Divya Deshmukh: India chess player’s Instagram post sparks sexism discussion

Divya Deshmukh India chess players Instagram post sparks sexism discussion

An 18-year-old Indian chess player’s social media post sheds light on the issue of sexism in the sport

An Instagram post by Divya Deshmukh, an 18-year-old Indian chess player, has ignited a conversation on the prevalence of sexism in the sport. As an International Master, Deshmukh highlighted the fact that comments on her chess videos often focus on her appearance rather than her skills. Her post has drawn attention to the behavior of fans and male players towards women in chess, sparking an important discussion on gender equality in the game.

Deshmukh’s post came after her participation in the Tata Steel Chess tournament in the Netherlands, where she experienced consistent disregard for her abilities. The tournament organizers later issued a statement in support of Deshmukh, affirming their commitment to promoting women in chess and creating a safe and equal environment for all players.

A Deep-Rooted Issue in Chess

Sexism remains an under-discussed topic in chess, which is one of the few sports where men and women compete against each other. Deshmukh’s post has shed light on the behavior of fans and male players towards women in the game, prompting grandmaster Susan Polgar and others to join the conversation. Deshmukh revealed that she has been receiving hateful comments since the age of 14, with a focus on her appearance rather than her chess skills.

The response to Deshmukh’s post has been overwhelmingly positive, with thousands of people showing their support. Many have shared their own experiences of sexist attitudes and comments in the chess community. It has become apparent that even seemingly harmless jokes and comments are often laced with sexism, creating an unwelcome environment for women players.

Disproportionate Vulnerability Online

With the increase in online tournaments and livestreamed games, women players have become disproportionately vulnerable to misogynistic comments from predominantly male audiences. Sports writer Susan Ninan emphasizes that such trolling deepens sexist attitudes about chess and can severely impact the confidence of young women players.

Chess already faces a significant gender imbalance, with women making up just 10% of licensed players worldwide, according to the International Chess Federation (FIDE). This gap widens further at the top level, with only three out of 84 grandmasters in India being women. The lack of access, opportunity, and support for women and girls in chess contributes to this disparity.

Socio-Cultural Biases and Stereotypes

Stereotypes surrounding chess perpetuate the belief that men are inherently better at the game. Susan Ninan highlights the common misconception that men are “wired differently” and possess greater skill in chess. These beliefs are amplified online, reinforcing existing socio-cultural biases about women’s intellectual abilities.

A study conducted by researchers at New York University revealed that a majority of parents and mentors interviewed believed that girls have lower potential in chess compared to boys. They also believed that girls were more likely to stop playing due to a perceived lack of ability. These biases have real consequences for women players, hindering their progress and limiting their opportunities.

The Impact of Sexism on Women Players

Women players face numerous challenges due to sexist attitudes in the chess community. Nandhini Saripalli, a chess player and coach, shares her personal experiences of receiving less support compared to her male counterparts. She also highlights the lack of confidence society has in women’s chess-playing abilities, leading to biased preferences for male coaches.

Online, women players are often subjected to derogatory comments and dismissive attitudes. Saripalli has encountered men who believe they do not need to practice against female opponents because they do not consider them to be real competition. These experiences not only hinder women’s progress but also contribute to a culture where women’s tournaments and players are not taken seriously.

Creating a More Inclusive Chess Community

Chess offers a fertile space for predatory behavior due to its one-on-one nature and the close proximity of players. Grandmaster Susan Polgar shares her own experience of being sexually harassed and assaulted by male chess players when she was younger. The prevalence of such behavior highlights the urgent need for change in the chess community.

Koneru Humpy, one of India’s top chess players, acknowledges that progress has been made in terms of gender equality in chess. However, it will take time for women players to have the same influence and recognition as their male counterparts. To address this power imbalance, socio-cultural barriers preventing women’s participation in chess must be removed. Increasing the number of women-only tournaments can also encourage more women to play and claim their place in the sport.

Divya Deshmukh’s Instagram post has sparked a crucial discussion on sexism in chess. The overwhelming support she has received highlights the need for change in the chess community. Sexist attitudes and behaviors not only hinder women’s progress but also perpetuate a culture where women’s tournaments and players are not taken seriously. To create a more inclusive chess community, it is essential to challenge stereotypes, provide equal opportunities for women, and foster an environment that celebrates the skills and achievements of all players, regardless of their gender.