Guess Who? (Credit: Hasbro)
When Jennifer O'Connell's six-year old daughter was playing the Hasbro board game "Guess Who?" with her brothers, she noticed something was a little off.
The game, which encourages kids to guess which character their opponents have chosen based on facial characteristics, features 19 boys and 5 girls. That, the toddler thought to herself, didn't seem fair, so she decided to hip Hasbro to the issue. And in the end, she proved to be a heck of a lot more cognizant than the corporate automatons she reached out to.
Her first step was to write a note to 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."
The company responded to her, but mostly missed the whole point of her letter. Instead, it sent a rambling note filled with phrases seemingly plucked from a marketing checklist.
"Guess Who? Is a guessing game based on numerical equation," they wrote, adding that the game "is not weighted in favour of any particular character, male or female." They also described the way "Guess Who?" was played while largely ignoring the issue of gender misrepresentation.
"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," they wrote, ending with a boilerplate corporate signoff.
O'Connell took things into her own hands at that point, scolding the toy company for its lack of an answer and its inability to speak to its young customer base in a direct and child-friendly way.
"I must confess that, despite being 37 years of age and educated to Masters level, I am equally at a loss," she wrote. "Why is female gender regarded as a 'characteristic', while male gender is not?"
Hasbro finally wrote O'Connell and her daughter back with an answer that was a little more appropriate, though it still sounds a bit like a blow-off to adult ears ("We love your suggestion of adding more female characters to the game and we are certainly considering it for the future"). It also offered to send extra sheets for the game with equal numbers of girls and boys.
But the company couldn't help slip into marketing mode at the end, adding "We hope your mum does not throw out your Guess Who game!"
Awesome mother/daughter team: 1. Corporate behemoth: zero.