Sexism in Mah Jongg – Time to Break the Glass Ceiling

Sexism in Mah Jongg – Time to Break the Glass Ceiling

Sexism in Mah Jongg – Time to break the glass ceiling

As we recall the struggles of our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and beyond, we try to empathize with all who are held down, locked out and discriminated against.

In the case of Mah Jongg, I’m referring to men.

I’ve often asked myself why more men don’t play Mah Jongg, and the answer comes down to this: “Mah Jongg is a woman’s game.” We’re all well aware of this prevailing stereotype, born out of the game’s tremendous popularity among American Jewish women in the 1940’s. Unfortunately, it’s this stereotype which has held men back.

While women have largely steered clear of activities we tend to associate with men, the reasons are different: Women didn’t participate in certain activities because we weren’t wanted; we were excluded from so many things due to ideas promulgated by a male-dominated society. The idea of a woman as an Indy car driver was ludicrous. The thought of woman movie director was impossible. Even Augusta National Golf Club admitted women into their membership in 2012, an act that rustled more than a few uppity feathers.

But men not playing Mah Jongg? We’ve invited men into our ranks…haven’t we? Or maybe we, too, have acted a bit discriminatory, making men believe they’re not wanted, not accepted into this great activity that challenges us, stimulates and engages us. Do we pay even pay attention to men when they walk into the room during one of our Maj games? They quietly move from room to room, trying not to disturb this important activity that they have no understanding of. Have we become so good at Mah Jongg that men are simply intimidated by our astute understanding and artful performance of this game? If they did know the game, could they even compete with us?

While strong and independent women aren’t afraid to compete with men in a variety of activities, so too are strong and independent men learning Mah Jongg and enjoying the game alongside women. For the men who still think this is a woman’s game, we really should help them, support them, and encourage them to branch out, spread their wings and learn Mah Jongg.

In no way, shape or form am I suggesting that we give up our games with our sisters, daughters, female friends and confidants. I simply think we should invite our male friends, spouses or significant others to join us in this activity. After all, we know how it feels to be excluded from things. Let’s lower this invisible barrier by welcoming all who want to learn and enjoy Mah Jongg.

Let’s help men break through Mah Jongg’s glass ceiling.


  • Larry Levine Posted January 25, 2016 4:01 pm

    To my mother and her friends this was as much a social activity as anything else. They would play the game, but during the game and when they took their breaks for lunch or snacks they would share conversations about things that interested them. I doubt they would have wanted men at the table because it would have changed the mood and the conversation. Having said that, I have seen some maj games that were men only. Mostly it was Chinese men in social centers and Chinese restaurants. But I don’t ever recall seeing a coed game.

  • Orie Posted January 25, 2016 4:42 pm

    i am a man and i play maj. I have been playing for over thirty five years and thoroughly enjoy the game. I play with my wife and another couple on a regular basis. The game is exciting and stimulating. I encourage all men to learn how to play The game is not static because there is a new card that is distributed every year.

    • Judi Nachenberg Posted February 2, 2016 2:39 pm

      Hi Ori,

      What area do you live in? My husband has been playing mah jongg for over 25 years. We are always looking for other couples to play with.

      • Orie Raphael Posted April 21, 2016 11:50 am

        Hi Judi,
        We play in Woodland Hills. I am now semi retired and have more time to play. Please contact us .

  • Abbey Clark Posted January 25, 2016 8:55 pm

    I’ve taught many men over the years in my Maj Class at The Goebel Adult Center in Thousand Oaks CA. They all seem to enjoy it tremendously and some even came to class as singles [without a wife]. I’m currently teaching two couples –the wives are players but the husbands are newbies and are catching on and enjoying the game. It’s a great game for all to learn and is known to hold off Dementia — so let’s Everyone Play Mah Jongg!!

  • Ellen Posted January 26, 2016 8:45 am

    There seems to be a ridiculous stigma attached to the idea of men playing mahjong and it may be reinforced by both the sexes. The more men play, I think the more it will catch on. A game where couples can socialize and have competitive fun is a great thing for all!

  • Marilyn Barris Posted February 9, 2016 9:47 am

    I know of many men playing mah jongg. I do’nt know if the picture you posted was for real or staged, but I wouldn’t play with a man or woman dressed like that.

  • Orie Raphael Posted April 21, 2016 11:59 am

    Hi Tracy,
    You must have been in politics in a previous life. Did you study constitutional law?
    Your comparisons of the various rules is right on. Not many organized games have such variations and interpretations of the rules. It so important to set the ground rules at the outset of a new game especially when playing with people you never played with before

  • Williamkiz Posted May 20, 2016 4:50 am

    wow, awesome article.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on…

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