at the game. I win tournaments because I play with 21 year old guys who think they are playing with their mother and cannot conceive that I know what I am doing... or, more importantly, that I know what they are doing. Seriously, it gets almost comical sometimes. My sex and middle-aged-ness gives me a huge advantage. It doesn’t change the cards I get, but it absolutely improves my success at the game.

NT (aka Cardgrrl) said...

When a woman excels or achieves something impressive in a field where women have been traditionally been excluded, unwelcome, or expected to fail, it is news—and good news, at that.

I don't think there's anything inappropriate about celebrating such an advancement.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Cardgrrl. I don't think the people wishing women into the final table did so with any other intent than to celebrate a milestone.

It's like watching your odometer turn from 99,999 to 100,000. Your car is no different with that extra mile, and 100,000 is no more of a special number than 131,072 (2^17), but it's simply a milestone, something to be remembered, and a landmark to beat.

mark3210 said...

I sense jealousy issues from you, Grump.
The female poker players you mentioned (Michelle, Hille, Baumann) have fan bases because they showed a high level of skill, succeeded where few females have in a male-dominated sport, and are young and attractive.
If rooting for young, attractive, females in sports makes males like myself "sexist" then so be it.

Drizztdj said...

When a woman won the Sunday Warm-Up at Stars last week, I made sure that she got the recognition as a female champ.

Many times while online reporting we do not know the sex of the person behind the avatar, thus tread very lightly using a personal pronoun on the chance that the person is indeed female and not male (as most people would rightfully assume due to the amount of male vs. female players online)

When someone makes a headline that does not fit into the majority, that stands out as both a story and an accomplishment.

Anonymous said...

i think that by pointing out differences when someone achieves something, points out the differences in that person even more.