Women are Neanderthals?

If you don’t read F-Train’s blog, you really should. It’s well written and he’s one hell of a bright guy.

Basically, I give the guy a lot of respect but when he wrote about a recent PR post on the PokerStars blog I really couldn’t believe it. I had to check the calendar. Was it April 1st? No. He provided a link but it was to a Google Docs press release and there was no way to really verify that it actually came from PokerStars. But this is F-Train, right? He wouldn’t post something before he could verify it, would he? He wouldn’t be posting this as some sort of joke, would he?

If you’re wondering what all of the fuss is about, it seems that at least one of the writers for PokerStars needs to take a gender sensitivity course. He likens PokerStars’ women pros getting video cameras at the PCA event to the opening scene in “2001: Space Odyssey” with all of the associated banging of the bone and hopping up and down. He then goes on to say that women can’t follow directions, can’t use technology, and basically paints them as having near-Neanderthal intellect.

The entire thing is so overly misogynistic and demeaning that you assume it’s a joke gone horribly, horribly wrong. Sorry for doubting F-Train but, really, you couldn’t write something more offensive unless it was a joke.

But it’s not a joke. I was able to track down the post on the PokerStars Blog. In fact, I’ve screen captured it (below) just in case it suddenly becomes unavailable.

This is really a shame as PokerStars has done so much to promote women in poker. They also have some of the best writers and really make an effort to produce quality content. But this is just such a let down.

The only thing I can think of is that the author (who I don’t know), Mad Harper, got the concept in his head and just went with it without ever going back and viewing it through objective filters. Sometimes a certain angle or joke catches you and you think it’s witty and perhaps an interesting spin on what might otherwise be a boring topic. I mean, writing about PokerStars female pros being given training on using a video camera is less than compelling content on it’s own. So you go with that creative seed.

But then you EDIT! You go back and read what you’ve written. Sometimes once the angle is fleshed out it simply doesn’t work. This is obviously one of those times when the creative vision and the final product don’t match up. Or, that’s what I hope. I hope Harper didn’t write this and realize how offensive it might be and went with it anyway.

I think an apology is in order. Stars obviously has done a lot to support women in poker and the best thing they can do is come clean, apologize, and move on.

Women are Neanderthals According to PokerStars

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.

15 thoughts on “Women are Neanderthals?”

  1. Female perspective here.

    I’m with Bill. Regardless of the author’s intentions, the piece is just plain insulting to women, and it is certainly horrible PR. Claiming it’s “British humour” just adds to the insult, because such an assertion implies that non-British readers are too dense to know funny when they see it.

    A pretty good rule of thumb is that if people have to be told it’s funny, it’s not.

  2. @Michael: No offense to your wife intended but she is a sample group of 1. I find that entire part of your response to be a poor argument.

    I didn’t say (or I don’t think I said) that PR is not supposed to draw attention or raise awareness. But a press release is not the same as PR. As I said, PR does something wild and crazy and the purpose of the press release is to inform the media of what the wild and crazy thing that they’re doing in the hopes the media will write about it.

    And again, I know British humor (with only one ‘u’). In fact, I’m a huge fan of it and going back to when I used to be glued to the television watching Benny Hill or being able to quote entire Monty Python films. And I happen to think Ricky Gervais is one of the most gifted comedians in a long time. I get dry wit. I get tongue in cheek. Believe me, I know humor. :-)

    If this was humor, it would have been over the top. They would have had self-deprecating quotes from the women or a photo of them standing on top of the table reenacting the scene from 2001 (think Zoolander). That’s funny!

    And at the very least, and is what I implied in my original post, she failed miserably if she was attempting humor. I don’t think either myself or F-Train are particularly sensitive people but both of us read this and said WTF?!?! And since F-Train is certainly considered “poker media” and I’m a commenter on the industry that seems like a pretty major fail.

    And that’s the best you can say about it. :-(

  3. I showed this article to my wife and although she was PO’s that I wasted her time with a poker article I had to explain that some people thought it was sexist. Her response was that woman say far worse things about men all the time. I would be interested to hear what your British friends thought about this as well.

    However I strongly disagree about what you said was the role of PR. They are their to draw attention to and raise awareness of the brand not to praise the pros although they often do to achieve their goals.

    Do you really think that Mad as a PR for an online company was saying that female pros who all play online can’t use technology?? My take on the piece was that if you give them new tech they act like children (I know I do exactly the same). It may not have been as funny as Ricky Gervais but it was definiatly light hearted. I would be surprised if any of the pros were not in on the joke. What was written is just old fashioned tounge in cheek sarcasm. It is very British humour.

  4. @Ben: As unpopular as my policy has been in the past, I tend not to go back and change what I’ve written. If I wrote it and it’s wrong then people can correct me in the comments (which they have done). But if I go back now and change all the He’s to She’s and people read the comments they won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. Then I have to decide whether or not to delete your comments because they’re confusing.

    Just like a newspaper, I figure it’s easier to admit the error and give the correct information (Mad is a woman!!!!!) than to try to rewrite history by going back and altering posts.

    And, as I’ve stated I don’t think Mad’s sex has a material impact on what I wrote. As a PR agent your job is to blow smoke up our asses and tell us how great your company or the people you represent are. Comparing your public mouthpieces to Neanderthals is a major failure in that department.

    Now, I can think of a few ways that you could compare your sponsored pros to Neanderthals in a humorous way but unless I’m missing something here, and I don’t think that I am, this press release simply wasn’t funny. And I’m not even sure funny is what you’re supposed to be aiming for in a press release. You do the funny thing and then issue a serious press release telling people how funny the funny thing was. That’s how press releases work.

    Part of what makes this not funny to me is the fact that she’s writing about other people. She writes as if she is passing judgment on the female pros and their ability to master technologies. An actual press release is supposed to gloss over the fact that people didn’t listen to instructions. In the PR world, everything is shiny and beautiful. If she wanted to go for the humor angle she should have included the women in on the joke. Once they participate in the joke it becomes self-deprecating rather than demeaning.

  5. I don’t think it needs updating. Is it any less insulting to be compared to a monkey by a man or a woman?

    And why is there a perception that because a woman said it, it couldn’t possibly be offensive to other women?

    On Wikipedia


    “Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves. ”

    I’m not saying Mad is a misogynist but I don’t understand why it makes a difference whether a man or a woman writes something that is misogynistic. What she wrote, regardless of her own gender, sounds very misogynistic.

  6. @Michael: I have not inadvertently stumbled upon the answer. I lived in a British protectorate for over 2 years. Here in Bangkok many (if not most) of my friends are from the UK. I get British humor. I think the UK version of The Office is better than the US version. :-) Suffice it to say, I understand British culture.

    I know the Brits like to take the piss out of their celebs. However, I don’t think Man U would have ever had their PR department write a press release saying Beckham had a girlie voice.

    There’s a difference between the tabloids and your own PR department! I wouldn’t have been as shocked if Bluff Europe had written that article. But to have your PokerStars’ own PR department write such offensive things about their sponsored players? Wow. All I can say is wow!

  7. Quick weigh-in: Mad’s a good friend but she’s not a comedian. She works in a PR capacity for an online poker site that is one of the very few trying to bring more women into the game. Pieces like this don’t help that cause. The vast majority of women with whom I have discussed this found this PR/blog post “insulting”, “demeaning”, “degrading”, etc. Not all of them, certainly. But a majority.

    Beyond that, I fail to see what PR purpose it serves to make the TPs look bad, or what PR purpose is served by relating the scene in which the TPs received their cameras. As a blog post, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, it seems to me to be eyebrow-raising but maybe forgivable. As a press release sent out to every media member on every PS live-event media mailing list, it’s baffling and seems to be tasteless.

    Again, reasonable people may disagree. But enough people have chimed in to agree with me for me to feel that this piece was probably a mistake. PR shouldn’t antagonize the people it’s directed at.

  8. @Bill: I think you have actually inadvertantly made a really interesting point that maybe behind this whole issue.

    Mad Harper is British and and she is the Media Manager for the European Poker Tour. I think the problem has been caused by a major clash of cultures.

    In the UK and I think Europe we have very little respect for celebrity status, in fact quite the opposite. David Beckham is widely considered by both the UK media and the British public to be slightly less intelligent than the footballs he is so good at kicking. This is not just the tabloid and gutter press but in the Broadsheet papers that are global competitors of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

    The biggest selling paper in the UK ran a campaign where they called the England football manager (which is arguably the most important position in UK sport) Turnip Head and most days printed pictures of Turnips with his haircut superimposed. I am sure you can imagine what the British press have been saying about Tiger Woods over the last 18 months!!

    For some reason Brits feel that if these people are going to be paid considerable amounts of money, for being good at what they do, then they also have to be perfect in everyway. I am not defending this just trying to explain the mentality.

    As I understand it in Europe they have a similar way of thinking but over there they tend to elevate stars to a god like status when they are doing well and then demand blood when they start to slip. However, they tend not to make a joke of it in the way Brits do, they just demand actual blood.

    In the US you tend to respect successful people who work hard. It is after all the American Dream. If they have not done anything wrong then there is no need to critizise them. This is a far more reasonable and sensible way to be but it just is not as much fun :)

    We talk the same language but at times it is in very different ways.

    If this is the case then Mad Harper has made a major mistake. Even though she works for the EPT and lives in London, saying something that is considered humorous by Europeans but insulting to Americans is a big problem especially on a PokerStars press release when the largest contigent of players are US based.

    Speaking as a European I did find it funny though.

  9. @Michael: I think you miss the point. What was written was insulting regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. Does any human being want to be compared to Neanderthal man learning to use a bone as a tool? How exactly is that complimentary? The fact that it’s an article about women female pros in a sport heavily dominated by men only makes it worse.

    If I was one of the pros who they gave a video camera too and they wrote this about me like this I would have a serious problem with that person. What Mad wrote is just plain insulting.

    Or let’s put this a different way. Let’s say Mad had been writing about Tiger Woods or David Beckham, or any other celebrity. How long do you think Mad would be employed after comparing those people to Neanderthals?

    I’m not saying that any of the PokerStars pros are on the same level of celebrity but the fact that they are sponsored pros means that they should be afforded a certain amount of respect from the company that is employing them.

    Read the story. Who wants to be portrayed as “howling” and “screaming” or called “Early man”? It’s insulting. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman.

    The bottom line is that that story was a major lapse in judgement. I give Mad the benefit of the doubt in terms of having pure intentions but the end result was a disaster. It was insulting to whatever group of people it was written about and the fact that it happened to be PokerStars female pro team only makes it worse.


  10. I have to disagree with you there I am afraid.

    I think what she is saying that she wants Woman Pros to act like Pros instead of little children with a new toy. No one complains when Jackie Mason stereotypes the Jewish community or Chris Rock sterostypes the black community and I think that this is following that tradition.

    On top of that she is an expert in PR and is trying to push the female pros video diaries. I would never have looked at them if it had not been for your post. You would not have blogged about it if F-Train had not been so horrified.

    There is a very cynical side of me that says she knew exactly what she was doing when she wrote that post and she has been very successful if that was her aim.

  11. I didn’t know if it was a nickname. In poker everyone seems to have a nickname. Even so, even if it was a woman, not very cool. Still deserves an apology. If I was one of the PokerStars pros and had anybody referring to me as being Neanderthal I would have a problem with it.

  12. I hate to say this but you do realise that Mad is short for Madeleine. I suppose women are allowed to say things about women that men would be castrated for!!

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