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Mastering the Gender Gambit

The limited series on Netflix follows the story of a young girl and her journey to becoming the world’s chess champion. It creates a picture for the representation of the gender norms and stereotypes of the time and how they are deconstructed through the character of Beth Harmon. The show is set in the 1960s when the board game is predominantly played by men and the protagonist is faced with multiple challenges because of her gender. She’s made to play with a girl in her first official competitive chess match until she proves herself to be capable of playing with man. Her rise to fame in the chess world sparks controversy initially because of Beth’s gender, however, as the show progresses her gender is separated from the sport as the story starts to focus on Beth’s talent and with it her label of the “female” chess player diminishes.

The show challenges the narrative of the traditional portrayal of an intelligent female character as they are usually made lacking in some regard whether in her mental health, her attractiveness or the male counterpart. These biased perspectives create harmful stereotypes regarding women’s intellectual capabilities. With her glamorous outfits and unbreakable winning streak, Beth Harmon represents individuality, and she embraces herself regardless of what is expected of her from society. Beth’s decisions are contrasted with those of the women around her for whom homemaking and motherhood was what was perused. When Harmon meets a girl, she went to high school with, with her child, the sound of crinkling bottles of alcohol shown heard from the baby’s stroller. This creates a horrifying image of the unhappiness fostered by the lack of agency that women at the time were faced with. Contrarily, Beth had been living her life independently and was happy.

Throughout the seven episodes, Beth is portrayed as a tough, independent, and rational woman without portraying hegemonic masculinity traits as her character never compromises on her femininity in face of her intelligence. The Queen’s Gambit creates a character that breaks away from the oppressive structures in society like patriarchy that create the idea of a submissive confirmative woman and gives a look at the practice of agency in spite of the opinions of society.

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