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Guess Who? Game Sparks Gender Equality Debate

Guess Who?
Photo Credit: Hasbro

With Black Friday gone and Cyber Monday continuing to fuel sales, the holiday season is in full swing. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or Festivus, department stores and online retailers are fighting hard to sell you things you don’t need. Unfortunately, while companies are careful to avoid insensitivity to cultural or religious differences at this time of year, they are less concerned about whether their games and marketing treat girls and boys fairly.

Last week, a 6-year-old girl took Hasbro to task for its dismal representation of women in its “Guess Who?” game. With her mother’s help, the girl wrote a letter to Hasbro (the self-proclaimed “Greatest Name in Games…Anytime, Anywhere, For Everyone!”) complaining about the inequity and asking for it to be fixed:

Dear Hasbro,

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.

Hasbro side-stepped the criticism, responding that the game is based on numerical equation and there are five characteristics for each character to aid in the process of elimination. In response to Hasbro, the little girl’s mum asked why female gender is considered a characteristic, but male gender is not.

Despite our 6-year-old heroine and her mum’s well-reasoned entreaties, after much back and forth, Hasbro’s final answer was that it appreciated the suggestion of adding more female characters, but would only “consider” the possibility of adding more women to the game in the future. (You can see the original emails here and the final Hasbro response here).

Billed as “The Original Guessing Game,” Guess Who? has been in the United States since 1982. Since the game was introduced, the U.S. has had the first female Secretary of State, the first woman in space, and more women running Fortune 500 companies than ever before. But the gender makeup of Guess Who? has remained unchanged since 1987 – with 5 women and 19 men.

Women have made great progress over the last quarter century, but, like Guess Who?, we clearly still have a long way to go. Currently there are 20 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (4%) which is more than ever before; 20 women in the Senate (20%), also the most women ever in that body; and, while women outnumber men on college campuses, men still far outnumber women in high-paying STEM fields (women fill close to half of all jobs in the economy, but hold less than 25% of STEM jobs).

True equality means full and equal representation of both boys and girls in every aspect of society from Guess Who? to Congress -- nothing less.

True equality also demands that we dismiss outdated notions about the types of toys children should like based on their gender. Many toy companies today still push products aimed at either girls or boys, a marketing strategy doomed to reinforce our stereotypes about what little girls and boys are made of. The online Hasbro store is searchable by gender, with the boys’ toys including action figures and Angry Birds, and the girls’ toys including plush stuffed animals and dolls.

But it is not just Hasbro. Toys R Us has separate shopping categories for girls and boys, as does Little Tikes has made it especially easy by offering a convenient “Shop By Gender” filtering option; and so does And this is just to name a few.

Child development experts say that children learn through play. How can we expect all children to aspire to and reflect the full range of human possibilities if we restrict their play based on our own gender-based stereotypes? If we want to create a world where girls and boys dream equally of becoming CEOs, members of Congress, and leaders in science and technology, let’s begin by representing them equally in the games they play and getting rid of marketing based on gender.


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