Guess Who? Child Spanks Hasbro on Gender Inequality

A six-year-old writes Hasbro to harp on an UNequal opportunity board game.

Remember Guess Who?

(No, not 1960s Canadian rock and rollers the Guess Who, original performers of “American Woman,” famously covered by Lenny Kravitz but which is totally better coming from a bunch of Canadians.)

Remember Guess Who? — the board game.

The six-year-old daughter of Irish journalist Jennifer O’Connell — is there anything more precocious than an Irish six-year-old? — wrote the manufacturers of the game, Hasbro, to lament the fact that there are 19 male characters and only 5 female characters to choose from.

Hasbro? More like Hastoomanybros, AM I RIGHT, PEOPLE.

Here’s her letter:

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.

My mum typed this message but I told her what to say.

Preach, sister.

In response, Hasbro engages sincerely with the nascent feminist’s complaint. Oh wait, no, that’s the opposite of what happened.

Dear R___,

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.

Kind Regards,


At this point, O’Connell, aka “mum,” decides to enter the conversation.

Dear ___,

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?

Kind regards,


Jennifer O’Connell

Female gender is regarded as a “characteristic” while male gender is not because being male is NORMAL, Jennifer. Please, you’re a 37-year-old woman with a Masters. I shouldn’t have to mansplain this to you.

Hasbro was kind enough to respond, so props to them for that. Still, their second reply remains as slimy and corporate as ever.

Dear Jennifer,

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.

Dear R____,

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 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.

Kind Regards,
Hasbro Consumer Affairs
Hasbro UK Ltd

It’s not about winning, Hasbro. It’s about sending a message. Get with the times if you don’t want to be Hasbeens HEYOO.

Originally appeared at HyperVocal


Photo—greg westfall/Flickr

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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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