1933 Soviet Chess Poster
Roles and Perceptions of Women
It is funny what you can pick up from these old relics! Posters played a big role in Soviet propaganda. The one above says ”Let us become masters of cultural recreation.” The year was 1933. Soon after the Russian Revolution (1917) gender identities were eliminated and replaced by (in theory) complete equality between men and women in everything. The Soviet Constitution guaranteed this. The roles and perceptions of women changed under Bolshevism.
Women were no longer tied to domestic chores and child rearing. By 1935 women comprised 42% of the industrial work force. In the 2nd World War women played active roles in the military.
Even so, there continued to be separate women’s tournaments in chess. Why? The answer, as far as I can find out, is that the norm of sports internationally being divided by gender was maintained when the post-revolution soviet society was being created. Hence competitive chess – as a sport – remained divided by gender in the Soviet Union, even though it was recognized that women were not in any way inferior or less intelligent.
This, however, is in stark contrast to what existed in the west. Chess was not a sport, at least not until many years later and even today many western countries do not consider chess a sport. Chess was divided by gender for social reasons. Women’s rights had yet to be won, and men and women mixed socially according to distinct and formal norms. Restriction was the order of the day. Women were discouraged to be doctors, teachers and so on. And even in North America until the 1950’s, a woman walking alone could be arrested and strip searched.
However, I am digressing from the chess aspect of the poster above. I leave you with one final thought: after all of these years, why does FIDE still champion the gender model? Young girls who show any interest in chess are quickly encouraged to play in girls-only tournaments, and when they become adults are thrown money at so as to continue playing against women. Clearly something that should be more of a public discussion.