The latest example of this phenomenon comes from a 6-year-old known as R____ who took a board game to task. As R.’s mother, Irish journalist Jennifer O’Connell, says on her blog, her daughter complained to Hasbro UK about the underrepresentation of women in the game "Guess Who?". Out of 24 characters in the basic edition, the little girl was disappointed that only five are female.
In the game, each player chooses (or randomly selects) one possible character, and tries to guess their opponent's person by asking questions about his or her appearance.
In R____’s letter, she said this setup is unfair.
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.
In other words, players who choose female characters are more likely to lose. The question "Is your person a girl?" immediately narrows down the options while there is no similar consequence for choosing a boy.
“My mum typed this message but I told her what to say,” R. added at the end of her letter.
Hasbro's response, which mom subsequently published on her blog, did not satisfy the 6-year-old, her mother or O'Connell's readers. The company wrote:
Please find below an explanation which I hope your mummy will be able to explain to you. … 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.
After O'Connell posted it, Hasbro was called "tone-deaf" and "condescending," and the response was compared unfavorably to other kid-friendly customer service "wins," like a British supermarket chain's decision to rename their popular "tiger bread" "giraffe bread" after a 3-year-old's suggestion.
The company did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
Both O’Connell and her daughter had questions after receiving Hasbro's letter: "Can you mail them back and tell them 6 year olds don't know words like that?" the little girl said, according to mom.
That's when O'Connell took matters into her own hands. She wrote back to the Hasbro representative, explaining that it had been "a very big deal to [my daughter] to write.”
Unfortunately, she is now no clearer as to why there are only five female characters for her to choose from in her favourite board game, compared to the 19 male characters her brother can pick. (Obviously, she could choose to be a male character, but as you know, that's not usually how children work). ... Why is female gender regarded as a "characteristic", while male gender is not?
This time, O'Connell got a more satisfying reply from a representative who voiced agreement and said, "We love your suggestion of adding more female characters to the game and we are certainly considering it for the future."
"The tone of this email is so much better - pity we didn't get it first time round, but better late than never," O'Connell wrote of the response in a comment on her blog.
While other commenters on O’Connell’s blog explored the statistical likelihood of winning if you chose a female character, one anonymous poster cut to the chase: "Hasbro is correct in a statistical sense, but totally wrong in terms of how people actually play the game. The correct response should be, 'you're totally right, and from now on we're going to make half the faces girls.'"
Fittingly, just before the exchange, O'Connell, who also has a 4-year-old son, had written an article for the Irish Times about gender stereotypes in children's toys called "Why should boys get to take it to the max while girls are left with pink play sets?"
It begins: "Parents: if you want to curtail your daughter’s ambitions, limit her imagination, and stymie the development of her analytical skills, I suggest you take her toy shopping...."
Earlier this year, Mamafesto blogger Avital Norman Nathman brought up the same point about "Guess Who?", writing, "[I]nstead of being shocked and angry, I have to admit, when this all sank in, I was more disappointed than anything else. I doubt it was a conscious choice on the part of Hasbro to only include 5 women in the game. In fact, that’s the problem… Nobody thought about it."
Natham's conclusion? "Let’s be the change we want to see. Let’s encourage our daughters and our sons to find their way into jobs that impact society for the better, so perhaps one day they’ll be the ones making these types of decisions and they’ll make better ones." Maybe Jennifer O'Connell's daughter will follow her advice (although according to mom, she’s already "so totally OVER it").