A Female Perspective on Poker: Diana Cox

Diana Cox has held various roles in the poker industry for nearly six years as a freelance journalist, blogger and video hostess, and her experience includes stints with some of the largest companies in poker including Bluff Media and the World Poker Tour, in addition to several major casinos across the United States. She recently served as the video hostess for the inaugural Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $10 million guarantee in Hollywood, Florida and now works as the Director of the Card Player Poker Tour.

diana-cox-female-perspective-on-pokerWhat are the first thoughts that come to your mind when you hear the word ‘sexism’?

My first thoughts are of the meaning of the word. Attitudes formed on stereotypes and broad sweeping generalizations based on gender. And I’m not afraid to admit I generally think of it as something used by men against women, however if we really look at the issue I’m well aware of instances of the reverse being true.

How has sexism touched your life?

I guess you could say it has affected my life in that I’ve experienced it before, but I don’t think it has had any long lasting or negative affects on my life in the long run. I don’t know that I have an answer as to why or why not other than it just has not been something I have ever experienced on a level that would be detrimental. I believe I’m part of the group of women who were lucky enough to be born at a time when the issues of sexism had already been brought to light and fiercely battled by our mothers, grandmothers and even great-grandmothers, so we did not have to deal with the worst of it. I may be naïve in my view or perhaps my experiences growing up were more the exception rather than the rule, but when I read about many of the things women of older generations had to deal with I actually feel pretty lucky to have come of age after all that.

You have covered various roles in poker. Are there any you believe you have gotten because you were a woman?

Absolutely without a doubt, the jobs I’ve held as a video hostess/on-air reporter I most certainly got because I’m a female. That isn’t to say I did not have to first prove I was capable of the role in order to be hired because I certainly did, and there was plenty of competition, but if those jobs had not gone to me they would have definitely gone to another woman. That’s an interesting aspect of sexism. It’s usually used in reference to negative, oppressive ideas about women, but there are definitely instances where the opposite is true. Case in point, we don’t see many male on-air reporters in poker and I think the reasons why are pretty obvious. Is that right? Probably not – Is it fair? Certainly it’s not fair to the men out there that may aspire to those positions.

I think what makes sexism such a tough entity to battle and it is going to be hard for women as a whole to come together and make it a thing of the past. As long as there are times when it oddly benefits us, even a small fraction of us, then it’s going to still exist because we aren’t all going to be working against it all the time. I’m not going to purposefully make it harder for myself to get and/or keep a job that allows me to support and take care of myself, and I would never expect anyone else to do that either. That might one of the biggest hurdles concerning this issue.

Give us your view on the level of sexism in the poker industry?

I think the level of sexism found in poker is probably higher in general but that is mostly because it is a niche group with an extremely disproportionate makeup of men and women.

Let’s face it, sexism exists and there are always going to be those who are extreme in their views, but when you get a concentrated market made up of mostly males it’s going to skew the numbers in a bad way. It is also probably going to seem even more prevalent to the women because men always surround us, and of course the bad apples always stand out. I think what we are really seeing is just a mirror of the rest of the world, but just hyper-concentrated.

What goes through your mind when you see glamorized photographs of female poker players and presenters?

If I’m being honest, what goes through my mind is self-doubt. But what also goes through my mind is common sense. Of course those are the images and visual stimuli companies are going to use because poker is so male-dominated. The reasons for that are perhaps an entirely separate conversation as are the reasons for images of attractive women causing self-doubt in other women, but facts are facts and until that make-up changes drastically that is what we are going to be seeing.

Men like to look at attractive women and I believe that is a natural part of being human. Women like to look at attractive men as well and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But for us women in poker being such a minority things are very one-sided and its something we can’t help but always be aware of.

I also don’t think we are ever going to see the days of Royal Flush Men or sculpted males with perfect six pack ads posing in their tidy-whities holding a deck of cards and sporting a come-sex-me stare to promote the latest training site.

Have you ever done anything, or said anything, that is sexist?

Of course I have. Anyone who answers no to that question is being dishonest. We are all guilty of it at some time or another, men and women both, even the most well meaning among us. It doesn’t even have to be extreme but we all are guilty of it at one point or another.

I once saw a really attractive female camerawoman – and my first thought was ‘what the hell is she doing BEHIND the camera?’ Funny that my thoughts immediately gauged her level of beauty and since I thought it to be pretty high I assumed her one and only role should be in front of the camera. Earlier I said I found it annoying when people did that to me, but there I was thinking the exact same thing. Maybe she had no desire to be in front of the camera. Maybe she is an extremely skilled camerawoman and thus, that is why she had the role she did. Either way, I’m definitely guilty of having done or said sexist things in my life and I’m not too proud to admit that.

Do you believe there is a hyper sexualized culture in poker?

I do, but I don’t think it’s unique to poker. Someone in the industry whom I consider to be a mentor once wrote that while poker is not a sport in the traditional sense of the word, for marketing purposes it very much is. And I think that is 100 percent true. Look at any other sport and you will see the same sexualization of women for revenue generating purposes as you see in poker.

When it comes right down to it poker is a business, not just for the players but also for everyone involved. From members of the media, to casino employees, to the tech guys on online sites and we are all earning our livelihoods in this industry. Casinos, training sites, magazines, clothing companies, all of them are businesses and the point of a business to make money. A business cannot survive on good virtue alone, it needs to generate a cash flow. So can I blame certain companies for employing a tactic that appears to work so well in other industries? I can’t say that I could in good faith on that front. But I also don’t have to like it, and perhaps the bigger conversation we should be having is does that tactic in fact work so well or is it something that continues to persist just because it has been that way for a long time? Are more men actually coming to the game because of a sexy model or is it a dated business model we should all think about changing? I would find actual numbers, if there were a scientific way to actually garner any legitimate results on the subject, very interesting.

The one area where poker really differs, and I think this is one of the main problems, is using sexuality as a replacement for skill. A colleague recently wrote an article of the subject of attractive women being sponsored by sites as though they are skilled and accomplished players, yet said women have no tournament results to warrant that distinction. She took a lot of backlash for it and received the all-to-predictable responses of ‘you need to get laid’ or ‘just take a Midol’ but I think she had an extremely valid point.

This doesn’t happen in any other sport. The WNBA doesn’t recruit a few models to add to the team just to make sure there is sex appeal on the court. They might take women who are on the team and make them over for advertisements, but the fact remains those women are there to begin with based on their skill and their skill alone. Likewise this does not and never would happen with male professional athletes. Does the NFL add a few male models to the line up just to get more women to tune in? No. And the idea that they would is pretty absurd. Because football, basketball, etc are games based on physical skill. If we want the rest of the world to view poker as a game of skill (albeit mental skill) then we need to act accordingly. Pros should be pros because of their skill, not their looks.

But then again, can I blame those women for reaping the benefits of those deals? Not at all, if someone offers you a deal like that, you would be a fool to turn it down.

Do you think the media helps or hinders sexism in poker?

This is a tough one for me as I don’t find it to be an easy black and white issue. There is a lot of gray area and I think sexism is a weird beast when it comes to poker. I think the media promotes the ideas but I don’t necessarily think it is always done with bad intentions.

When we have headlines that say things like “Highest earning woman poker player…” or “… one of the best female players,” we are making gender an issue. You would never see those same sentences with ‘male’ in them yet we feel the need to make the distinction. On one side we can say that since women make up such a small portion of the fields it is worth noting, especially when we have women hitting major milestones. But on the other side of the argument, is the media just serving to enforce the idea that it is someone how rare and strange when female poker players find success? And how far do we take it? What is that magic number of percentage of females that need to make up the industry in order for us to stop making the distinctions in reporting? Should we ever stop making the distinction? I don’t know.

There are some women that believe poker would attract more female players if the industry weren’t marketed so sexually, then there are other that believe this helps women get into the industry, where do you stand on this?

I’m torn right down the middle on this one. It depends on the woman really. Some women might see the sexualized marketing and be drawn to it because they themselves want to be that woman. If we are being totally honest here, what woman doesn’t want to be thought of as sexually desirable? I think someone who claims they do not is being a little dishonest at best.

On the other hand if we are going to continue with the honesty, a lot of us have doubts about our own physical attributes and we all have things we would change about ourselves if we could wave a magic wand. That it sexualized marketing that some women want to be a part of is going to be a major turnoff for a lot of women and I think there are two main reasons for that. Any woman who finds it ridiculous that marketing in the industry is so sex driven is not going to be enticed but rather turned away from a culture that thrives on that.  The woman who is made uncomfortable by it because she knows – whether it’s true or just in her head – she is not that sexy vixen and never will be also isn’t going to be drawn in.

Do you believe men and women are viewed as equals in poker?

No. Not in the slightest. That is not to say that we women do not bring some of that on ourselves but I really believe the overwhelming view is that women are not on equal ground with men in this industry.

This past summer at the WSOP as things were nearing an end a few of us were talking about how we really wanted a female to win an open event that year but we were running out of time. Then bam, Dana Castaneda and Loni Harwood won open events and I was so excited about that. But really, if we want to do away with the sexist ideals, I should not have been.

Neither woman is a close personal friend. I actually do not know either of them at all, but I was happy for them to win just because they were women. If everyone is equal, then the gender of the winner shouldn’t matter to myself or anyone else. I suppose the fact that I want it to be a big deal when a woman wins a tournament like that probably is not helping the cause.

But I would also like to think that if we ever reach the point where women are making up larger portions of the fields and by pure statistical probability are also winning more tournaments and larger tournaments then it won’t be such a big deal to myself and others like me when a woman wins.

Then we also have the issue of ladies only events and I’m on the fence about how I feel about them. On one hand I believe those tournaments only serve to enforce the view that women need their own special tournaments because they can’t play with the men. If we want to end sexism, we need to do away with things that enforce that viewpoint. Otherwise it’s going to constantly be used as an example as to why sexist viewpoints are actually accurate.

But on the other hand, women are such a minority in poker that I understand how ladies only events can help attract women to the game, especially women who are new to poker. I don’t believe the top female pros or even the average female grinders out there need ladies event to feel comfortable, but when we are talking about the women who play recreationally or who are maybe just testing the waters in the industry, those events are definitely a place where they will feel comfortable.

I can say I would like to see a world where women feel comfortable at the table no matter what, but I don’t think we are there yet.

Have you ever witnessed overt sexism in poker?

I have but I can at least say I’ve never seen anything too horrible.

A conversation with a friend of mine revealed how he is often the target of racial slurs when players get angry for whatever reason. He was pretty nonchalant about it as it was something he had just learned to accept was going to happen at various points and just seemed to shrug off but what got me was when he said “but that’s nothing compared to what they say to women at the table.” “They” being people, who have such poor control over their emotions or just simply don’t find it unacceptable to throw out racial slurs and call names in a public setting, are even worse to the female players. As if that is even more acceptable.

I do think things are changing though. I think more and more other men are likely to be opposed of that sort of behavior at the table and a guy who is doing that is more likely to get called out for his actions. And that is a step in the right direction.