What’s a Girl to Do?

Kids often use play to explore adult roles, and toy and game makers are only too glad to produce playthings that tap into that behavior. The museum’s collection includes a group of games that provide revealing illustrations of adult perspectives on how kids can or should envision their roles as adults.

In the late 1960s, Selchow & Righter, most famous for Parcheesi and Scrabble, produced board games titled What Shall I Be? in variations tailored to boys and girls. A competitor to the better-known Parker Brothers game Careers, What Shall I Be? offered kids the chance to think about what they wanted to be as adults. If you were a boy, What Shall I Be? offered you the option to pick from doctor, astronaut, engineer, scientist, athlete, or statesman. (Maybe it’s just me but, even though I might have fantasized as a kid about being president or ruling the world—in a benevolent way, not as a supervillain—I never thought about being a statesman.)

Given the era, What Shall I Be? presented quite a different set of options for girls. In the 1966 version of the game, girls could grow up to be a ballerina, stewardess, teacher, model, nurse, or actress. The cover of the game box includes illustrations of women in all those careers, some wearing stylish almost-miniskirts. When the game was reissued in 1972, the box cover had been updated with photographs and fashions but the women still represented the same careers as six years earlier. However, the instructions for the game reflected the bigger changes going on in society and let girls know that they had further possibilities: “Today, women can be found doing anything from performing surgery to designing spaceships. Maybe you would make a better pilot than a stewardess or a better photographer than a model. Be sure and look into all the possibilities before you decide.”

I can only hope that girls playing What Shall I Be? in the 1970s paid close attention to the instructions and envisioned more possibilities than the game itself offered.