Dr. Jaclynn Moskow’s recent allegations against Nolan Dalla, regarding events which took place on the set of Poker Night in America, have raised difficult questions for the poker world. It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but this week we attempt to navigate it with the help of a couple of Alex’s women friends – social worker Leah Freeman and poker player and writer Mariana Vamplew.
The guests share their experiences and the realities of being a woman in society and in poker. We go on to discuss why it’s so hard for everyone to talk about sexual harassment and assault. We then talk about the sort of change in public attitude necessary to reduce the occurrence of sexual harassment and “minor” sexual assault and, when they do occur, to deal with them properly and equitably before things snowball into the sort of battle we see between Moskow and Dalla.
Afterwards, Andrew puts Alex in the hotseat with a hand he played in the $1500 WSOP Dealer’s Choice event. Alex’s gut leads him one way, but he starts to suspect that Andrew has chosen a hand where the correct play is not the intuitive one. Does he get it right, or is he just leveling himself? Tune in and find out.
A heavy topic (0:00-4:50)
In the episode intro, Alex summarizes the bare bones facts of the Moskow-Dalla controversy and apologizes for this being a heavier subject than usual.
Introducing the guests (4:50-7:20)
Alex addresses the question of why it is that we have two guests on the show to talk about this, rather than one, and why we chose women who aren’t directly involved in the situation. He explains that the big logical leap for men in understanding women’s experiences is going from hearing about isolated, seemingly minor incidents to grasping the impact of those incidents as a whole, and just how constant they are in women’s lives. There’s also a high risk that with two talkative male hosts and a single female guest, we could unconsciously drift into socially conditioned behavior patterns and so-called ‘mansplaining,’ so we asked two women to come on the show to provide more balance in that regard.
Leah and Mariana are then given a chance to introduce themselves, talk a bit about their respective backgrounds, and why they agreed to come on the show.
The ‘third guest’ (7:20-10:15)
We were originally going to have three women on the show, the third being “The Poker Baffer” Kat Arnsby, an amateur player and blogger from the UK. She’d written an excellent blog post on the subject of the Moskow-Dalla story, in which she describes his alleged actions as “quotidian sexual assault.” Since, in the end, she couldn’t make it, Alex gives the nutshell version of her article on her behalf, then Leah and Mariana discuss their own lived experiences with minor or quotidian forms of sexual assault, as well as verbal forms of sexual aggression, how frequently women have to deal with these things, and at what point in life it begins (spoilers: very young).
“Microaggression” is one of those terms, along with “safe space,” “systemic oppression,” and so forth, that is frequently a target of ridicule by those with more conservative or mainstream politics. Because these are new terms, much of that ridicule stems from a misunderstanding about what they actually mean. Much of what we describe as sexism falls under the umbrella of microaggressions, acts which individually are not a big deal and which are easy to explain away, yet produce a cumulative effect. All four of us work towards pinning this idea down for the listener, both in terms of providing a coherent definition, and backing it up with concrete examples. Andrew recommends the @EverydaySexism Twitter account as a resource for men looking to get a handle on these sorts of things.
On alcohol, bad behavior and the ‘big deal’ threshold (23:50-28:10)
Moving back from the general and theoretical to the specifics of the Moskow-Dalla case, Alex asks the question why, if such instances are so common, Moskow would choose this specific instance to go public with. In going into the specific details of the allegations, alcohol is brought up, and Leah raises the point that the role of alcohol in sexual assaults is among the clearest double standards in existence, in that the public often considers it to diminish a man’s culpability while increasing a woman’s. Back to the original question, Leah guesses that it was the sequence of repeated instances of sexism and anti-Semitism she experienced which stretched her tolerance to the limit, and then Dalla’s (alleged) decision to take it from the verbal to the physical was the final straw in that context.
The money issue (28:10-36:35)
Aside from alcohol, the most common factor used to discredit women in cases like these is money; specifically, there’s a commonly-held belief that women often lie about or exaggerate sexual harassment and assault in order to extract money from men. Alex raises that point as regards the fact that Moskow did in fact ask for a large sum of money before going public. Leah and Mariana counter with the point that her appearance on the show was an economic opportunity for Moskow, and if her treatment by Dalla, Chris Capra and others resulted in the loss of future such opportunities, that constitutes material harm. It’s for that reason then, not her hurt feelings, that demanding financial restitution is reasonable in this case.
Expanding on the point that sexism can result in missed economic opportunities for women, Andrew brings up the fact that Cate Hall and Kara Scott have both said they’ve simply quit jobs in the past because it seemed easier than dealing with sexist treatment directly. Mariana shares a similar experience of her own, having quit the financial industry entirely after her treatment during an internship left her feeling like the potential earnings in that field were not worth the treatment she’d been exposed to.
The big picture (36:35-46:00)
Having established the nature of the problem, we move on to the more difficult and important question of what can be done about it. The gender dynamics which lead to these behaviors are the result of centuries, if not millennia of cultural evolution, so they won’t change overnight. Mariana points out that women themselves play “the game” as much as men, but that it wasn’t a game set up by them. Leah then stresses how much of the problem lies in the difficulties involved in simply talking about it, that the same actions which are assumed to be “no big deal” suddenly loom much larger and produce greater consequences as soon as anyone speaks openly about them. Mariana opines that a “seismic shift” would be needed for these factors to change, and Alex notes how hard it was simply to get guests willing to engage on this topic.
Individual responsibility (46:00-58:00)
Barring a revolutionary change in social norms, quotidian sexual harassment and assault won’t disappear overnight, so the next question is what individuals who are cognizant of the problem can do during and after the fact. We discuss intervening as a bystander, and the complexities involved in that, and Mariana shares two anecdotes about times she’s intervened, one in which her help turned out to be unnecessary and unwanted, and another in which she likely did prevent something bad from happening. After the fact, things are even trickier, because the ideal resolution depends heavily on the specific people involved and specifically what the victim wants, be it reconciliation, recognition of the truth, compensation, or some combination of the three. Andrew makes a point about the ethical calculus of intervention, and weighing the small, guaranteed social awkwardness of intervention versus the probability that much greater harm could be prevented.
A footnote on table behavior and gendered language (58:00-1:04:30)
Before we conclude our discussion, Mariana brings the subject back to more or less overt sexism at the table, from direct threats of sexual violence to inappropriate comments on personal appearance and clumsy attempts at flirting. We talk about how the easiest way to differentiate between regular table talk and harassment is to ask whether the same comments would be made to a man, and whether a given insult or needle makes a specific point of the target’s gender. Mariana also shares a story where men at the table intervened on her behalf and resolved a potential problem with minimal discomfort, showing how the right kind of peer pressure can go a long way to improve everyone’s experience at the tables.
Strategy talk: Alex gets put on the spot (1:04:30-1:26:15)
After saying goodbye to our guests, Andrew and Alex welcome two new ladies onto the show, specifically the red Queens Andrew was dealt in the $1500 WSOP Dealer’s Choice event. He 3-bets them in position preflop, but gets dealt the rather ugly board of KJJ, with two Hearts. The villain checks and now we have to decide whether we do the natural thing of checking back our now-marginal hand or betting it out of fear that a check-back is too transparent. Alex opines that he would usually check it back in tournaments at his level, but guesses that Andrew knows that and is presenting the hand to make a point about how turning your hand face up in a $1500 event is a bad idea. Ultimately, Alex goes with a bet, but has he sniffed out Andrew’s trickery or is he just outsmarting himself?
Strategy takeaway (1:26:15-1:28:40)
Based on feedback we’ve received, Alex concludes the show with a new mini-segment, a nutshell summary of the most important lesson to take away from the strategy segment, for those who found themselves overwhelmed by the details. He also offers a small freeroll for anyone interested in writing in; guess Andrew’s finish position in the Main Event, and you could win a teeny tiny piece of #TeamRunItUp’s $25,000 Fantasy Draft, potentially worth anywhere between $0 and $60.
The following are links to the articles discussed on this episode of the podcast. Links by one of the co-hosts are in bold, offsite links are in italics.
- Racism & Sexual Harassment: The Reality of My Experience on Poker Night in America [Dr. Moskow’s original account of events]
- What happened to Jaclynn Moskow on Poker Night In America [TwoPlusTwo thread]
- Voices of Support for Dr. Jaclynn Moskow [summary of the Joey Ingram podcast]
- Moskow Moment: The Broken Ways We Think [Kat Arnsby’s piece]
- The Everyday Sexism Project