What Girls' Dreams Are Made Of

     There's a longstanding, ongoing problem in chess about how to handle the so-called weaker sex.   A long time ago, women weren't encouraged to participate in tournament chess and often barred from clubs and venues where chess was being advanced.   Few women had the time, inclination or money to pursue chess seriously anyway, and those who did, rarely had enough talent or fortitude to excel at higher levels.   This led to the general belief that women were pretty much incapable of succeeding at high level chess.

     Many localities and countries began women tournaments that catered specifically to females and allowed them to compete in a somewhat sheltered environment.   When titles were established, separate titles were created just for women.  These titles designated each woman's strength relative only to other women.

     There is little doubt that this segregation has some beneficial effects for women, just as there is little doubt that it has some detrimental effects - hence the controversy. 

     In this essay I'm not particularly concerned with the arguments pro and con, the benefits and liabilities, or in attempting to reach some resolution.   In fact, I don't want to even discuss the "chess" part of it in detail, though everything I'll write will be written with chess on my mind. 

     Several years ago, and again quite recently, I wrote about the connections between the Dada and Surrealist artists ( and photographers, philosophers and poets) and chess.  Now, I know very little about art or art history, but by necessity I had to read a lot about this particular era (for my purposes, the first half of the 20th century) of art in order to understand something of what I was presenting.  My fascination with these particular artists grows the more I read about them, and as a result, I keep finding more and more to read.  Recently, I came across a quote in an unusual book titled,  Art and Ophthalmology,  by Philippe Lanthony. The book primarily deals with artists who develop visual problems, but one chapter deals with women in particular and, in talking about the successful artist,  Mary Cassatt, begins with:
                    Female painters wish first to be considered as painters. 
                    According to Gimpel (1963), nothing irritated Mary Cassatt
                    more than the following comment:  "We know that you are
                    a woman."  Her wish was to be an artist: it was simple as that.

     My first reaction was to recognize the similarity between her feelings and that of women in chess. But, perhaps women in Art didn't have to "prove" themselves as women in Chess must do through competition, thus making the connection only superficial.

     The famous art collector, Peggy Guggenheim,  opened her Art of This Century gallery in 1942.  Her second show was called, "Exhibition by 31 Women."  [Guggenheim had two all-women shows, the above in Jan. 1943 and another, called simply "The Women," in 1945.]  The remarkable Marcel Duchamp instigated the first all-woman show which was itself a competition in which Duchamp, André Breton Max Ernst, Jimmy Ernst, Howard Putzel, James Thrall Soby, James Johnson Sweeney, and Peggy Guggenheim [all men except for Guggenheim, the underwriter] acted as judges. According to Penelope Rosemont in Surrealist Women, the critics responded with "typical sexist condensation and ridicule."  By all accounts Ms. Guggenheim herself had little use for female artists. Yet the shows did happen.

     While not really solving anything, Guggenheim's shows, by their sheer existence,  highlighted the subservient role into which women in art were relegated  [ just as women titles and tournaments highlight women's subservient role in chess].   Some women, such as Georgia O'Keeffe, declined the invitation to participate, some, like Méret Oppenheim, had second thoughts, citing the potential of ghettoization of women's art as her reason.  In much later interview, Oppenheim stated, "there is no difference between man and woman; there is only artist or poet.  Sex plays no role whatsoever. That's why I refuse to participate in exhibitions for women only."  Perversely enough, Oppenheim, like Lee Miller, is today probably more well known as Man Ray's model than as a surrealist sculptress.

     One thing is for certain: despite the significant number of female surrealists (though far, far less than the number of men),  women had proportionately fewer shows and proportionately less success.  Was this because women are more limited as artists than men for whatever reasons?  Is this analogous to the current chess scene?  Is it really a thumbnail of larger sociological truths? 

     The surrealist movement has been considered (somewhat in the same traditional vein as the chess culture) , if not misogynistic, at least dismissive of women, treating them more as objects, as mistresses and muses, than as intellectual equals.  But part of this seemed to be the fault of the women who played those roles.  Even the fantastic photographer, Lee Miller, was first the femme-enfant for Man Ray, allowing him to use her for his own purposes - a role she would later reject.  Other talented women, such as Kay Sage, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Frida Kahlo, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Dora Maar and Xenia Cage found themselves working in the shadows of strong male personalities.  Even Georgia O'Keeffe maintained that posing for over 500 photographs for her husband, as well as her homemaking responsibilities, seriously infringed upon her creative time.

     Often, when discussing women in chess, we think only of their OTB experiences.  Chess games, like most endeavors, are only the end result or the tip of the iceberg. What we don't see is usually just as, or more, important. Understanding that women's lives in society are generally far different than that of men, even when the what public views is quite similar (for instance, there seems no difference in the two minds facing off on a chessboard, or in whose hand is wielding a brush), is something to bear in mind.  But the question of whether treating women selectively, regardless of how some men might interpret this or of how much they might take such special treatment personally (and many do), is ultimately a question of what is best for women in Art or in Chess.  Even in Chess women are predominantly (though not exclusively) noticed and displayed because of appearance (see a large portion of chessbase articles dealing with women).  One art historian noted that Lee Miller, despite her large and fantastic photographic work is best remembered for her images in Man Ray's photographs. One might flippantly suggest that this was because Man Ray's photos were so much better, but the real reason is society's (or the culture of art - and the culture of chess) interest more in a woman's physiology than in her accomplishments, exactly opposite of society's interest in a man.  Perhaps this is a yin/yang conundrum that will never be solved, but it's also one that has to be taken into consideration.

     So, that leaves us back where we started with plenty of reasons why women should embrace women-only events, whether in Chess or in Art, but plenty also of reasons why women should snub such events.  Either way a women choses to go, it seems that men, in some surreal sociological absurdity, become the ultimate judge of such things.

     Below are 28 of the 31 women who participated in Guggenheim's "Exhibition by 31 Women," Jan. 5-31, 1943.  I couldn't identify the other 3.  The only pieces I've been able to identify are 2 by Dorothea Tanning: her famous painting Birthday and another named Children's Games ; and one by the weakest known entrant, Gypsy Rose Lee.  Lee's contribution was a shadow box containing seashells and two photos - one of herself (in the costume show below) with a dog's head in place of her own and one with a body in a Victorian bathing suit superimposed with a tiny cutout of her own head.
     Note: Sophie Taeuber-Arp, who had fled Paris from the Nazi invasion, was back in Switzerland where she died in her sleep from asphyxiation due to a faulty stove on January 13, 1943, midway through the "31 Women" show.

Peggy Guggenheim

      not pictured:

       Hazel Guggenheim
               (Peggy's sister)

           and 3 others

Buffie Johnson
Alice Trumbull Mason 
Gypsie Rose Lee
 Pegeen Guggenheim
(Peggy's daughter)
Alice Neel

Julia Thecla
Sonia Sekula
Barbara Reis
(Poe Levee) 
Suzy Frelinghuysen 
Irene Rice Pereira
Esphyr Slobodkina 
 Djuna Barnes
Xenia Cage
Leonora Carrington 
Maria Helena
Vieira da Silva
 Eyre de Lanux
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven 
Leonor Fini 
Valentine Hugo
Louise Nevelson
Frida Kahlo 
 Méret Oppenheim
Hedda Sterne 
Dorothea Tanning 
 Sophie Taeuber-Arp
Jacqueline Lamba

Kay Sage






  • 5 years ago


    Hi Batgirl,

    I know I'm late into this coinversation, but I love your article and photos of the artists, especially that amazing pic of Xenia Cage!

    The artists you are missing are Hazel Guggenheim Mckinley, Anne Harvey, Gretchen Schoeninger Corazzo, Aline Meyer Liebman, Meraud Guevara - who was English/Irish and Milena Barili - who was Yugoslav. I've been researching all these artists and found pictures of all, except Gretchen. Also my list doesn't include the Alices Neel and Trumbel Mason. I'm very keen to talk to you and compare notes if you're still interested.

  • 6 years ago


    We women in chess would never stoop so low as to socially oppress men and deprive them of this joyful experience.

  • 6 years ago


    Women in chess are incapable of performing at the same level as men, what's so hard to understand? Same as sports, art, music, etc.

    Soon we'll be hearing that men can't get pregnant because they're socially oppressed by women forcing them to work in factories all day long. 

  • 6 years ago


    If any of these guys think I'm ever going to play a subservient role in chess, I'll punch them in the face, batgirl!Laughing

  • 6 years ago


    "I'm confused about your statement that Women's titles highlight women's subservient role in chess. "

    It's apparent that women titles only compare women to other women. The implication is that women can't be compared to men.  This was strikingly true when titles were first established - in order to recognize the women players of the day, separate titles were required.  That's less true now.  But the continued existence of those titles does evoke that implication - that women play a subservient or secondary role in chess due to their lesser skill as a group.  Part of this lies in the idea that value in chess is usually viewed in terms of quantitative accomplishments, i.e. results that can be objectively measured.  Of course, those aren't the only accomplishments one may have, but, nonetheless, they do establish a hierarchy in people's minds- and one in which women, as a group, play a subservient role.

  • 6 years ago


    Your article was interesting to read, but I'm confused about your statement that Women's titles highlight women's subservient role in chess. 

    I've never thought it to be subservient. 

    What is your analysis of this issue?

  • 6 years ago


    Batgirl....nice job!

  • 6 years ago


    I don't know what to think of this article. It's mostly encyclopedical in nature as most batgirl's articles are.

  • 6 years ago


    A fine piece of writing / thinking.  Equal or better than what a lot of men can do.

    "some surreal sociological absurdity"  -- nice.

    "What is reality"  -- Firesign Theater

    All those pictures …..  Thank you.  Dare I say it, 'nice lines'.

    As Ms. BatGirl knows, one area where women compete equally is sail boat racing.
    Especially in the grueling round the world races aboard state-of-the-art sail racing boats.
    Check out 'Vendee Globe' sometime -- The ultimate sporting event in my opinion.

    Two of the competitors from the last Vendee and who are racing in several events this season:  

    Samantha Davies  -    Approaching Cape Horn  -  solo


    Sam riding the big rollers on the Southern Ocean

    Dee Caffari holds several records in ocean sailing.

    Cheers to all the dynamic women out there.........

  • 6 years ago


    so you wish to have more testosterone, i think? Maia-M?

    well, i like girls who are suave


    and i don't get it how girls can play chess so good, i think its evolution taking its role

  • 6 years ago


    And to all the other famous ladies who play chess, thank you.

    Cory Aquino, Lauren Bacall, Polly Bergen, Sarah Bernhardt, Anne Boleyn, Shirley Booth, Amy Carter, Rosalyn Carter, Catherine II, Rosemary Clooney, Linda Darnell, Olivia de Havilland, Sandra Dee, Elena Dementieva, Catherine Deneuve, Marlene Dietrich,  Eliza Dusku, Queen Elizabeth I and II, Morgan Fairchild, Mia Farrow, Heidi Fleiss, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, Barbara Hale, Katharine Hepburn, Queen Isabella of Spain, Kate Jackson, Carmen Kass, Helen Keller, Belinda Lee, Myrna Loy, Madonna, Lise Meitner, Carmen Miranda, Yoko Ono, Maureen O’Sullivan, Elaine Paige, Paula Raymond, Helen Reddy, Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Saunders, Brooke Shields, Maria Shriver, Grace Slick, Margaret Sullivan, Shirley Temple, Mae West

  • 6 years ago


    I think it is an almost irreconcilable failing of the human creature that the great majority of men can only see and deal with women in terms of levels of attraction or affection. It is pitiable for all parties involved, some for their oblivious adherence to biological entrapment, and some for the effects of that.

  • 6 years ago


    Hey I really did love this article and appreciate the time spent in writing it

    Here is another article along the same theme I thought might be interesting.

    I think all of us Men and Women have shared and individual strengths. It bothers me to think that anyone would have to give up part of who they feel they are to compete, live or work in this world today.

    Women in sport – why can’t women compete against men?

    I love sport and enjoy playing against women and men, but it still seems that the general view is that despite how things are improving in treating women better and giving them the chances they should have that women and men still think keeping us separate in sports is acceptable. I know the usual arguments – men are bigger and stronger, it’s not fair to women – but how true is this? I’ve played with women who can beat men easily in several sports.

    Personally I find the idea that keeping us separate is denying those women who are capable of competing against men with the same rules and the same distances.  For me it’s patronizing that women are treated differently as if the only way a man can be competed against is by making things easier for women.

    There’s a book called “Playing with the boys: why separate is not equal in sports” which reports that maintaining these differences is just reinforcing the stereotypes that have been endured for far too long.  Is it wrong for me to think that women should be allowed to challenge men?  Maybe in things like boxing or lifting weights men would have an advantage, but what about other sports which are not just about brute strength?

  • 6 years ago


    What's your dream batgirl? Do you dream of being the best at something? Do you think we should dream of excelling?

  • 6 years ago


    Lovely article, batgirl. I particularly like Tanning's famous painting "Birthday":


    Dorothea Tanning on her 30th birthday painted her self-portrait “Birthday” in 1942.
    Her fascination of the endless openings of doors depicts a surrealist’s image of the labyrinth, the ‘rooms’ of the unconscious mind. The winged creature in front of her is a nocturnal animal called a Lemur from Madagascar, usually associated with the spirits of the dead and the night. The theatrical purple jacket and the human-shaped roots skirt express the conflict and contrast of nature and culture.


  • 6 years ago


    thank you, dear Bat Girl

    All you do helping me to deepen understanding and love to women.

    your Jacques

  • 6 years ago


    Excellent article, batgirl! It was a real pleasure to readSmile

  • 6 years ago


    thanks for your article, it is a pleasure to read.

    the older i get, the more i understand that this society's unequal treatment of women, xenophobia, and class structure are all related, and that for some reason this is the biggest secret of them all.  Martin Luther King could talk race relations until blue in the face, but as soon as he arrived at the realization that all opression is opression, he was shot.

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