You Don’t Understand Sexism or Misogyny in Poker? Try Empathy

I’m sexist. I don’t want to be.

The thought of affecting a woman’s happiness in a negative sense creates shame.

I’m still not 100% sure what sexism and misogyny really mean but I’m trying to understand.

I want to understand.

Sam Abernathy Looked at Me

I first met Samantha Abernathy when I was working at a World Poker Tour (WPT) event in Amsterdam.

I was told there was this hot chick playing in the event. I should check her out. I checked her out.

Someone farted whilst I was watching her. She looked at me. It stank.


It’s not unusual to be told to check out a hot chick at a poker tournament.

It’s not unusual for me to tell others to do the same. I’ve been involved in this type of mindless behavior since I first talked about sex with friends.

It’s all part of the process. It’s all part of who I am.

Then Something Clicked

In my attempts to understand sexism I read Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter and countless magazine articles.

I would spend time speaking to my wife about my learning. I could tell by her sheer frustration that I didn’t get it. Maybe I just didn’t understand women?

I bought a book called Woman: An Intimate Geography in a bid to understand women better. Gloria Steinem said: ‘anyone living in or near a female body should read this book.’

I was raised by my mother and grew up with three sisters. I have been married twice. I have been around a few women.

I read the book. I learned about fibroids, the prodigal uterus and the bounteous ovary - but I still didn’t learn about women.

Then something clicked. I got divorced. A woman broke my heart.

When I fell in love for the second time I was convinced it would be broken again. You could still smell the superglue.

Headphones Beats

Are you really listening?

In the beginning things were wonderful. Chemicals crashed into chemicals. Dormant feelings went supernova. I was lost in lust. Eventually the drawbridge was lowered and into my heart she crawled. I was not going to lose this one.

I Couldn't Hear Anyone Else

Over time things started to feel a little like the last relationship. We were arguing over the same stupid things. There was one common denominator: me.

I didn’t know how to communicate with a woman. As a half-caste kid living in a world that didn’t like half-caste kids I had worked hard to get my voice heard.

There was a problem though. I couldn’t hear anyone else when they spoke.

I read People Skills by Robert Bolton, Motivational Interviewing by Miller and Rollnick, Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg and Loving What Is by Byron Katie.

All of these books helped me understand one thing: Empathy.

Once I learned to shut the hell up, put myself into someone else’s shoes and feel - something changed for me.

This is what sexism is about for me. This is why I didn’t get it. I never had any empathy.

Poker Room = Gym

When I look at a poker room I see the world through my eyes. When I see it through the eyes of a woman it looks very different.

Amazon Room 5

A poker room through the eyes of a woman looks very different.

There are a lot of men who are sexist pigs. They have intent. They hurt. Then there are a lot of men - like me - who don’t understand the pain they cause.

So much so they even defend their right to be right thus causing more pain, anger and resentment.

Cate Hall wrote a great piece on PokerWomenNews that I felt demanded empathy from men.

Hall wrote: “When I say the poker community is ‘sexist.’ I mean it fosters or tolerates environments in which a significant proportion of women feel unwelcome.”

Without empathy how can men understand how that feels?

Not long after reading Hall’s piece I went to the gym. I guess it was on my mind. When you talk about an environment that makes women feel uncomfortable look no further than the gym.

A Sleazy, Uneasy Uncomfortableness

You walk in and it sounds like a nightclub. The beats are aggressive. There are scary looking machines lined up everywhere.

Erik Cajelais

Been to the gym before?

Orange, scary looking men are lifting weights; veins popping out of temples like the Amazon seen from space.

When a woman walks into my gym everyone stares. Only men do it in a sly way. The gym is full of mirrors and so we can catch every inch of your body - and we do.

It’s not an American Werewolf in London pub scene type of uncomfortableness but a sleazy, uneasy uncomfortableness.

After my time in the gym I took a sauna. One of the women who was working out joined me. I told her I was writing this and asked for her opinion about the gym environment. This is what she told me:

“It’s very intimidating when you walk into the gym. Particularly if there are a lot of men working out in the weights area. I like to use the weights, but when I am lunging or bending over I know everyone is staring at my ass and that’s an uncomfortable feeling.

"I’m there to work out and look after my body. I don’t want to always be on the defense. If there was a woman’s gym I would go there everyday. I often scream in my mind: ‘stop f**king looking at me.'”

How Many Potential Gym Members Do They Lose?

I wondered how many potential gym members they lose through a combination of environmental intimidation and the biological bombs flying out of the eyes of men.

Field wsop 2012 ladies event

And we wonder why there are female-only poker tournaments.

It sounds a little like the poker rooms that Cate Hall wrote about if you ask me. And we wonder why there are female-only poker tournaments.

Poker pro Kristy Arnett posted a video blog about this. In it she said: “Women feel a lot of pressure.” Men can’t see this if they haven’t developed the emotion of empathy.

To them it’s simple: If you sit down to play then you need to man up.

Arnett went on: “Think about your daughter, or a niece or your mother. How would you like it if your mother was playing poker and people started commenting on whether she was bangable or pretty?”

Before I woke up a little that statement would have had an effect on me but not in a totally positive way. It would have woken me up but only because to think of my mother being treated that way would hurt my own personal feelings.

That’s not empathy; that’s selfishness.

Stop Pecking

There is a car elevator outside of my window. The roof seems to be the local pigeon knocking shop. Almost daily there is a female pigeon being pecked by two or three other male pigeons.

They are all vying for her attention. They feel a biological urge to mate with her. There is an alpha male business about the whole thing as well.

I have sat at poker tables with friends who are married and monogamous and clearly flirting with a woman at the table.

Screen shot 2015 08 03 at 10.17.01 AM

Stop pecking.

They are trying to be the alpha male. The one who gets the most attention from the female is the winner. Nobody cares about how the female feels.

Add alcohol into the mix and the level of abuse escalates quickly. Speak to the men about it and the response is always: “I am only having a laugh.”

The women don’t stand a chance. If they open up and are friendly men feel like it’s open season. If they remain coy men think they are frigid, emotionless waxworks.

Stop pecking. Imagine what it feels like to have a hundred eyeballs groping you on a daily basis. How would that make you feel?

Another Barrage of Man Crap

I often mention my wife and son when I speak to women and you can see their body posture completely change from defensiveness to openness.

They are so tightly wound because they are expecting another barrage of man crap.

We are at the top of the food chain because we have consciousness and choice. We can make rational decisions. We have control.

We can learn new emotions. If you can’t understand sexism and misogyny, try empathy. At the moment it’s working for me.

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