The Game of Sexual Politics

The rules of Chess have apparently changed little since its origins more than sixteen centuries ago. The objective is still the same; one team opposes the other and each aims to eliminate the other’s King. Although the King is the main character, so to speak, he is also the weakest piece on the chessboard, able to move only one square at a time and needing protection at all times by the other pieces; essentially he has very little power.

The Queen, on the other hand, is the most powerful piece on any chessboard; she’s able to move any number of squares diagonally, horizontally or vertically. But it wasn’t always like this. Prior to the 1300s the Queen was only able to jump two squares diagonally.

Apparently it was the prominence of real medieval queens who gave the chess piece much greater power. No further revolutions have taken place in the past 700 years; the Queen continues to be the most powerful but remains subordinate to the King.

When the first world Chess Championship was held in 1886, these same rules prevailed. The first programmed chess games in the 1970s continued with the same guidelines and the online gaming community did not make any modifications when chess was launched into cyberspace in the mid 1990s.

So why is it that the character with the least capacity has the most power, while the character with the most ability and flexibility has diminutive influence? This is a familiar question, and one I am often asked. Few have the answer the majority wants to hear. In fact, there is much confusion as to why gender is still so high on our social agenda and why it is that social politics still dominate society.

I do understand how difficult it is to believe that sexual politics continues to prevent women from enjoying the same rights that men have always taken for granted. It is even more difficult for women to understand why it is we are not acknowledged as equals.

Women did win the right to vote and to hold public office more than 100 years ago, after much debate, protest and political turmoil. And yet, many ask why is it that equal pay remains in conversation among employers, politicians and the media almost 30 years after the Discrimination Act was passed in parliament. And why is it taboo to forecast a date as to when women might have the chance to preach from a pulpit? Or see the name of a woman on the papal candidate list?

Who was it exactly that decided the Queen should protect the King? And on what grounds was this judgement made? The King on our chessboards is protected and all those around him suffer to ensure his wellbeing; he is treated as an extraordinary and powerful piece although he is extremely limited. Yet the Queen, who has astonishing capacity, goes largely unrecognised as the real power broker.

More importantly, why do these rules apply off the board? Could it be that the Queen doesn’t have the support of the other pieces to increase her powers? Perhaps she’s just been too busy worrying about protecting the King to focus on winning or changing the rules. If the King is unable to face his opposing King at the start of each game, and the only way to win is to eliminate this opponent, perhaps the Queen should stop playing and start a new game with new rules on a different board.

Your move!


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Leadership & Management
Lecturer / Non-Executive Director

Gender & Inclusion
Policy Advisor / Researcher

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