The first call came last week from Pat Reuss, one of the leading women's lobbyists in town. She'd seen an ad in the paper for a new board game from Parker Bros., and she was outraged.
The game is called Careers for Girls. And the careers are -- hold on to your MBAs out there -- fashion designer, animal doctor, college graduate, schoolteacher, supermom and rock star.
"Have they forgotten Sally Ride?" asked Reuss.
The second call was from one of the most prominent lawyers in town, Marna Tucker. She had gotten a call from another woman lawyer about the game, and that prompted Tucker to go to a toy store and look at it. Among other things, it comes in a hot pink box with all sorts of subliminal messages, including a bracelet that says "baby" in one corner on the back.
Tucker called Parker Bros.' president and got a call back from the company's legal counsel, a woman. The two women lawyers did not see eye to eye on this game.
"I said that I was upset that they had adopted new stereotypes for women's jobs," Tucker said. "This woman, who was very nice, said this was not a game about role models, it was strictly entertainment for preteen girls. I said, 'Oh, is next year's entertainment game going to be Little Black Sambo?' She told me that the jobs were based on marketing surveys, and I said, 'Where were the marketing surveys done? In Saudi Arabia?'
"You can't just use marketing surveys with no sense of responsibility.
"I said, 'I can't believe you can be a woman lawyer in this day and age' " and not see what is offensive about the game.
Deb deSherbinin, senior product manager at Parker Bros., defended the game yesterday and said it was "intended for entertainment purposes only. All the careers in it are good. Parker Brothers had no intention of stereotyping girls at all, and that is really shocking to us. Parker Brothers recognized girls want to have careers just like boys. There's nothing sexist about careers such as a doctor or a rock star. The game was designed by a woman, art was managed by a woman and I'm the marketing woman behind it. It was done by women based on what we saw girls wanted."
Games are among the many tools that societies use to guide boys and girls into growing up the way society wants them to. Black leaders and feminist leaders have long understood the importance of role models and examples both in limiting people's aspirations and in pushing them to strive to new heights. Women of accomplishment who are in their sixties and seventies often say they looked upon the early women pilots, such as Amelia Earhart, as role models.
What's offensive about Careers for Girls is that the women's movement has spent the last 25 years fighting career tracks and stereotypes about what's appropriate work for women so that women can have the same career choices as men. Women know very well that it is no accident that the professions in which they dominate numerically are the least well paid, and millions of women have gone into so-called nontraditional jobs to have better careers.
In a small sense, Careers for Girls would have represented progress had it come out in the late '60s because it makes the mini-leap from nurse to animal doctor, which was a field then closed to women. But we are now in the '90s, not the '60s, and we have lots of women veterinarians, and we don't need throwbacks that limit the expectations of the next generation of little girls.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of physicians, lawyers and judges are women, as are 35 percent of our economists and 32 percent of our computer programmers. Half of our bartenders are women. Women provide 3 percent of our airplane pilots and navigators, nearly 15 percent of our architects, 9 percent of our dentists, 13 percent of our police officers and almost 5 percent of our welders. According to the Small Business Administration, women are starting most of the new businesses, and women now own 30 percent of all businesses. We have more than 700,000 women scientists.
Careers for Girls bills itself as the fame, fortune and happiness game. Besides the blatant sexism of suggesting to young girls that there are only six careers open to them, the six the game-makers picked do very little to help young girls expand a vision of themselves and visualize themselves becoming all that they can be. College graduate is not a career. Nor, for that matter, is supermom.
What the toymakers ought to be doing is awakening young people of both sexes to the extraordinary range of careers open to them. If there is one unifying message of the modern women's movement, it is that sex-based careers are out. And so are sex-based career games.