Feminism Versus Scrabble
November 18, 2018
Heather Mac Donald on the obvious-but-seemingly-unthinkable:
Since the World Scrabble Championship began in 1991, all winners have been male. The North American Scrabble Championship has had one female winner (in 1987) since its founding in 1978. All eight finalists in this year’s French World Scrabble Championships were men. Competitive Scrabble constitutes a natural experiment for testing the feminist worldview. According to feminist dogma, males and females are identical in their aptitudes and interests. If men dominate certain data-based, abstract fields like engineering, physics and math, that imbalance must, by definition, be the result of sexism—whether a patriarchal culture that discourages girls from math or implicit bias in the hiring process.
But there are no cultural expectations that discourage females from memorising dictionaries—a typical strategy of competitive Scrabble players, often in a foreign language that the player doesn’t speak. Girls are as free as boys to lap up vocabulary. Nor are there misogynist gatekeepers to keep females out of Scrabble play; the game, usually first learned at home, is open to all. According to Hasbro, 83% of recreational Scrabble players 25 to 54 are female.
Championship Scrabble, however, rewards typically male obsessions: strategy, math, a passion for competition, and a drive to memorise facts. [World Scrabble Champion, Nigel] Richards’s mother told the Guardian in 2015 that he “related everything to numbers” when he was growing up. Feminists will need to employ circular logic to conjure forth a discriminatory barrier in Scrabble: Males’ excellence at a certain activity itself keeps females out. But that leaves unanswered the question of how males came to excel at Scrabble—or any other abstract, competitive activity—in the first place.
Like competitive Scrabble, Wikipedia has no gatekeepers. Anyone can compose or edit an entry; participation is largely anonymous. There are no centuries-old Wiki traditions shoring up male Wiki dominance. Yet only 13% of Wikipedia editors are female, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, even though no one would know the sex of a female editor to be able to discriminate against her. Entries for typically “female” subjects are skimpy compared with typically “male” ones. The implication is unavoidable: Females aren’t as obsessively driven as males to nail down facts, correct errors, and dominate a field.
We’ve been here before, of course. And doubtless we’ll be here again, due to Yale sociology professors and New York Times columnists being ideologically confounded by the fact that men and women tend to differ in their levels of enthusiasm for pop-cultural trivia.