Dispatch From the Gender Wars: Boardgames

It’s well-known among my friends that I have an affection for things that are old, kitschy, and weird, particularly when they relate to gender roles and pop culture. Heck, it’s well-known by the readers of this blog – I wrote about this topic just last month. What you might not know is that a semi-regular event at Comicazi is a board game night with the slightly unwieldy moniker “Super Happy Fun Game Night.” (Don’t ask.) And recently my friend Gary came across a board game that he knew would be right up my alley. He bought it for me, and when he presented it he had one stipulation – that we would play it at the next Super Happy Fun.

I readily agreed and true to my word, brought it along to the last game night. The name of this gem? “What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game for Career Girls.”


It looked so innocent.

The game dated back to the 1960’s, so I had a sneaking suspicion that the “careers” for girls wouldn’t be quite the same as the ones we’d see in a game made today – or that most of the women I know actually hold. “What Shall I Be?” did not disappoint in this regard – if anything, it was an even bleaker picture than I’d imagined. This naturally made it much more fun to play, albeit in a slightly horrifying way – the actual game mechanics aren’t terribly exciting, but the dated expectations of women and the fact that two of the players were actually men made the results hilarious.


Gotta have good hair to work for the airline.

There are six careers a gal can aspire to – teacher, nurse, airline hostess, actress, model, or ballerina. Yes, girls, exactly one-sixth of you have a reasonable expectation of being a ballerina someday. Ballet is the cornerstone of our economy.

The game mechanics, as I mentioned, are simple to the point of being stultifying. In order to have a career, the girls playing (sorry Garth and Gary) need to circle the board according the roll of a rather charming set of wooden dice. As they circumnavigate the board, always in a clockwise fashion (good career girls are never rebellious!) there are opportunities to pick up the following cards:

School Cards – like the one pictured above. You need four of the same one to win, corresponding to your exciting career. Teachers go to college. Nurses go, predictably, to nursing school. Models, somewhat inexplicably, matriculate in charm school. You get the idea.

Personality Cards – pictured below. These ones shaped like hearts, and you need to get two that match your chosen career to win. They can be positive or detrimental and include important traits like “pretty” and “thin,” because everyone knows that looks are the cornerstone of a good career! (Of course, if your career choices include model and actress, I suppose that’s true.


My fate was sealed due to being too excited. I guess it’s better than the Victorian version, “hysterical.”


Finally, as pictured above, you need the round orange Subject Cards, two of ’em, to finish your win. These are things you are good at and important to your career, like how well you put on make-up, or things that can work against you, like being bad at styling your hair. You need to match these to your career to win, because if there’s one thing we know, it’s that models definitely do their own hair and make up.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, most of the careers require you to be thin, pretty, and good with your makeup (though not necessarily the ballerina, as we will soon see.) Sure, teacher or nurse have some token “Good at Biology” or “Stays calm” cards, but for the most part, good looks and style are what it takes to get ahead in life in this game – clumsy, zaftig ladies with no make-up need not apply.

After a protracted battle in which I attempted (successfully!) to crush Gary’s dream of becoming an airline hostess, a clear victor finally emerged – our own Tiny Doom gathered the necessary cards to become a ballerina! I guess we’ll have to call her Tiny Dancer from now on.


Tiny Dancer is strong like bull.

She deliberately chose to avoid any of the grace and beauty cards, resulting a ballerina who is strong, a hard-worker, fit and well-trained – essentially the perfect ballerina straight out of the USSR. Brava, Tiny Doom!

In case you were curious, YES, there IS a version for boys, and no, somehow, “handsome” was forgotten as a necessary trait for a job. Gary was intrigued enough to track down this one as well, so perhaps we’ll play again and try for something a little different.

Personality Cards

Oh look, the personality cards are largely related to personality traits!

Lest you be concerned, yes, I am aware that these are just board games, and that they’re very old and not necessarily reflective of how a game like this would look now. Yet I think it’s important, as we gender segregate our Legos and continue to get “boy” or “girl” toys with our fast food, to think about the impact that play has on how kids perceive themselves. Games like “What Shall I Be?” are just play, but in some ways, how we play is practice for how and who we’re going to be in real life. I’m glad we’ve gotten away from anything as blatant as this, but I worry, at times, that we’re slipping back.


Aw man, I could have been a Statesman – if I were born a boy!

Agree? Disagree? Tell me all about it in the comments!









  1. Aime

    You had me at Zaftig and Tiny Dancer, total gem of a post! Maybe we need to update this game: marathoner, blogger, food adventurer, non profit reading maven, alas you have won the real game!

  2. tinydoom

    Well, with my new career I can tell you my grandmother is finally happy. It almost surprises me that there isn’t a more updated version of this game…one that both genders can play together.

  3. Gary

    Awesome post! So much fun to play, even though you crushed my airline hostess dream. I think it’s interesting that now, 40 some odd years after these games came out, all the careers listed are not just specifically geared towards males or females. For instance, there are now male nurses and airlines hostesses (or hosts?) as well as women astronauts. I don’t believe you saw too much of that back in the 60’s.

  4. Spinning For Difficulty

    The concept which stick out the most for me is that you need to do the hard work to develop skills and character traits to achieve a career in X. That is a concept which seems to be often absent in today’s (youth) culture of entitlement.

    The game’s career choices may have been limited but that was just a reflection of the times (obviously). What has restricted women’s (and men’s!) choices of careers has always been technology. For most of history ‘work’ outside of the home meant manual labour of some kind or other. As technology progressed that work became considerably less gruelling, dangerous, exhausting, unhealthy and labour intensive …. and thus more attractive to women. At the same time new technology has made us increasingly more productive and wealthy, allowing us to increase standards of living (and health and safety) at home AND in the work environment.

    It’s no coincidence that woman only expressed a desire to enter the workplace AFTER it became a largely safe, comfortable, indoor, carpeted, mechanised, air conditioned environment involving little to know manual labour. The feminist notion that women desperately wanted to do men’s work (coal mining, farm labouring, fishing, construction work by hand etc) for the centuries previous to that, but that men prevented them because they considered manual labour to be a ‘male privilege’ only for them is frankly preposterous.

    We KNOW it’s preposterous because today – now that most of us CAN choose between manual labour jobs and ‘office’ type jobs – the vast majority of us (men AND women) choose to do non-manual labour jobs in safe and comfortable indoor environments.

    The 20th century was a period of especially rapid change where new opportunities created for men AND women were made available because of new technology. At the start of the 20th century most homes did not have any household appliances, or electricity ….. and outside the home manual labour jobs still dominated. People still used horses FFS! By the end of the 20th century we had mod cons, internet, wifi, ipods, dyson vacuum cleaners, plastics…. and most jobs were now in service industries in trendy offices. Even farms were mechanised and tractors had hermetically sealed cabs with CD players and A/C.

    The 1960’s represented the middle of that transition, and therefore less job opportunities for both men and women. Thanks to feminism’s monopoly on gender issues we rarely hear about men being ‘chained to the coal mine’, or ‘chained to the shipyards’ or ‘chained to the open fields’ …. but that was the reality for most men at the time when their wives were at home ‘chained to the kitchen sink’.

    What kept women ‘chained to the kitchen sink’ was not ‘men’ … it was the fact that work outside the home was still too dangerous, too exhausting, too filthy, too physically strenuous to be attractive to women.

    If such a board game existed today what would the desirable careers be (for men and women)? … I’m seeing pop star, reality TV star, movie star, celebrity youtuber…..

    ….. for this career you will need: exposed cleavage, all over tan, immaculate teeth, a bubbly personality, a lack of moral integrity, mainstream political view (or better yet no political views), narcissistic tendencies ….

    Ah, progress! 🙂

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