This is a tough column to write. My glass of cognac will likely be refilled more than once before I’m finished. You may want one as well.
Try this opening sentence on for size: “If you are female, have a great figure, look aesthetically pleasing to the eye and have the intelligence and the time to learn how to play poker then what are you waiting for?”
This was the first sentence of an article on Calvin Ayre’s website entitled, “Pokers Going All High Heels, Lipstick, and Handbags.”
Surprisingly, the point of the article, as told to me by the author, was to emphasize the positive development of the World Series of Poker Europe adding a €1,000 buy-in Ladies Event to the 2013 schedule. This was mentioned in the sixth paragraph, for those who could get past the opening statements, which included “gazing longingly into the eyes of Kara Scott” on the upcoming ESPN Main Event broadcasts and the fact that the 2013 Main Event had the “largest display of lipsticks, handbags, and perfume” that the tournament had ever seen.
Oh, where to begin? And more importantly, where is my lipstick?
Let’s start with the mention of the most women ever to have entered the WSOP Main Event. If the only notable aspect of that claim is that there were more feminine-related items in the tournament room, the point is clearly missed. More women entering the Main Event means that women are more accepted in live tournament arenas, stereotypes are beginning to wane among the masses, and the work of many women to pave the way for gender equality in poker is starting to take hold after decades of effort.
Clearly, however, stereotypes remain as strong as ever. No matter the author’s mention of the accomplishments of several women at the 2013 WSOP in Las Vegas, the title of the article and other mentions of perfume and lipstick throw a wet blanket over those facts.
The welcome mat placed in the first sentence, however, overshadows all else pertaining to this article. It tells women who may be interested in poker that they not only need the intelligence and time to learn to play, but they must look hot. They should be pleasing for men to look at. Otherwise, I suppose you’re welcome to play, but … well … whatever.
Even the photo included with the article shows three women in poker: Lynn Gilmartin (justified, in my opinion, as one of poker’s prominent and successful women), Kimberly Lansing (pictured in a low-cut shirt playing poker rather than as the WPT anchor that she is), and Tatjana Pasalic playing in the 2012 WSOP in a catsuit.
This sentiment is not a unique one in the poker community. It is reinforced constantly by male players and some members of the poker media. There are still articles published regularly that rank the “hottest girls” in poker, though I rarely ever see any mention of the most talented women, other than when someone like Vanessa Selbst wins another tournament. There are still poker-centric websites that feature “girls on the rail” and other derogatory mentions of women at poker tournaments who stand on the rail to support their boyfriends or husbands, though only the ones in high heels and cute outfits even make it into that category.
And then there are poker publications that make decisions to overlook the news of the day in exchange for an attractive woman on the cover of the magazine. As the Calvin Ayre article mentions, the cover of the most recent edition of BLUFF Magazine shows Tatjana Pasalic emerging from a pool, albeit covered in more than a bikini, which is a stark improvement over the November 2008 cover that featured Lacey Jones and Christina Lindley in lingerie holding hands. Even so, for an August 2013 issue that mentioned numerous major stories from the 2013 WSOP on its inside pages and had quite a few options for cover stories from the summer of tournaments, they chose a woman who was described by a Calvin Ayre article itself as the “hostess with the mostess” and celebrated with a video of her doing a photo shoot in a kitchen. While there is no disputing that she has an interesting story of comeuppance into poker and that she has had some success, her appearance on the cover of BLUFF when so many other stories were prominent was, well, interesting.
My point is that poker, in some respects, refuses to rise above the “sex sells” mantra, whether it is to garner websites hits or magazine sales. This is why businessmen like Calvin Ayre continue to capitalize on the women in poker who also happen to be externally beautiful. And what woman who wants to make a name for herself in this industry is going to turn down an opportunity to gain exposure and climb the male-dominated ladder that exists in poker? It’s a cycle that promotes old stereotypes and continues to exclude the majority of women who actually play poker.
I believe that the poker media has a duty to create a non-sexist and welcoming image to fans of the game. It is the media’s responsibility to cover stories of all interest to the game, but integrity and fairness should be prominent factors in business decisions.
Poker media wants the public to believe that the game has grown out of its roots as a back-room, sketchy game meant for cowboys and men who could handle the risks. The truth is that we are far from that goal, as evidenced by continuing messages that men and women are not equal in this game.
And that is far from the message that poker inherently delivers in its skill-game, everyone-can-play mantra. Companies thrive on that message. But until the entirety of poker agrees that it is true, women will be marginalized as they still are today.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the best example of poker’s inclusiveness that the game has seen in years, as well as why poker’s reaction to that tournament winner must be mirrored in the media’s coverage of all players going forward.