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Chess Players Beware: Big Sister May Be Watching


By Edward O'Brien | December 1998
Edward O'Brien is a retired professor of philosophy and literature at Delaware Valley College in Pennsylvania.

One afternoon, John sat before his chessboard, idly moving the sculpted figures through their infinite variations, as he mused over the changes wrought all round him by the Feminist Ascendancy. How far would Big Sister go in her attempt to remake the world? Even in the quiet of his study, he seemed to hear the howling harpies uttering their dogmatic cries. He seemed to see them buzzing around his chessboard, scrutinizing his every move…and a horrifying thought came to him.

Chess, the game he so loved. Chess, in all its ancient splendor. Was even chess not safe? Would the Furies swoop down upon the royal game, befoul the board, and snatch up in their talons the chessmen (pardon me, ma’am, I mean the chess pieces)?

John thought of the stained-glass windows of his parish church. They had just been removed and discarded by the new parish administrator, Sister Sue, because she saw them as embarrassing holdovers from the past. Suddenly John could see the romance of chess in the same glowing but traditional colors. Windows, architecture, games — all can reflect the mores and manners of a particular time. Chess — so old-fashioned, so magical, so impractical and elfish — could easily tempt a Commissar Sue of the People’s Revolutionary Committee on Games to do some ideological cleansing.

John grimly imagined the claims that could be brought against his beloved game. It would be said that the bishop is a Catholic figure, that the pawn is really a footsoldier of the old Roman imperial legion or a medieval army, and that the rook or castle with its dungeons is a symbol of cruelty and authoritarianism. The feminists would surely say that chess is sexist. John could hear their doctrinaire screeching, “There’s only one female figure, the queen. All the other pieces are male, including the castle, that symbol of male hegemony. And the point of the game is to capture the king! Unjust! The entire chessboard reeks of a militaristic, sexist world we are dismantling. Chess is a poorly disguised bastion of recidivist patriarchal aggression.”

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