Megan Latham is not a poker name you will be familiar with, but she remains a vital part of the system. She is one of thousands of women who call’s herself a recreational poker player; someone who knows what it’s like in the trenches. Latham not only plays poker but she has also worked in the marketing department of a major online poker company for four years, and these days prefers to do some consultancy work.
When the female perspective of poker series was born, Latham contacted me in the hope that I would include the viewpoint of a regular recreational player.
Here is that viewpoint.
When you have to wear make up or behave in any way that may fall into the category of hyper-sexualization. Do you think you have a choice, or do you believe this is just the way it has become for women in order to survive in the poker industry?
I don’t actually think I behave in any way that falls into the hyper-sexualization category. I wear make up, but I wouldn’t class that as hyper-sexualization. To me, hyper-sexualization, looking at an example in the world of poker, is a girl in a bikini on all fours on a poker table. Women in old folks homes wear make-up, and I doubt many of them would associate that with sexualization.
I don’t believe at all that a woman has to be sexed up to ‘survive’, or even to thrive. Not in general, and not in poker.
Do you feel under pressure to be someone you are not in order to fulfill your role in poker?
Never. In terms of being a woman working behind the scenes in the poker industry, I can tell you that world is full of extremely intelligent and capable women, and playing the sexy card in that environment wouldn’t get you very far. I’d go so far as to say that overplaying your femininity is something of a disadvantage in that side of the poker world. I’ve always just got on with my job to the best of my ability.
In terms of being a player, I am an extremely casual one! If I’m playing with strangers, I am perhaps slightly less chirpy than normal as I’m probably wary of attracting too much attention and sticking a target on my own back – I’m well aware that some men at the tables think women are automatically inferior players. I don’t go down the low-cut top & flirting route: I’m there to have a good time and improve my skills, and that just strikes me as a bit unsporting!
In terms of the standard male/female stereotypes, a lot of men believe they are superior in a lot of departments, and this belief stems from social conditioning. Have you ever felt the reverse of that as a woman?
Are you aware of a thing called feminism? It’s kind of based on the fact that some men aren’t so good at the power-sharing thing.
I think perhaps some men don’t stop to think about what it’s like to put up with the sexist bullshit that crops up pretty much every day of a woman’s life: being judged – sometimes solely – on your looks, constant low-level sexual harassment, patronizing assumptions about what you’re capable of, a lack of representation in positions of power…
Like you say, there’s an element of social conditioning that goes on and it makes some men feel superior. Yes, it’s something of a pisser, frankly, but changing that is going to be – and has been – a long slow process.
Does it anger you that you cannot just wake up, brush your hair, slap on any old rag and head down to the poker tables?
Well: I can. No one cares what I look like when I play poker, least of all me. Although I imagine it would be embarrassing to be thrown out of a card room because staff mistook me for a vagrant.
Does it anger me that a professional female poker player can’t do it? That’s a different question. I used to work in the pro management side of things and, male or female, we wanted our players to look presentable. It was important they were media ready, physically and mentally, because when you have a high profile in any arena, you will get photographed and interviewed. When you’re representing a brand, you need to project aspiration and success, and looking like you are healthy, well groomed and nicely dressed are essential to that impression.
I’ll concede that many female players get signed in situations where a man wouldn’t. Part of this is that women poker players have quite a strong PR value in the mainstream press, simply because they’re unusual. In the poker media, they’re more recognizable & memorable because there are fewer of them.
I don’t actually think that a female poker player is under pressure to look sexy unless that’s all they have to offer because they are terrible at poker. Does Vanessa Selbst spend 2 hours putting on lip-gloss before a tournament? No, she spends that time looking at her bank statements and laughing.
Do you feel that the media are actually doing more harm than good when it comes to attracting new female poker players to the game when they focus on sexuality?
Despite various panics recently, the big poker companies are doing just fine, thank you. The industry operates like a fountain: the money gushes out the top, trickles down into the big pool at the bottom, and gets pumped back up again. Even if you never add more water, it will keep running happily away.
Because of this, the big sites don’t really worry too much about recruiting new types of players. They have a huge, largely untapped market called WOMEN that makes up just over half the population of the world but that they avoid because all poker executives are men and they’re scared of women and their freaky birth capabilities (or, more likely, because women typically have less leisure time and are often more risk-averse than men, and that makes them really quite hard to sell poker to.)
The casual sexism and the macho, boys’ club atmosphere that pervades poker, is what keep’s many female players away. The industry could change this – perhaps starting with cutting out the bikinis and glamour shoots – and open the gates to millions more players, but I suspect this lads-on-tour vibe is actually the reason why many men play poker. I think the attitude is, why rock the boat?
The poker media are complicit too, and that’s a shame, but it’s not surprising: their income comes from advertising, so their output is obviously going to mirror the status quo. Who’s watching online poker videos? Mostly men. What do men like? Naked ladies; it’s so simple it’s almost cute.
A recent politician in the UK recently suggested that women do not get the top jobs because they are not aggressive enough, what’s your opinion on this, and do you think this relates to success in poker?
UKIP’s Stuart Wheeler made an interesting parallel between women succeeding at poker and reaching the top levels of business, suggesting it was a lack of competitiveness that caused them to fall short in both. I would suggest that it’s actually the – conscious or unconscious – creation of an exclusive environment that’s causing the imbalance: that boys’ club thing again. There’s something incredibly powerful about constantly, insidiously, perpetrating the idea that ‘this is not for you’. It’s why kids born in poverty don’t grow up en masse to be lawyers. It’s not that women lack some inherent trait that makes them excellent poker players; it’s that they feel the door is closed for them to even try.