Preaching to the Girls’ Choir

I don’t play poker or any other card game (I even gave up on Solitaire, Go Fish, and Old Maid, which, come to think of it, is a terribly insensitive name nowadays), though I am impressed by the fact that an inexpensive deck of cards can provide so many hours of entertainment for so many people.  But it takes time to learn a game and even more time to become proficient at it, and in the end…well, I have other things I’d rather do.

Even so, the recent upsurge in the popularity of poker hasn’t escaped my attention.  So when I came across a newspaper column with the title “Where are all the female poker players?” I thought it was worthy of my attention.

It’s a good question.  I remember my mother and grandmother playing Pinochle, Canasta, Bridge, and other card games.  Since females tend to score better on rote memory tests, they should have an advantage in card games.  So why don’t more of them play poker?

If I had to guess, I’d say that women avoid poker because they are more risk-aversive than men.  When they gamble, they tend to bet smaller amounts and to avoid long shots.  I think they enjoy card-playing as a pastime or as a form of socializing, but it isn’t a defining feature of their lives.

According to the column, the World Series of Poker requires a $10,000 fee to participate, so we are not talking mere amusement here but a major investment of time and money.  Obviously, the men who buy into this contest constitute a very small percentage of the male population, though they constitute a larger percentage than their female counterparts.

The column, however, didn’t offer even this much speculation as to why women eschew poker.  The article was informative, not because of what it said, but because of what it showed in terms of gender and media bias.

The author of the article was Norman Chad, a sportswriter/sportscaster whom I had never heard of, but who would likely be well known to serious poker players, as he has been a color commentator for the World Series of Poker and the U.S. Poker Championships on ESPN.

Chad opens his column by stating that his first wife, a very good poker player, was the only female sitting in on his college poker sessions.  He laments that females are still scarce.  As he notes, “Poker has no gender barriers; you walk in, you buy chips, you sit down, you play cards.  It’s the closest thing to a true meritocracy in America.”

All well and good.  Is there a problem here?  Women can play if they want to, but they choose not to.  So what?  Who cares?  Can’t help but note that the Norman Chad Poker League (see has 21 members, including the eponymous founder.  Not a female in the bunch.  One of the guys is Asian, but there are no black men.  The League is based in the Washington, D.C. area, so it wouldn’t take much of an effort to reach out to local black men.

Well, few men of any race would object to their poker game being a male-only space (aside from strip poker), but I’m guessing they would not object to serious female players who demand no special treatment.  Chad mentions that the World Series of Poker attracts 7,000 entrants and just 5 percent (or 350) were women.  He wonders, “How many businesses out there thrive with just 5 percent of their customers being women?”

Well, video games, pornography, sports bars, and auto parts stores immediately come to mind.  If women chose to totally boycott any of those enterprises, it would make little difference to those industries.

Chad then goes on to state that “When they [women] do play, they play well.  (Why is this?  Because women are smarter than men.  Duh.)”

I had to read that over and over again to make sure I didn’t misunderstand it.  But sure enough, he’s saying 95% of the elite poker players are men but they’re dumber than the 5% of female elite poker players.  Come again?  Hey, I’m no math major but that just doesn’t add up.

Well, it’s way too easy to point out the double standard here, but let’s go ahead and do it anyway.  Imagine we are talking about nurses, and we asserted that 90% were female and 10% were male.  Would it follow from that that “When men go into nursing, they do it well.  (Why is this?  Because men are smarter than women.  Duh.)”

Well, you would never read something like this in your local newspaper.  Even if someone were to write something to that effect, the editor would red-pencil it.  Why?  Not because it makes no sense but because it’s blatant misogyny!  Can’t have that, can we?  In the mass media, women’s vanity may be stroked incessantly, but they can never be criticized.

Chad then goes on to name an assortment of outstanding female poker players over the years.  “We just need more, lots more of these damsels. . . . So I’m pleading with the women of the world to come out of the boardroom and into the card room. (Actually, that’s a whole other matter – women can’t even get into the boardroom because, well, men won’t let them.)”

Oh, the shame of it all!  Curse you, glass ceiling!  Not that corporate politics has anything to do with poker, but it does give Chad a chance to indulge in some gratuitous patriarchy-bashing.

Well, if Chad hadn’t already endeared himself enough to distaff readers, he then exhorts women to flock to card rooms, even though he admitted there are no barriers to their doing so.  Finally, he offers the clincher.  “And, trust me gals, when you get to the poker room, the men sitting at the tables are often as stupid as we look.”

Yep, he actually said that.  Can you imagine someone encouraging more men to go into nursing by saying, “Trust me, fellas, when you get to the nursing station, the dames working at this place are often as stupid as they look.”

I know, I know.  No chance a statement like that would ever make it through mass media scrutiny.  Yet Norman Chad’s syndicated column sailed through the filters without a problem.  I saw it in the Indianapolis Star, and it also appeared in the Washington Post.

Well, Mr. Chad has a right to free speech, and I wouldn’t advocate censoring him, though censure might be appropriate.  Considering his readership is probably as overwhelmingly male as the roster of elite poker players, it’s hard to see why he felt compelled to attack his constituents.

Of course, there’s always the possibility he’s making a feeble attempt at humor.  According to an article about Chad on the Deadspin web site, he used to be a standup comic.  Chad displays a common flaw in a number of comedians: he thinks he’s a lot funnier than he really is.  Small wonder he gave up standup comedy.

If you want to read the whole article for yourself, you can go the Washington Post web site and see for yourself.  If you want to, you can leave a comment.

Not that it will do any good.  One hates to act like a pissy, prissy feminist, taking offense at every little thing.  But sometimes little things can be as revelatory as big things.  And little things do add up.

Men have already been dealt a bad hand in modern society; they certainly don’t need a poker commentator/columnist – whose cushy job depends on a super-majority male following – trying to score pussy points in the mass media.

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