Not so long ago I wrote an article which listed possible reasons why women failed to achieve the same as men. In other words, when it comes any profiling of the upper echelons of top class players, one can only find a small minority of women. But does this statistic provide enough evidence to support the generalised view that women are not as good at bridge as men ?
Some researchers started out on the assumption that there are innate differences between men and women with respect to the various skills needed to play bridge at the highest levels. Indeed, they expected to find the intelligence distribution curves of men to have a bigger variance, especially at the top end. This might help to explain why men have that crucial edge to go that extra distance to be world class players . But remarkably, it was the women who had the higher variances at the top end !
Then researchers turned to theories concerning participation and drop-out rates, expecting to find that more men participated in the game of bridge than women, and that a greater proportion of women dropped out, rather than continuing with their development towards grand master status. However, findings not only showed that men and women play the game in equal numbers, but the drop-out rates are almost identical. Indeed, what came across as even more surprising was the fact that where the participation rates of men and women were the same , the disparity in ability was non-existent.
So what theories are left to help explain why women fail to achieve the same level of success as men ? Well, here are a few more suggestions that have been tentatively put forward :
1. Men are more naturally inclined to have that essential ability to focus on a single task at any given moment in time, while women are more naturally inclined to multi-task. This makes it easier for men to achieve the level of intense concentration required to excel at the highest levels at the game. In contrast, it is claimed that women have to use up a great deal of effort, merely to drive other thoughts out of their minds, before settling down to focus on the task in hand.
2. Any development of a potentially good player into a top class one requires team support. This means being groomed by experts who can help a person master every aspect of the game. These experts are usually teams.....teams of grandmasters......who of course are nearly all men. Sadly, very few women are afforded these opportunities, which is why some researchers claim results from sexism within the system early on. An obvious parallel can be seen in schools, where only the boys are advised, encouraged and invited to pursue maths and the sciences at post 16+ levels.
3. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. The differences are huge, and therefore it is no surprise to see men taking to bridge in a passionate and obsessive way, while women use the game for social contact and afternoon relaxation. Clearly, women are influenced by a different set of social pressures, biological drives, and emotional needs. Men, right from being boys, have a greater sense of competitiveness, and a fierce desire to win. Blue-printed into them from birth are macho-male psyches, superiority complexes, and male chauvinistic attitudes.
4. Some researchers have proved that women don't expect to be as proficient as men at sport, whether they be physical activities or mind games. This of course becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which perpetuates this negative and collective belief. Once this expectation becomes deeply ingrained into the woman's psyche, then there is little hope for any grass roots female bridge player to believe in herself as being able to " match men ". Women it seems put up their own mental barriers, which undermine their determination and belief to succeed. Many feel they "it's their place " to be excluded from the male dominated elites that exist in every bridge club across the world. It is therefore not surprising that where barriers are perceived, the continued status quo of a male dominated bridge world remains intact. This of course only serves to propagate the gender separation for the next wave of young female players coming through.
5. As for myself, I believe that men like war but women don't. Men see bridge as a battlefield, a combat zone where no prisoners are taken. They get a real adrenalin fix and buzz from crushing and humiliating opponents.There is the hunting and predatory beast in man, which women find hard to understand let alone emulate. In top class bridge the intensity of the battle is both gruelling and demanding, where mistakes can lead to court- martials and firing squads. Very sensibly, most women would not willingly choose to enter this type of bloody conflict, leaving it just for the men to fight amongst themselves.
Will things ever be different in the world of bridge. I don't think so....