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Question: Why are there so few women at the highest levels in chess?

Irina Krush:  I think that probably chess is a game that just from the outside appeals to... or maybe it utilizes more masculine qualities.  You know, it appeals to more masculine traits and it kind of develops them even further, you know?  So, just from the very beginning I think it’s hard to find women... I mean chess is a very solitary game, you know, I think women or girls when they were growing up were more social animals.  You know, prefer to do things in groups.  So you don’t get that very much with chess.  I mean, chess players are loners basically in life.  And I think, you know for a woman to be successful in chess, she basically has to develop in herself more masculine qualities than she would if she was involved in another profession.  You know, obviously, maybe if you’re a competitor in another sport you’ll also be developing these qualities.  But if you’re like a teacher or a nurse... you know, you might not need these qualities so much.
But for a chess player, there’s certain qualities that you need to a very high degree.  That are not maybe innately feminine, you know.  so that probably explains why you find fewer women in this.
But you know, actually, this leads me to one of the things I wanted to say, which is... that’s one of the things that I appreciate about chess actually is that I feel it’s made me more of a complete person in a sense that I’m a women, right, but it’s given me a chance to develop these qualities in myself that I associate with you know, that I think of as masculine qualities.  So, in my view I think that’s a very good thing because actually every person has those masculine/feminine traits inside.  And there’s just a difference to the extent to which they are developed.  But chess has definitively made me kind of androgynous in that way.

Question: What are some of these masculine traits necessary for chess?

Irina Krush: Competitiveness, analytical thinking, calculation, motivation, drive... a certain kind of like resilience and stoicness, persistence.  I mean, I’m sorry I feel really bad because of course, these are all great universal traits whether or not they’re for... but you can see I didn’t list the qualities of like loving, kindness, which I think are also extremely important things, but you don’t really need that so much in chess, you know or understanding, like cooperation, communication.  I mean, these are also extremely valuable things that just are not particularly useful in chess.
So I think human beings need the full spectrum of all of these equalities and I happen to list a lot of great positive things that I associate more with... I don’t even know, I keep saying masculine, with more masculine traits. 

Recorded on October 14, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

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