Educational Chess

Girls need a different approach

Chess teaching materials are often stereotyping and neglecting girls. Silke Schwartau has some suggestions to make it gender-sensitive.

Sarah Fricke’s artwork points out how girls SHOULD be shown in chess teaching materials
Sarah Fricke’s artwork points out how girls SHOULD be shown in chess teaching materials

In 2021 the overwhelming majority of chess players are still male. Clubs and structures are male-dominated. This is also reflected in the teaching materials. In a survey of chess workbooks, manuals and certificates used in Germany we found a lot of gender stereotyping. If depicted at all, girls were shown as passive or ignorant. Social and emotional elements are scarce. This is not appealing to girls and can discourage them from taking up chess.

We found a dialogue where the girl says: „Five moves ahead? Me? Never! I am much too stupid to think five moves ahead.“

When girls are shown as learners, the teacher is usually male. We found a dialogue where the girl says: „Five moves ahead? Me? Never! I am much too stupid to think five moves ahead.“ Why did it have to be the girl that says that? Instead girls should be presented as taking the initiative and not as being taught by men.

We found many examples where girls are shown as passive or ornamental. Traditional role stereotypes have to be overcome. We prefer to depict girls as active, smart and communicative to strengthen their confidence. Just look at the drawings of my collaborator Sarah Fricke.

Can a girl be proud of such a certificate where the boy stands tall and confident in the foreground and the girl is looking at him admiringly?
Can a girl be proud of such a certificate where the boy stands tall and confident in the foreground and the girl is looking at him admiringly? (ChessBase, Fritz & Fertig)
Whereas male pieces are active, female pieces are usually depicted as passive and ornamental. Googly eyes and a kiss mouth make her look silly.
Whereas male pieces are active, female pieces are usually depicted as passive and ornamental. Googly eyes and a kiss mouth make her look silly.
This is how we want girls pictured in chess teaching materials: active, smart and communicative.
This is how we want girls pictured in chess teaching materials: active, smart and communicative. (Graphic: Sarah Fricke)

Many chess teaching materials are factual and abstract. They don’t use colours, pictures or narratives. How can this create passion for chess? We see it like this: facts and emotions are not contradicting each other. Facts can more easily be learned through emotions!

We have been told that our approach would disadvantage boys. We are living in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated language and imagery. We are fed up with being told that girls are implicitly included. When we invoke girls in our teaching materials, you can be assured that boys are implicitly included.

Silke Schwartau is a retired consumer advocate and social chess activist in Hamburg where she runs the women chess network Schachtulpen.
Silke Schwartau is a retired consumer advocate and social chess activist in Hamburg where she runs the women chess network Schachtulpen. (photo: Social Business Stiftung)