A recent article at the site Instash.com has been getting a lot of attention from the poker community on social media –a lot more than it deserves anyway. The article was obviously meant to be entertaining, and “Hot Poker Chicks” headlines generally bring the hits, but it points to a broader problem in poker, the objectification of female players.
Whenever a woman makes a final table or achieves some level of success the poker forums biggest question usually boils down to her hotness, which overshadows her accomplishments. Even worse, less attractive female poker players, or those that don’t flaunt their sexuality, are often ridiculed.
Now, there is nothing wrong with celebrating an attractive, successful female, and this happens in many sports –Hope Solo and Jenny Finch immediately come to mind. But in poker it seems to be backwards, with looks being the first part of the equation and actual results coming in a distant second. I have no issue with celebrating beauty, but it would be nice if women in poker were represented for their skills as players instead of for this one single (completely irrelevant) factor.
Why the article matters
Let’s be fair here, this isn’t the first or last article of this type, as I said above, these tend to bring the hits, especially when accompanied by pictures. But even I was surprised when this one was getting the attention it did.
As Vanessa Selbst put it in response to Melanie Weisner reposting the article on Facebook:
you’re obv beautiful, but i’m sorta surprised at the repost/so much love for this post in the first place. kinda makes me sick that this is still how women are evaluated. don’t you care that you’re actually pretty good at poker too and the author of this list doesn’t seem to give two shits? i just feel like reposting stuff like this sort of helps perpetuate the cycle of poker sexism. but what do i know, i’m just an angry lesbian feminist anyways
I’ve been increasingly cognizant over the years in how I write about female poker players because it matters. Their beauty might get a mention, but generally I make this an afterthought (if I mention it all) to the actual story, not the theme. I understand these columns will get written, but like Vanessa Selbst states, we [the poker community] shouldn’t promote them.
Why poker needs women
Poker’s popularity has definitely hit a plateau (if not receded) so we can no longer simply rely on new players coming to the tables; we have to actively seek them out and appeal to them. Sometimes I feel like poker is like the modern day Republican Party, a party with a small tent.
While there are definitely multiple untapped markets the largest (by far) is women. Only about 3% of tournament fields are women, and even though I’m under no illusions that this ratio has the potential to someday be a 50/50 split (it would seem that men are simply drawn to games like poker and chess more than women) I’d be extremely happy with a 75/25 ratio, hell, at this point 90/10 would be a huge improvement.
If poker could just appeal to women we would instantly see record-setting fields at every major tournament.
Why poker isn’t attracting women
It’s safe to say that getting more women to the poker tables should be at the very top of just about everyone’s priority list, but we are definitely going about in the wrong way. In my opinion it’s a two-part problem but both issues stem from the same source: The overall poker demographic.
Poker has become a young man’s game, and for teenage and twenty-something men, sex sells. So, online poker sites have been using scantily clad models as a marketing tool to appeal to their core demographic. Think about it, virtually every sponsored female player is subjected to Maxim style photo shoot the moment she signs with a site.
Secondly, let’s be honest here, young men are not always the most polite/respectful/courteous people towards women; there is a lot of ogling and uncomfortable flirting that goes on anytime an attractive woman sits at a poker table.
Not only does this make the woman who is the focus of the unwanted attention uncomfortable, but consider the other women (who are perhaps very new to the game) at the table who have to not only listen to the inane banter, but see men laying down hands to the pretty face, and treating them differently. It gives the appearance that to be a successful female poker player you need to have a certain amount of sway over the male species.
So instead of explaining why poker should appeal to strong, independent, intelligent women, who are simply good at poker, we are basically painting a picture that says women can only get ahead in the game by being able to manipulate their male counterparts with their feminine assets.
It’s kind of hard to make poker appealing to women when the image portrayed of the successful female player is one of plunging necklines to gain an advantage –as if this is the only way they can prosper against the superior male players in the game.