Shine On

Six-year-old girl who questions gender inequality in Hasbro’s game gets jargon-filled reply

A little girl has written to the makers of Guess Who? about gender inequality in their game. (Amazon.com) A little girl has written to the makers of Guess Who? about gender inequality in their game. (Amazon.com) If you think gender inequality isn't top of mind for six-year-old girls, think again.

As the Independent reports, one brave six-year-old girl has taken the time to write U.S. games manufacturer Hasbro about their Guess Who? board game, questioning the game's lack of girl characters.

In a message posted on her mother's blog, the girl asked Hasbro a simple question: "Why are there so many more boys than girls in Guess Who?"

Unfortunately for Hasbro, it was a question that proved baffling.

The little girl in question lives in Ireland and is the daughter of journalist Jennifer O'Connell, who posted her daughter's exchange with the game's maker on her blog.

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For those who haven't played it since they were eight (guilty!),  Guess Who? was first released in 1979 and involves identifying a mystery character on an opponent's card by asking straightforward questions like "Do you have a beard?" or "Are your eyes blue?". For decades, there were only 5 female characters in the game and 19 male characters. Past complaints have lead Hasbro to add more female characters in recent years, but the O'Connell family evidently had an earlier edition.

O'Connell posted her daughter's exchange with Hasbro under the heading "Hasbro knows all about selling to kids — and nothing much about talking to them."

Here's her daughter's first message:  "My name is R______. I am six years old. I think it's not fair to only have 5 girls in Guess Who and 19 boys. It is not only boys who are important, girls are important too. If grown ups get into thinking that girls are not important they won't give little girls much care. Also if girls want to be a girl in Guess Who they'll always lose against a boy, and it will be harder for them to win. I am cross about that and if you don't fix it soon, my mum could throw Guess Who out. My mum typed this message but I told her what to say."

Now here was a golden PR opportunity for the folks at Hasbro. They could have applauded the girl's suggestion, and then pointed out that they actually had added more girls, and that everything was going to be just fine.

Instead, they said this: "Thank you for your email. Please find below an explanation which I hope your mummy will be able to explain to you. Guess Who? is a guessing game based on a numerical equation.  If you take a look at the characters in the game, you will notice that there are five of any given characteristics.  The idea of the game is, that by process of elimination, you narrow down who it isn't, thus determining who it is.  The game is not weighted in favour of any particular character, male or female.  Another aspect of the game is to draw attention away from using gender or ethnicity as the focal point, and to concentrate on those things that we all have in common, rather than focus on our differences."

Do you understand this? Neither did the six-year-old or her mom.

Also see: Should you pay your kids to do their chores?

Here is O'Connell's response: "If anything, your response has left her more confused than before. She is a smart girl, but she is only 6 and still in senior infants at primary school, so she is a long way from being able to grasp concepts like numerical equations and weighting. As a company that makes toys for children, I would have anticipated you would communicate with your youngest customers in a more direct and child-friendly way. But I must confess that, despite being 37 years of age and educated to Masters level, I am equally at a loss. Why is female gender regarded as a 'characteristic', while male gender is not?"

According to The Independent, O'Connell's blog received 30,000 views within only the first few hours of posting the exchange. Twitter responses ranged from "Could Hasbro's name BE any more appropriate?" to "A 6YO girl is smarter than toymaker Hasbro."

Hasbro likely ran the incident up the chain of command and wrote O'Connell the following message: "We agree that girls are equally as important as boys and want both boys and girls to have fun playing our games ... We love your suggestion of adding more female characters to the game and we are certainly considering it for the future. In the meantime, you will be pleased to know that we have additional character sheets that we can send out to you in the post if you ask your mum to send us your postal address...You will be happy to know that our downloadable sports character sheet includes an equal number of boys and girls. We hope your mum does not throw out your Guess Who game!"

Damage control anyone?

Perhaps the next time a small child asks Hasbro a legitimate (and clearly challenging) question about gender equality, Hasbro will respond with an actual answer and not a patronizing and obtuse equation. 

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