The classic version of Guess Who has way more boys than girls. (Photo: Hasbro.com)When Jennifer O'Connell's 6-year-old daughter noticed that her version of the classic game Guess Who? had way more boy characters than girl ones, she got mad. Mad enough to send a letter to Hasbro's U.K. division, asking them to "fix it soon," before parents notice and start "thinking that girls are not important."
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.
She made some pretty good points, but Hasbro's response was less than enlightening (and way less kid-friendly than one from Sainsbury, the British grocer that earlier this year re-branded its famous Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread after a 3-year-old customer complained).
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.
We hope this information is of help to you.
May we thank you for contacting Hasbro and if we can be of any further assistance, either now or in the future, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
ASK HASBRO, Hasbro UK Ltd
But why try to draw attention away from gender or ethnicity by using fewer of one gender? Hasbro's response irritated O'Connell, a freelance journalist in Ireland, so much that she fired off a response of her own and posted the entire correspondence on her blog:
Thanks for your prompt reply to R__. She has been anxiously watching the post box and checking with me to see if there has been a response to her email, which -- I'm sure you understand -- it was a very big deal to her 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).
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?
After reading O'Connell's post, I dragged my kids' game out of our closet to verify the characters and, sure enough, the original characters -- titled "Usual Suspects" -- do include five girls and 19 boys. But ours is the newer Guess Who? Extra, which came with five other character cards: kids, monsters, animals, household, and funny faces. The monsters, animals, and households objects were all gender-neutral, of course, but the kids and funny faces had an even number of male and female characters, which pretty much blows Hasbro U.K.'s "numerical equation" explanation out of the water. (You can download additional game cards for older versions of Guess Who? at Hasbro.com.)
Hasbro must have realized this, because after O'Connell wrote back asking why female is a "characteristic" while male is not, they changed their tune:
We wanted to get back to you since our email did not fully answer your daughter's questions. We love to hear from all of our consumers, especially children, so we hope this response will help clear up any questions.
We agree that girls are equally as important as boys and want both boys and girls to have fun playing our games. When you play the Guess Who? game, you have the same chance of winning the game whether you picked a card with boy or a card with a girl.
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. Alternatively, you can visit http://www.hasbro.com/games/discover/guesswho/Guess-Who-Characters-en_GB.cfm to download and print additional character sheets so you can have lots of different fun people`s faces to choose from. 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!
Please let us know if we can be of any further assistance.
Hasbro Consumer Affairs, Hasbro UK Ltd
"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 on her blog. But "I still don't see how you have the same chance of winning whether you choose a male or female character (especially since that's the first thing most children ask.)"
Shine readers, weigh in: What would you do if your daughter complained that there weren't enough girls in her games?