Episode 45: Breaking Down Patriarchy in Professional Gaming – with Alexandra Botez

“I cannot wait to have our first Female World Champion.

On today’s episode I sit down with chess expert and professional gamer, Alexandra Botez, to discuss women in the world of competitive chess, life as a streamer, imposter syndrome, harassment, world travel, and the future of women and girls in gaming.

Breaking Down Patriarchy in Professional Gaming – with Alexandra Botez

Our Guest

Alexandra Botez

Alexandra Botez (she/her) is an American-Canadian chess player and commentator, streaming superstar. She’s the creator of BotezLive, one of the most popular chess channels on Twitch and YouTube. As a player, she became a five-time Canadian National Girls Champion and won the U.S. Girls Nationals at age 15. She achieved her highest FIDE Elo rating of 2092 in March 2016, and she currently holds the International Chess Federation title of Woman FIDE Master. Botez is currently one of the top-10 female players in Canada.


The Interview

Amy Allebest: Welcome to the show, Alexandra! 

Alexandra Botez: Amy, thank you so much for having me. It’s been really cool to hear about where this podcast has been so far and where it’s going and I’m delighted to be a part of it. 

AA: I’m so excited to have you. We in our family have known who you are for a long long time. My husband, Eric, as our listeners know, runs chess.com and Alexandra’s name has come up through many years. You and Eric are friends, Alexandra, and colleagues in the world of chess. Your formal bio though, and you can correct me if I miss something Alexander, but: Alexandra Botez is a chess and variety content creator, a former competitive chess player and member of Canadian National Team, and she’s now a Twitch streamer and YouTuber. I’ll add she’s also a Stanford Graduate and a worldwide influence in chess and gaming everywhere, so it’s really an honor to have you, Alexandra.

I wonder if you could just start the conversation by telling us who you are, how you grew up, where you grew up? A little bit about what makes you who you are?

AB: Absolutely. So I grew up in Canada to a family of Romanian immigrants. In Romania there was much more of a chess culture than there is in North America, so my grandma passed on the game to my dad who then taught me and later my sister how to play as well. I started playing chess when I was about six years old and I had some good results in tournaments and won a national championship for my age group when I was eight or so, so my Dad decided to push me in the game to keep playing. Then we moved back to the US later. A lot of things were changing throughout, but basically chess was always this game that I kept throughout different stages of my life.

You know, I did play in a lot of national tournaments, but I did decide to put chess away for a little bit when I went to college. In my last year of University, I started to miss chess and it was really hard to take time off to play chess because tournaments take a really long time, so I started streaming online and just, you know, turn on a webcam and play some bliss games on chess.com and talk about what I’m thinking and laugh with a community. At first I didn’t have a good experience because I turned on streaming and the entirety of the comments were saying things like comments on my appearance or sexual nature things…and I’m like, okay maybe I’m not going to stream for fun anymore. But then there was this female moderator, actually, who came in and helped and started cleaning up the chat and making it a community that was really supportive and not sexist and didn’t tolerate any of that kind of stuff. That’s when I started focusing more on the community and growing it and figuring that, “okay, actually if I don’t tolerate any kind of sexism for the chat then this could be the kind of community I grow on Twitch, even if it’s very different from any other of these online communities.” 

So that was kind of how I got into Twitch streaming. At the time I had also been working on a startup and we had raised almost a million dollars in funding from some prominent venture capital firms. Then later, we did an accelerator called ‘Y Combinator’ and ultimately the startup didn’t end up panning out and when it failed, I had been still streaming on the side and decided that, you know what, I’m going to go full-time on this. I think there’s something there. So I moved from the Bay Area where I’d been living for about 6 years, all the way to New York alone because I wanted to get away from this life that I had known the entire time and just feeling like the startup was a failure and this is what most of my friends in the Bay Area were working on and I didn’t want to be surrounded by it and just go to New York – to a really interesting city – stream chess, and try to grow the online community…which ended up luckily working out! It’s grown a lot since then and gone even beyond chess, but I was also very fortunate because there are certain external factors I couldn’t control. Like when covid happened, there was way more people playing chess and our viewership 10x. Not that I’m glad that covid happened, but it was something that happened by chance and then, later on, with The Queen’s Gambit it made chess a part of popular culture and it just helped our contact grow to an extent that I would never have thought was possible. 

Yeah, that’s where I’m currently at. You know, right now I’m working on a chess travel show that’s going to take place around the World Chess Championship that Twitch is helping fund and that we’re going to put out. So a lot of really interesting projects.

AA: You’re breaking barriers at every step of the way, it’s so awesome.

I wanted to ask about when you were a kid because I think of chess and now, oh yeah everybody who has seen The Queen’s Gambit knows by now and I had so many people reach out to me because we are ‘the family’ that people know that like it’s the chess family, so people reach out to me even though I don’t know anything about chess, but they’re like “Wait a second, I just watched The Queen’s Gambit so I looked up Beth Harmon afterwards and I’m so mad it was fictional!” Like, they’re so upset because it’s this inspirational story about the first woman in chess and they thought it was a biopic, and then they’re so disappointed. So I wanted to ask you what that felt like? Were you often the only, or one of very few or a small number of girls when you were competing when you were little? And then what did that feel like for you in chess and then in gaming (which I also think of as being super super male and, like, young men) but start with chess first? I guess then we’ll go back to gaming.

AB: For sure. When I started playing chess there were many more males than girls, but I will say this got worse as I got older because when I was young there were actually a lot of girls who were playing chess, they just ended up dropping off later down. Honestly, gender wasn’t even something I really noticed as a child because I didn’t think about it.

I remember I went to the US to play a tournament. It was all high school boys and I was an eight-year old or something, and the boys would be like “Haha, you have an easy game because you’re playing against a little girl.” But when I’d hear comments like that I didn’t even internalize that it was anything about gender. Then my dad thought it was hilarious that I ended up beating them with a perfect record and getting first place. But I really was just there to play the game and I was confident because of my chess abilities at the time, I felt like they were good and it was giving me this confidence that I didn’t really have to worry or think about, but was also…you know, too young to understand.

if I don’t tolerate any kind of sexism for the chat then this could be the kind of community I grow

But then as you get older in the chess community things do start changing. When most of your peers playing chess are males, you do start to see a very different culture or even just subtle hints of sexism from your friends. They’ll be like “Oh yeah, you know, girls will just never be as good as men are at chess.” There are a lot of people who are really believing this and you start to internalize it more as you’re older because you actually start paying attention to it. I was always trying to not focus on that and just focus on the game, if that makes sense?

AA: Yeah, I was going to ask you what you did to kind of combat that for yourself? You just tried to shut it out, like any other trash talking you would hear and be like, “whatever, I’m just going to beat them” or what? How did you deal with it? 

AB: I did try to tune it out like that, and in a lot of competitive places it actually works doing things like that. Then a lot of the chess people would socialize after; this kind of socializing would be like them trying to pick up girls and talk about girls and things like that, or even commenting on different girls who are hot at the tournament in their appearance, ranking them and things like that. 

I didn’t have that many female friends in chess and so who you can hang out with after is very much bro culture, which is probably why I ended up turning into a little bit of a bro myself. People would joke and call me ‘Bro-tez’ instead of Botez because I got to a point where you just… your personality gets very changed by who you’re hanging out with. Honestly, I just try to adapt and make the most of it and try to not be sensitive towards it, while also recognizing that this is still really a problem. I would see that much more when I started posting content online because I always stream chess and I’d see the kinds of criticisms I’d get, or when I’m doing chess.com commentary on like a twelve-hundred game and people would say things like “what‘s a girl doing here?” Or the kind of sexist comments that I’ll get on certain chess videos where it’s like half of the people watching genuinely believe that women are just never going to be as good as men are. Or sometimes I make a mistake and people will be like “See! This is why women cannot play chess” and it is really annoying to be trying to do a game and then just constantly get generalized into that. At the same time I’m really benefiting from the fact that I’m a woman in the game–I wouldn’t have gotten as far in my social media career if I didn’t stand out–so I always have kind of this…

I think the worst part about it is actually this imposter syndrome that I don’t deserve anything that I’ve achieved in content because of this stereotype that the only reason why I got it is because I’m a girl. There’s this very strong stereotype on Twitch that female streamers only have viewership because their audience has a crush on them or wants them or anything like that. And, of course, we are in the top .0 or in the top four hundred of all Twitch streamers, like .001%, and then people still go down and say “Oh it’s because they’re females, that’s why they get views.” And honestly, sometimes it helps a lot. Like I had a video that went viral recently where I was playing a chess hustler–it was really hot, so I was just wearing a white dress because, again, it was like 30 degrees Celsius and I didn’t plan on playing chess hustlers that day, I was going to dinner with my friends–and I walked in to film the video and it ended up blowing up and most people are like, “Oh, I would be distracted if she played me. It’s all because of the looks of the cute girl playing chess.” So I know it helps, but it also can devalue everything I’ve done. I’ll be like “Oh, it’s not because I’ve been working hard or coming up with ideas or things like that, it’s just because I have a competitive advantage because I’m a girl.” That’s been the most hard thing.

AA: I was going to ask you actually if you wanted to talk about that, because you do happen to be really pretty and I was going to ask is that…that seems like it would be a double-edged sword, a little bit? And so you kind of answered that. I bet it would be hard to make sense of that and to untangle those…whether to lean in on that and be like, “Yeah, I’m beautiful and I’m not ashamed of that” and also like, “I want to be taken seriously for my skill and for my intellect.” And that that is a really tricky thing, I think, for a woman because obviously yes, it makes sense to stand out. But at the same time, men can compete in any field, it doesn’t matter what they look like. They can be any shape, any size, any face. It doesn’t matter because people don’t judge men by their looks as much as they judge women. So it’s really hard…

AB: Exactly. And yeah, when I started streaming, and even to this day, I don’t allow comments calling me ‘hot’ or ‘cute’ in my Twitch chat. And it’s not because I don’t find it a compliment, but I don’t want the chat culture to be around that. I don’t want people to be there hanging out with a community and feel like people are coming in because they’re just not trying to get with the streamer. I think that ruins the culture and it’s not the place for it, you know. Nothing wrong with it being said, but our chat is not for that and at first it used to really bother me. I remember when some of my photos playing chess went viral when I was in college and they went on the front page of this Reddit called “gentlemen boners”. And everybody at my school saw it (it was just me playing chess) and I had a Facebook page that I had been using to get students and I just turned off my Facebook page because I was getting attention for the wrong reasons. 

A lot of my chess friends were saying like, “Yeah, the only reason people go to you for lessons or things like that is that they’re trying to sleep with you.” So it completely devalues everything as a master chess player who’s also been teaching for…I have been teaching since I was 12, so I was also very focused on that aspect of it. I just felt so embarrassed, so I closed it and when I started streaming I also thought the same thing of “I don’t want people to be watching just for this,” but as things started getting more competitive…I mean it is really annoying to have so much pressure as a woman on your appearance, but then to also be criticized when you use your appearance to do better. Of course if you’re in anything that is media-related, how you look is going to have an impact! I would love to just put on sweats and not wear makeup and not do my hair and not try and not post photos, but it’s part of what I know society values in women and if I want to be a successful media figure of any kind, I have to put in a lot of time. And this adds a ton of angst on me as well, so again it’s this double-edged. It might help, but I’m always stressing about appearance. I have people commenting on myself all the time. It’s magnified my insecurities way more than they ever were with social media to the point where I don’t even like looking at my own videos anymore.

But at the same time I try to take the approach of saying it is really hard to be successful in any field. You are given a certain amount of attributes before you go into it; if appearance is something that is helpful and you are using it in a way that is true to your brand, you are just doing what you have with the cards you’ve been given. And you should, because other people are doing it. People care about it. The only reason it works is because society values it. If you want to self-harm yourself because you know that you’re like, “Oh I don’t want it to be just because I look nice.” No. If me putting effort into my looks and then also putting good content out is what it takes to be successful as a female, then I have to do it if I want to be successful.

AA: It sounds like you’re doing it from a really intentional place, a place of strength also rather than like “Oh no, I have to do this or I won’t succeed.” Also, I love what you described earlier about being really adamant about what people are allowed to say in the streaming, in the chats and everything, just being like absolutely these sexist comments will not be tolerated. So you’re setting the terms for how you want to work in the space, so I think that’s so awesome. 

Can I go back to a really…it doesn’t have to be sticky, but I guess I’m curious about how you answer (going back to that question) because I still read it all the time from people who say, they really claim that women will never be as good as men at chess. I just had a conversation with our friends the other day who was totally shocked that they do divide men’s and women’s chess tournaments. Like wait, but it’s not sports–it makes sense to divide sports because men typically are bigger and stronger–but an intellectual game? Are you serious? They divide it by sex and they couldn’t believe it, and yet people still claim like “Yeah, women won’t be able ever to compete with men.” How do you respond to that, Alexandra?

AB: Okay, so there’s a few things to unpack there. I guess we can talk about female-only events after as well.

So the way I see it, right now women in chess…there’s much less in the top 100 than men, so clearly right now the strongest chess players in the world are male. That could be the result of two factors: either it is something true where men are predisposed to be better chess players (like to some extent it is a sport, having more stamina or endurance can also help. Testosterone has been linked to some kind of analytical skills, you could argue something like that). The second explanation is that it’s something cultural, where there’s very different roles for women in society. It’s been a community that has traditionally not been very friendly to females, a community that when you had the first female qualify for the candidates, she wasn’t even allowed to play despite being at that level. It’s a place where most of the social groups are all male, so it’s harder to find a social group that you’re comfortable in and motivating each other if you are in a female player. 

I don’t think anybody knows the answer for real. I do think when people go to extremes on one end or the other, that’s typically when they’re wrong. Like we’ve had Polgar, who was a top-10 player in the world, so I don’t think anyone should dispute like “Oh, women are just not genetically disposed for it” because obviously yes, there are exceptions. Even if there is a small genetic difference (which I don’t have it looked enough into to be able to make a bold claim, but I think it’s very minor). I think most of it has been on the cultural side and even if there are genetic differences, if there were enough women playing chess there would be some kind of outlier. 

It’s been a community that has traditionally not been very friendly to females, a community that when you had the first female qualify for the candidates, she wasn’t even allowed to play

Regardless, female-only events are basically trying to get more girls into the game. So for whatever reason you believe there’s not as many women in the game–either if you’re like “Oh no, they’re not genetically disposed” or if you think it’s a cultural thing–you should be supporting these events. It’s getting more women into the game and it’s giving them an opportunity that is a friendlier environment to play, some financial support, and basically just trying to compensate for the fact that it is historically harder to be a female chess player because you have to deal with things that males don’t. You have to deal with people putting you down in the community, to deal with objectification. You have to deal with that if you want to have a social circle it’s going to be people who you can relate to less than in other activities, it’s going to be something that has historically been shown as not being for you. 

From a lot of girls who I’ve taught or talked to, there were a lot who were just discriminated against. They’d be playing out their, you know, High School chess club and never be picked on the team because she’s the only female and the boys legitimately didn’t want to play with her. These are things that I think people tend to really look down on and say, “Oh, it’s not a real thing. Everybody’s being really sensitive,” but it’s not true. I mean if it’s something you love, but you continually just don’t find a community and don’t feel encouraged, of course you’re going to play less! So I guess my TLDR is I think it’s mostly cultural. I don’t know for sure if there’s any kind of genetic differences, but even if there are, if there were more females playing chess (and they have done the studies for this) you would expect more in the top 10 and there would be outliers. It has been proved with no female players making it into the top 10, so it’s not like the female brain cannot do it. I think there’ve been way more instances where you could show towards culture and society and I think this also goes with women in STEM where they were just not expected or given the same opportunities. It just feels so unfair to compare them, and even you’d have to think like “Okay, you look at the top players now, but where were they 20 years ago?” Because that’s where you have to think like, 20 years ago is where you’re developing the talent. 

Maybe 20 years from now we’ll see some top female players coming in, or 15 years from now if you have prodigies. It’s something that’s going to take time, and I cannot wait to have our first Female World Champion–that is going to be of so much significance because I think it’s really going to change the stigma. It doesn’t matter how many times women say it, to have something like that and to be able to point to it is just going to make all the difference. Sometimes arguments are just not enough.

AA: Yeah, one thing–and I’ve thought of chess lots of times as I did the historical projects throughout Season 1, and I would read something, for example, from the 18th century where there were arguments being made that women couldn’t write or women couldn’t compose music and women certainly couldn’t do math, couldn’t practice medicine, couldn’t play sports. There are all these concepts in the 19th century of women being like, these fainting frail beings that needed smelling salts at all times because they would just faint away on the couch. And now, you know, 100-200 years later that’s absurd to us, and because all of those barriers have been broken and women have one by one broken down those barriers. But I would read those things and I would think: there are still those fields where it hasn’t happened yet. And so the rhetoric that we hear from men about women…it sounds exactly like what men were saying about women in all those other fields and it’s going to sound just as absurdly sexist 200 years from now, right? The chess world will be like, “Can you believe they used to think that women couldn’t play chess?” 

I have to believe that that’s just going to keep happening in all the STEM fields where women, like you said, girls and women haven’t had the training. They haven’t had the support. They haven’t had the nurturing environment that boys and men have had, so once that playing field has been leveled then we’ll see. Then we’ll see what happens. But that day has not arrived yet.

So on that topic as you just pointed out too, it isn’t going to take 200 years either. In 20 years we’ll see a new crop of girls coming into all of the STEM fields and chess in particular. I actually just talked to a friend recently who said “Oh my daughter’s been in chess for like four years, maybe she’s 10 now or something like that, and she just started to say that she doesn’t want to do it anymore. She doesn’t want to compete.” She’s just in her school chess club or whatever, but she doesn’t want to do the tournaments at the school anymore and I asked (this is the mom saying it to me) she asked her daughter why and she said “Well all my friends are dropping out.” It’s kind of what you described: when they’re little they have lots of girlfriends. And this mom was like “I don’t know whether to push her to stay in chess.” She said “Do you still like chess?” and she’s like “Yeah, I love it.” Her hunch is that her daughter is going there looking around and being like “I’m the only girl in the room now. I don’t want to do it, it’s not fun.”

AB: Or not even being the only girl, but you just tend to have a lot of girlfriends as a young girl more often than you have a lot of male friends. So probably her girlfriends are just not doing chess club and it is intimidating to go to an activity that you used to do and have fun with your friends if your friends are no longer doing it, right?

AA: So what would you say to young girls who really do like chess and their friends are dropping out for whatever reason, but they really do like chess–what would you tell them to encourage them?

AB: That is really difficult because, on one end they can stay in chess club and they can make new friends, right? I would try to push a little bit to at least give it a try, say like another 3 months at the chess club, make some new friends there who played chess (because it’s not like girls and boys can’t be friends, they still can) and just get over that initial hump of girls dropping out. Just give it a shot. Hopefully that will change and less will drop out over time, but then if the girl does end up competing more there’s a lot of really cool camps and communities for girls like the Susan Polgar event where they have a camp every year and so many girls go and they become really good friends. I remember because I used to go to those camps and I met my closest friend in chess, which was really important because to travel to play chess…it’s expensive and you need a roommate, and I didn’t feel comfortable rooming with a boy and in traveling. So I made one girlfriend and then we’d be roommates at all of the events and it was super helpful.

I would just push back through that initial discomfort. Try to give us 3 months, make some friends there to you, and then if she gets good at chess she can start looking forward to these national tournaments where the pool is a lot bigger. And yes, you have to travel to them, but then you start being able to pick which kinds of friends actually you relate with and you can hang out with. When you have that friend group you just get so much motivation to play good chess.

You have to deal with people putting you down in the community, to deal with objectification…it’s going to be something that has historically been shown as not being for you. 

AA: I love that, and that reminds me that you now have your Instagram account and I think your YouTube and I’ve seen what you’re doing with your sister, right? It’s just like a double whammy of female awesomeness. So how much younger is Andrea?

AB: Yes, and she’s six and a half years younger.

AA: Oh, she’s a lot younger than you are!

AB: Yeah, she’s a lot younger.

AA: Okay, so it probably…did it take her awhile to get old enough to be a legit chess player and have you go like, “Oh, we could do this together”? Or what’s the story there?

AB: She had also been playing chess from a young age and I was streaming and I thought it was pretty cool, so I started having her as a guest on my stream a couple of times. She was very funny and just such a natural and I really enjoyed streaming with her, so as my stream was growing I was kind of pushing my sister to start streaming a little bit as well, so I can help get her set up, her OBS, her equipment, and told her to make her own channel to get started. And she did start doing that, and then I was like “Okay, I think it would make the most sense for us for you to come on to my channel.” That was when she was considering going to college and she just didn’t have that much time to stream so we just said come stream under this channel, but then the pandemic happened. We were more at home and the channel was taking off, and we were like “Okay, this is a pretty cool opportunity. If you want to be along for this ride then take a gap year from college and let’s see what we can do.”

AA: Awesome. Is that fun, to be working with your sibling?

AB: Fun and hard. Imagine living and working with your sibling…it could be very difficult, but I think we’ve managed to do a good job at it. She’s really grown a lot, because she’s very young and she was straight out of high school whereas I had gone to University, I had started my own company for three years, and I had to grinded on the channel by myself when nobody gave a damn for a year or so, so I had a lot more skin in the game, but also experience and I was bringing on somebody very new. I was honestly kind of worried about that, but she’s really grown a lot and taken on a lot of responsibility and the fact that we have the sibling dynamic now and we’re working on a travel show where we’re going to be traveling together and it’s much better than to do it by yourself and be super lonely so I think it’s been a very big positive, but also extremely challenging. 

AA: It would be, but I love that sisterhood and that female solidarity and camaraderie–I just love that, it’s so awesome! Do you want to talk a little bit about your show that’s coming up?

Alexandra and Andrea Botez

AB: Our show is being incubated by Twitch, as in they’re providing us with support to help bring it to life. We are assigned exclusively to Twitch for live streaming. It’s going to be similar to Anthony Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ –where he’s traveling the world, there’s cuisine, but also focus on culture–but for chess. The idea is to connect, to keep chess a part of the popular culture and go to places where the chess culture is very unique, explore it, but also show the city. So we’re going to be going to France first, playing in some of the parks, doing things like that. Then to Norway before the World Chess Championship where half of the country is watching chess (ten to fifteen percent of Norwegians have chess.com accounts and are going for Magnus fever) so we have some events we’re setting up there. And then after, we’ll go to Dubai for the World Chess Championships. 

We are really trying to highlight how cool chess can be and bring the culture of chess to a widespread audience. We are also trying to do it in an innovative format where a lot of this will be live-streamed, so it’s going to be different because it’ll feel like you’re experiencing it and you’re actually hanging out with the chess community, which is what I think people like about livestream. It’s not just watching a show, this is really what it’s like and you feel a part of it. So we are trying to make it collaborative and getting feedback from our community, and this is going to be a really big project. If the first three countries are very interesting then we could expand it into something bigger.

AA: Awesome, I’m super excited to watch that!

AB: Thank you, thank you so much. 

AA: Okay, one last question–and you can decide if you want to answer this or not–but the sponsorship with Motiva. That’s a big thing that’s in the news right now. Do you want to explain the situation and tell how you feel about that?

AB: Sure. So FIDE recently announced that Motiva (which is a breast implant company) will be the official sponsor of the Women’s World Championship in 2021. Of course this sparks a lot of headlines because it’s inherently hilarious: Breast Implant Company Sponsors Women’s Chess Championship. 

FIDE is the International Chess Federation and the International Chess Federation. They haven’t been the most friendly towards women. Some people in the community have called them misogynistic and there’s just a lot of mistrust with FIDE when it comes to women. The idea of having breast implants sponsor the world championship felt like a slap in the face to many. Chess was supposed to be this game where you really focus on the mind. In every other aspect of society there’s so much value placed on a woman’s appearance and now the most prestigious chess event for females is going to have a sponsor which FIDE tried to paint as doing for mostly reconstructive, but they are a cosmetic company (you know 75% of people who get the procedure do it for cosmetic reasons), so it is really appealing to women in a cosmetic way. So I understand why that’s shocking and a lot of people would ask “Would FIDE have allowed, you know, Viagra or things like that to sponsor the men’s championship?” because the issue with doing something like this is it could change the branding around the game, affect other sponsors, and also sends a really strong message where maybe if you’re a female watching chess you want to be able to just watch chess and see women compete without being reminded about things about appearance which–in some ways–you can feed into women’s insecurities.

The idea of having breast implants sponsor the world championship felt like a slap in the face

Now on the flip side, Motiva has been sponsoring women’s chess events since 2015. The company really cares about women’s chess. They care about being able to provide them the best possible conditions in tournaments. They do little spas for them outside of the tournament room to help have better conditions. They are on the UN Charter for Women. They try to position themselves as empowering women and being a better choice for women who decide to get plastic surgery. When they did do things together with women at events, half of the competitive female chess players agreed to do a video and the video was about how to check yourself for a breast examination. And all the marketing they’ve done around it for the events hasn’t been pushing breast implants, but has been about women’s health. The company truly does seem to stand for this when you look at it a little bit deeper, and they are the biggest corporate sponsor that female chess has ever gotten. 

It’s a very important question to ask: well, would we prefer that the sponsor is not there? Which I don’t think should be the case. I think the responsibility is on FIDE because if they’re taking a sponsor like this and they’re calling 2021 the Year for Women’s Chess…well they got a sponsor, but I don’t think they’ve changed the prize funds for the Women’s World Championship compared to what it was the year before. If FIDE wants to bring on sponsors like this then they should really give a bigger cut to the females. Honestly, I think it is so weird to have the year that was the biggest for women’s chess and feel like FIDE just does not have that many corporate sponsors. But again, then you look at who else is sponsoring women’s chess events. It’s like…gas companies in Russia. Is that much better? 

I mean FIDE hasn’t been the best at getting any kinds of sponsorships in the past, so it’s not like the expectations on them are super high. I think the breast implant company did nothing wrong. They’ve been supporting women’s events for a really long time and I think they have a true genuine interest in it. It was more on if FIDE considered if this makes the most sense for a partnership, or could they have actually searched for more sponsors, or if they are getting a sponsor like this that has some potential drawbacks, what are they actually doing to push women’s chess? But you can’t say 2021 is the Year of Women’s Chess, not increase the prize, yet have headlines with Breast Implants Sponsor Women’s Championship. No. If they’re doing that, I want to see them really giving back and actually standing up to their message of empowered women. Then I think we can take back the narrative and be like, “Yeah, this is a woman’s health. We are not encouraging it, but we’re also allowing women to do whatever choice they want with their bodies and that is totally okay. We’re working with a company that has been supporting women’s chess events since before it was cool and because they really care, and if you look at the company they are trying to be very friendly towards women.” We can change the narrative, but FIDE also has to be doing their part and truly supporting women’s chess if they do things like this.

AA: Yeah, that really complicated the narrative for me. I’m grateful for all of that, those different points of view, that’s great. I was really proud of chess.com’s response to it, too. We had a lot of philosophical debates about it, or not debates actually, just discussion with our kids at the dinner table about plastic surgery and how it can be individually empowering and how it’s each woman’s choice, but that we think that there’s a problem in the world that makes so many women feel like they have to have plastic surgery in order to live up to beauty standards. 

And then that in terms of sponsorships that came up at the dinner table as well in terms of like, “Well great, then who’s a better sponsor? Please come forward!” Then like you just said, who then is willing to come and say “I’ll support women’s chess” from a completely non-controversial entity that comes forward and is more aligned with the intellectual side of things. Nobody’s coming forward, so it’s just…you’re grateful to get the sponsorship that you have. It’s a complicated issue.

Hopefully the world will continue to change. I mean, it’s awesome that you’re doing your show that will keep chess on everybody’s radar and women’s chess on people’s radar so that girls are staying in chess clubs and so that more sponsors do come to the table and maybe Motiva stays a sponsor if they really care about it, but they’re one of many contributing and maybe that would be an improvement for the future.

AB: Absolutely.

 

When most of your peers playing chess are males,

you do start to see a very different culture

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