Friday nights were game nights for my family, and Monopoly was always a top choice for the evening. Over the years the game took on personal dimensions, even the game pieces. The Scottie dog belonged to me, and the race car to my dad. The rest joined the board as my brother and sisters grabbed quickly, hoping for the iconic top hat, while my Mom always found herself stuck with the wheelbarrow or thimble. The game came to life as the six of us passed Go, took Chances, bought properties, and battled fiercely until there was an ultimate winner. Sometimes there were tears, often there was shouting, occasionally there was a thrown game piece or board, and always there were accusations of cheating and collusion. In the end, there were lessons.
The Hasbro release of Ms. Monopoly this week brought back a flood of memories, but also made me reflect. The toymaker announced the new board game with the tag line, “The first game where women make more than men.” I have the feeling that rule might have been challenged at my house, as would the winner if she happened to be female. In Ms. Monopoly, women start the game with more money than men $1,900 compared with $1,500, and as the game progresses the gap continues. Girls get $240 for passing “GO”, and boys receive just $200 for the same trip around the board. Ms. Monopoly also rewards men for attending a women’s rally, for authoring a piece about successful women, and even for watching a superhero movie with a female hero. In my experience, women don’t need a handout to compete - just an equal and fair game.
Hasbro may be well intentioned with Ms. Monopoly. It is being pitched as a game to show young women that they can be as successful as men while highlighting the wage gap. Ms. Monopoly is the niece of Mr. Monopoly – Rich Uncle Pennybags. She is a self-made investment expert, and in the game the players invest in inventions and businesses launched by women throughout history. This is a good idea, and maybe warrants a game of its own. According to the toymaker Ms. Monopoly is designed to spark conversations and to level the playing field by paying women more than men. A spokeswoman for Hasbro, Kristina Timmins shared, “We believe this game and its content embody a positive message about female empowerment that we hope is embraced by a wide variety of audiences.”
I have experienced the wage gap and faced discrimination, as have most of my female counterparts. In my opinion it doesn’t help to change reality by portraying women as needing special advantages. Women need to be treated and respected as equals. The game and its rules are trying to raise awareness of the disparities in the system, but this is not the best way to do this. The gender wage gap is real. Women in the U.S. earn 80% of what men earn, and the data is even more dramatic for minorities. The largest pay gap is for African-American female executives who earn only 63% of what white make executives earn. Additionally, women are shortchanged on bonuses, 401(K) matches, and Social Security benefits. Women ask for raises as often as men but are less likely to get them. Men are more frequently promoted, and there are only 24 women CEOs on the 2018 Fortune 500 list. In fact, Hasbro’s executive leadership team has seven men and only one woman.
The release of Ms. Monopoly feels like a marketing ploy pandering to women – a pinkwashing of the game to cash in on the rising women’s cultural movement. The game is not the proper vehicle for female empowerment. At a time when the Forbes 2019 list of America’s 100 Most Innovative Leaders includes only 1 woman, a game that exchanges the underlying issues for a reversed salary and reward paradigm clearly misses the mark on women’s empowerment. The problem is insidious, and to reduce it to a gender-based financial adjustment in a game is to make light of the systemic issues.
The most ironic fact is that while there is consensus among most historians that a woman – Lizzie Magie – was the inventor of the Monopoly game, Hasbro refuses to recognize her contribution. In 1904 she patented “The Landlord’s Game” which included all the rules for what became Monopoly, including opportunities to buy railroads and properties, collect and pay rent, “Go to Jail”, and take Chances. Magie sold her patent to Parker Bros. for $500 in 1935. Hasbro does not recognize Magie as the inventor, but instead credits Charles Darrow as the inventor of the game. With the launch of Ms. Monopoly it seems disingenuous for Hasbro to fail to mention the feminist foundations of the game.
On the positive side, Hasbro awarded $20,000 grants to three teenage girl entrepreneurs as an aspect of the Ms. Monopoly rollout. These young girls are inventors creating world-changing technologies that detect sinkholes before they collapse, determine lead in water, and identify harmful dyes in candy and soda. Despite the awards and support for these young women, Hasbro is receiving significant backlash on social media against Ms. Monopoly. It’s going to take more than a You Tube video and messaging about women’s empowerment to turn the situation around.
Monopoly was never a gender-based game. I became a real estate tycoon as often as my brother – unless he was the banker that week, in which case I am certain he cheated! Everyone in the family had a solid shot at winning irrespective of their gender. There was no subjectivity or bias in rolling the dice or picking the cards. Luck, strategy, and choices determined the outcome of the game. Give me my Scottie dog, $1,500 starting cash, and I promise a competitive fight on the path for real estate domination. Tycoon, or Tyqueen, I don’t care – give me Boardwalk!
Wake up! Women don’t need an imaginary game world where we make more than men. If you want to uplift female inventors, establish a Women’s Entrepreneurship Fund and let us compete based on our ideas and skills.