Is a 12-year-old too Sexy to Play Chess?

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Payal takes a hard look at the sexist behaviour of in the patriarchal society. She points out how a mere child, a 12-year-old girl, was told that her dress was inappropriate. She discusses some such issues in the sports world, in the weekly column, exclusively in Truths.

Date: April 14, 2017

Venue: National Scholastic Chess Championship 2017, Putrajaya.

The arbiter walked up to the 12-year-old in the middle of her Second Round, and informed her – without stopping the Clock – that her dress was ‘inappropriate’.

This is the dress that offended the Chief Arbiter’s sense of propriety.

It was deemed ‘seductive’ and “a temptation from a certain angle far, far away.”

Needless to say, the incident left the girl feeling humiliated and harassed and unable to concentrate on her game.

The girl’s mother Chin Wai Ling, said they were informed that her daughter would not be allowed to continue without a change of dress, for the next round. This was announced to them at 10 pm when all the shops were closed, and they did not have time to buy ‘long slacks’ to cover the exposed ‘knees’, before the start of the tournament the next day at 9:00 am.

The mother said that the proscribed dress code based on World Chess Federation Laws of Chess required participants to have a “dignified ” but no further illustrative dress code guidelines were given to participants.

This is how young it starts – the judging, the body shaming, and the control. One thinks of Sport as the great leveler. Obviously not.

I want to ask

1.   How can you objectify a 12-year-old child’s body?

2.   Is there something wrong with the dress, or with the who’s looking at her?

Date: January 23, 2017

Venue: Tradewise Gibralter Chess Festival 2017

Eighteen-year-old Dorsa Derakhshani was dismissed from her team by the Iraninan National Chess Team because she refused to cover her head and wear the Islamic Head Scarf.

Meherdad Pahlevanzadeh said that it hurt Iranian National and “…there would be no leniency for those who trample on Ira’s ideals and principles.”

Quoting from the Women’s Sports Foundation, founded by the legendary Billie Jean King (September 2016)

  1. Girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play High School sports than boys
  2. Discrimination based on gender identity and real or perceived sexual orientation
  3. Facilities are fewer, not as good, included number and standard of Coaches
  4. Female sports are more subject to budgetary cuts if and when they occur

As with many other arenas the ‘Boys Club’ is present in Sports too. The issue is two-fold:

  1. Within Sports Organisations, women’s access to leadership positions is severely restricted, with top positions being occupied by men
  2. There is enough of sexual discrimination, harassment, and abuse in female sport

Sportswomen face the dual challenge of being ‘as good as men’ in their chosen sport, and being ‘womanly’ enough to be treated as women. How often have I heard “…she looks like a f***ing man!”

I have sat through enough dialogues where watching women play sport has resulted in an all-male discussion not of the sport or sports statistics, but of the players’ vital statistics. Bouncing breasts, exposed thighs, glimpses of panties feature largely in these discussions.

In a country that loves Cricket, I wonder how many would be able to name the Women’s Cricket team Captain, leave alone the rest of the team.

Look at the visibility of Women’s Cricket on Television – need I say more?

How many advertisements for sports products feature women?

That a twelve-year-old playing chess – a mind sport – is needlessly sexualised is no surprise. Sportswomen deal with this all the time. Sports is the ultimate bastion of ‘macho manhood’. For women to establish an identity and validation within this arena is a huge challenge. Women’s sporting events draw fewer crowds/viewership, is less funded and sponsored, and is relegated to an inferior level.

Here are some reasons that I have been given by high school girls for why they don’t want to participate in School sports. Remember, these are teenage girls who are struggling with the impact of media and society on body image –

  1. Boys ‘look’ at our when we play and pass ‘remarks’
  2. Coaches are all men
  3. We don’t want to be ‘masculine’
  4. We are not taken ‘seriously’
  5. Boys get preferential treatment on the field
  6. Boys don’t consider us worthy competition and are dismissive of ‘mixed’ matches
  7. My ‘boyfriend’ feels threatened
  8. Parents want me to concentrate on studies because sports are not a viable career option
  9. We don’t have separate facilities when we travel.
  10.  Coaches have ‘favourites’ and prefer the girls who while being good on the field are submissive             and ‘girly’

I have no reason to negate any of these issues as trivial.

I remember as a young girl, being acutely self-conscious of my swimming costume, because someone remarked ‘your nipples are showing’. Boys don’t have to worry about perfectly waxed legs and arms, about the exposure of thigh or breast, about looking too ‘masculine’, about being ‘as good as girls’. They expect to be judged, chosen and participate on the basis of skill, ability, and talent. Their ‘obedience’ to the coach is limited to that which is required for the game – eating right, working out, sufficient practice and physical, mental and investment in their chosen sport. They are praised for and encouraged to develop ‘aggression’ and a ‘killer instinct’.

I’m a Feminist. Aren’t you?

©Payal Talreja

Photos from the internet.

#FeministAtFifty #DiscriminationofFemalesInSports #WhyGirlsDoNotDoSports #GirlsAndSports #IssuesOfSportsFroWomen #SportsWoman


Payal Talreja

Payal Talreja

Businesswoman, curator of handlooms, poet, writer, and erstwhile doctor. Payal Talreja practices everything except her involuntary ‘profession’. She claims that words chose her and are now her weapon of choice because an activist born will stay silent for no man. A wanderer, a voyager, she’s happy to slum it or luxuriate in any life experience. She crafts poems and fiercely feminist essays and will assume her ‘Chandi’ avatar to ‘write’ any wrong.
Payal Talreja

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