Poker’s Woman Problem Is More Complicated Than You Think

natalianikitinaCardplayer Lifestyle’s Robbie Strazynski tackled one of the most important subjects in modern poker recently, and I thought I’d offer up my own thoughts on this topic, a topic I have discussed before, but one that certainly requires more thought and conversation.

Since its earliest days poker has always been the domain of men, and more recently it has become the domain of young men. And the way you market toward young men is through sex.

Sure, there have been terrific female poker players, and most people would agree that the average female player is no worse than the average male player, and that there is nothing preventing a female player from being the best in the game.

But even in today’s modern era you are more likely to run into a 6’2″ man in a poker room, who account for about 4% of the population, than a woman, who even though they represent over 50% of the population typically make up about 3% of a tournament field.

So what gives?

Differences do exist

The first thing we have to do is accept that there are differences in the sexes. There are differences in what men and women are drawn to, and while you can argue how much of it is nature vs. nurture these differences exist.

Case in point:

Beer companies do it with their scantily clad advertisements, sports teams have their cheerleaders, and if you were to compare the commercials from Spike TV and HLN you’d quickly get an idea of what demographic each network was shooting for and what sells to the demographic.

Furthermore, women are more likely to read romance novels, while men are more likely to think a movie like Commando was the high point of Hollywood.

Poker may very well be an activity that men are more likely to be drawn to. This doesn’t mean women cannot be as good as men at poker (this isn’t weightlifting or basketball where men have inherent advantages) I’m just pointing out that we may never have a 50/50 split in terms of demographics no matter what changes we implement.

Men are idiots by the way

I don’t think the problem extends to the preponderance of masculine terms, or the use of Royal Flush Girls, or even a lack of bathroom facilities. It’s all about behavior.

Let’s not kid ourselves, if you’re a woman a poker room can be a somewhat intimidating and unwelcoming venue. A lot of the players are already in a bad mood, and with so few women the ones who do happen to sit down and play tend to be spoken to in a condescending manner and/or made to feel uncomfortable either by comments or ogling.

But is this any different than anywhere else where young men are congregated? Especially when alcohol, competition and money are added to the mix?

Is this kind of behavior right? Absolutely not, but most young men are complete idiots, and some of those idiots are brash and outspoken and are going to make women (and other men for that matter) uncomfortable.

Have you ever seen what happens when you tell an asshole he is being an asshole? Generally they become even more of an asshole, they don’t have sudden epiphanies about their behavior.

Adding more bathrooms isn’t going to stop the 3-seat from telling blonde jokes, or the 5-seat from calling you sweetheart or staring at your chest. Neither will eliminating the Royal Flush Girls.

We can’t eliminate jerkish behavior, but we shouldn’t tolerate it either.

Cultural Norms

Beyond the atmosphere, there are also cultural taboos in most societies that steer more men to poker than women.

These cultural norms run very deep and cannot be reversed in a generation. To reverse the idea that little girls wear pink and take dance classes while little boys wear blue and play baseball isn’t going away anytime soon.

So what we have is a society where men are meant to compete while women are meant to placate and mediate, and considering the strategies and cutthroat nature of poker this is likely a significant factor why men outnumber women in poker.

What can be done

A 97-to-3 ratio of men to women in poker is ludicrous even with all of the above factors at play. So here is what I think is reasonable to expect from the poker community to narrow this gap:

Most importantly, everyone needs to stop highlighting (hyperbolically in some cases) how uncomfortable a poker room is for women. This initial fear is probably keeping more women away from the game than all the assholes are driving away with their behavior.

Incentivize women to play. I’m not saying casinos need to hold ladies’ nights, but there are certainly different marketing methods available that could attract women. One possibility could be a rake free night for women in the daily tournament.

Sex sells, but when poker sites sign female players do we really need the Maxim-style photo shoots, can’t we just focus on their poker ability? Believe it or not, men can tell when someone is attractive without having it thrown in our faces.

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