Guess Who? Child Spanks Hasbro on Gender Inequality

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About Brendan O Connor

Brendan O'Connor graduated from Kenyon College in May 2012 and is looking forward to his inevitable rise to fame as a universally-adored superstar journalist. For now he is an editorial intern at His twitter handle is @BOC9000.


  1. Reading this I can help but think how Hasbro has not only done nothing wrong but treated this scenario perfectly. I love their line that its not about focusing on what makes us different but on what we have in common.. That mother just needs to step away from her Child and let her play the board game…

    • John Anderson says:

      That’s what I was thinking especially since they offered to send her more characters or she could print them.

  2. I’m actually not sure where to sit here. I understand Hasbro’s point from a game design perspective, if you have a question that you can ask and eliminate half the field (e.g. Boy or Girl), that would be an obvious first question to ask in every game, and shorten the game immensely each time.

    Of course. I can also understand feeling excluded because your gender was underrepresented in the game.

    There is a solution in some of the optional sets they provide (notably the Easter / Littlest Pet Shop sets), where the options are genderless animals – that would seem to address the game design issue and take the gender issue off the table.

    • How many times have you started the game asking whether it was a boy or a girl anyway? And that is the point of the 6 year old. – she doesn’t want to pretend she is a boy, just to make it more difficult for the other person. The way adults design the games should work the audience intended.

  3. John Smith says:

    Hum… All I am seeing is a parent who is getting there child to see sexism where non exists… Hasbro answered well that the maths works out. You could equally argue the mother is being sexist by encouraging her child to think a girl cannot play a mans role.

    • The math only works out if you count “female” as a unique characteristic, but not “male.” Guess Who doesn’t have 5 characters with each trait, unless you consider maleness to be so “normal” compared to femaleness that it doesn’t count as an identifying feature. I find that rather demeaning to both men and women, TBH.

      Also, the minds of preschool and early-elementary children don’t work that way. Younger children tend to gravitate toward characters who are “just like me;” this is why different skin tones of Barbie and G.I. Joe exist. It’s why human depictions that focus primarily on one skin tone or hair color don’t go over well with the preschool crowd.

      I’m active in the American Girl doll fan community, and while adult male fans are often satisfied with the girl dolls, the parents of little boys who play with the dolls almost always mention having to customize a “boy” doll for their sons–because the boys want a toy that looks like them and the AG brand doesn’t make an official one.

      Having a “mini-me,” or some other toy representation of the self, is a big deal to a young child, because it’s harder for the very young to see things from other perspectives than their own. They are, in a very real way, limited to the self, and to have few or no options that resemble yourself makes you feel like you don’t matter as much as the other kids.

      Choosing to play as a character of your own sex when you’re little isn’t a sexist thing–it’s part of a natural limitation that prevents kids from being able to picture themselves as someone very different from themselves. It’s the same reason why white kids want white dolls and action figures and black kids want dark-skinned ones.

    • Hey “John Smith” the problem is that women are under represented giving the message that it is better to be male. Perhaps you don’t see the sexism because you have never been part of a minority gender group (making the assumption you have always been male). It seems like a small issue I agree, but it is the ‘small’ sexisms that are arguable the biggest problem given that that show how entrenched sexism is in our culture – such as a man telling a female stranger to smile, seems small but why say it? It comes across as patronising because you know they would never say it to a man.

      So, summing up, the sexism is there, it is just that it is so entrenched and we are so used to it that it seem normal – which is the most disgusting thing of all.

    • It’s interesting how you saw the parent getting the child to see sexism. Given that even between the lines there were no hints that it was anything but the child’s idea.

  4. At least Hasbro allows you to print out more female characters–but why isn’t this advertised in the packaging for the game itself?

    By the way, gender imbalance is still a problem. Kooky Creatures: 18 males, 6 females, despite this being a variant in which characters have different cartoonish skin colors and even different numbers of eyes. You could easily have 12 male characters and 12 female characters with that kind of insane variation–but they don’t.

    Dinosaurs: No discernable gender at all. This would satisfy anyone’s dissatisfaction with Guess Who’s gender imbalance, but only if they like dinosaurs. Some people don’t; some children can’t pronounce all the long difficult names either.

    G.I. Joe: I know without clicking that this isn’t going to solve little R’s problem either.

    Easter: 8 definitely-female names out of the 24. Could be more females, but we can’t tell due to a lack of sex differentiation in the pictures and the presence of a lot of unisex names. Very pastel, though; if R wants to play this with her brother, he may object to the “girly” colors.

    Littlest Pet Shop: Like the Dinosaur set, animals are identified by their species and breed. However, nearly all of the animals have the long eyelashes that are generally intended to represent female characters, so this goes too far in the other direction.

    Sports: Looks good. I rather like how each sport has players of both sexes. As Hasbro suggests, this is the ideal solution to the character gender imbalance if one must choose among the sets they have online.

  5. they live in a matriarchy that legally requires women’s sentences for violent crimes to be reduced in a nation where a man needs to climb a clock tower to tell his daughter he loves her I can’t support anyone or anything from the UK.

    • Ireland isn’t in the UK dingus

      • Oddly thats not the case, Ireland is part of the UK its one reason why the IRA is so dead set on its liberation. Tell me did you make up dingus or did you go to a two year old for that?

        • Slightly off topic, however, Olly & Derek you are both right. The Republic of Ireland (Dublin being the capital) is an independent country, not part of the UK. Northern Ireland (the capital being Belfast where my ma is from) is part of the UK. It is my understanding that Hasbro is in the Republic.

  6. How about some parenting so that the daughter doesn’t become an entitled princess?
    There are somethings I don’t get.
    1.How did the kid get the idea that Hasbro owes her anything?
    2.If she doesn’t like the game, why play it?
    3.If she would like to play the game with a different set od cards, why not make new ones herself or with her mom?
    4.Why does she need cards at all? I remeber playing a similar game, but we didn’t have any cards (or any equipment for the matter, just us) and we had no restrictions on the people you had to ask about.

    • I know why is it so criticaly the game company spefically change a game that is older than the mother now no one owes her at the company there are greater injustices to worry about than this.

  7. John Anderson says:

    I never played the game, but couldn’t the math problem be solved by adding more total characters, who are female? Eliminating half the characters with one guess doesn’t affect the math if I start out with twice the number of characters.

  8. I think that “R” sounds like a very smart little girl that even at 6, has picked up on a very mature theme that we ALL talk about here regrading the respect we feel our gender deserves. She hasn’t done anything different then each one of has done by being part of the conversation at GMP. I find it rude to insult her (referring to her as an “entitled princess”) for talking about something so many of us here talk about regularly.

    Alot of games seem to more easily include male characters then female. Maybe it’s not a big deal to some guys, but it’s not so great when you are a girl. I also like “R’s” mother who I think handled the situation respectfully. Neither R’s or her mother’s letters where rude. I was as baffled by Harsbo’s response to “R” as her mother was. I don’t think “R’s” complaint is one of a spoiled princess but just of a little girl that would like more choices, like her brother has, to play a game. She felt marginalized and she productively channeled that through writing a letter with her Mom. What a great lesson! She took action! Don’t we want our children to do something productive and take positive action if they truly believe in something instead of just accepting what is given out?

    Unfortunetly, Hasbro probably doesn’t have a great mixture of ethnic characters either. Minorities are largely under-respressented in games and toys. But again, unfortunetly, I think ehthic children just come to accept this on some scale since they don’t see themselves represented that much to begin with. I just wonder what kind of message this leaves them with in their developing years. It’s probably a message they are absorbing that they don’t even know they are about their place in the world.

    I have found a problem myself when I try to shop for cards for my ethnic friends. Most cards will show two or more white women hugging and laughing together but I can never find a card that shows an African American or Indian woman hugging and laughing with a White woman. It’s very frustrating.

  9. If it is so important to have five cards of one sex and nineteen of the other, Hasbro could have made their game with five boy cards and nineteen girl cards.

  10. I can see both sides of the problem. I understand that some kids would prefer to pick a character of their own gender, but I also understand the math problem splitting the sexes presents. Making male-ness the default allows them to make 5 bald guys and 5 guys with beards and 5 guys with moustaches and 5 guys without penises – oops, I mean 5 women…, and 5 “regular” guys, each of the fives is split by skin colour (2), eye colour (2), and hat wearing. You could have a 50:50 gender split, but then the other characteristics would have to be refined (unless you want to pick a bald lady with a moustache – which makes me think of my grandma in her very late years…).
    We’ve got this game and my kids (1 boy, 1 girl) pick their characters randomly from the face down pile of cards – then it’s who do you have, not who are you. I like this game because it teaches some skills on observing and analysing and thinking about your questions.
    I thought Hasbro did a pretty good job answering the questions, except they didn’t seem to understand that fundamentally the concern was that it’s not fair to have fewer female characters than male – which is a separate truth.

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