By Lisa Suennen

First Posted at Venture Valkyrie on 3/12/2013

Lisa Suennen, The Venture Valkyrie

Lisa Suennen, The Venture Valkyrie

“Hot Child in the City, Running Wild Looking Pretty”–Nick Gilder

It’s been a while since I got up on my feminist high horse. I mean seriously, how many times can you write about how the number of women at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference approximates the number of women in the starting line-up of SF Giants baseball team?  So I’ve stuck to healthcare and investing topics and let others fight the good XX fight for a while (props to the women at XX in HealthSpringboard and Astia, by the way).

I even kept my keyboard shut when I saw recently released US Census data reporting that even in the traditionally female role of nursing, the few men that join the field significantly out-earn the women. Men comprise about 9.6% of nurses in the U.S. and their female counterparts earn about 90% of what the men do.  Seriously?  Give a girl a break.

Maybe 10% taller but not 10% better

But every once in a while one sees something that she just can’t ignore.  For me that was last week when I heard about a new Disney online game called City Girl.  Out came my keyboard.  Sorry boys, but I am woman and I feel the need to roar.

I live in a world where only about 1 in 10 of my peers are women and where, in an average week, there are no other women in the meetings I attend; I currently sit on three Boards of Directors and not another woman is in sight at any of them.  Of the hundreds of CEOs I meet each year, I would estimate that, at most, 5% are women.

CEO-Barbie-C_jpg_250x1000_q85There is a robust and active network among the few females in my field and these women regularly focus on engendering greater female participation at all levels.  For that to work, however—to actually result in more female CEOs and investment partners–there has to be a rich pool of women willing to try in the face of very poor odds.  Educating that next generation of women to seek the roles previously unavailable to them is a process that starts early in life.  Women, as girls, must be taught that they really can do anything they wish and have the breadth of their opportunity reinforced in the popular media and other places they dwell.  In the current world, much dwelling occurs online.

So when you see a game like City Girl, it is really easy to get annoyed. Brought to you by your (primarily male) friends at the Walt Disney Company’s online game division, Playdom, City Girl appears to be targeted to the middle school crowd.  And for a game marketed to girls who are just beginning to struggle with self-esteem and figuring out where they fit in the world, this game is about as bad as it gets in terms of negative female stereotypes.

city-girlPerhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Disney has evidenced its lack of sensitivity before in its Habit Heroes display at Disney World.  Furthermore, Disney has made a whole marketplace of media products featuring dead or suffering mothers paired with helpless women who need a man to save them: Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid…the list goes on and on.  But for a product—in this case an online game—whose sole audience is intended to be girls, you would think they might try a little harder.

The premise of the game is that you, the female protagonist, have just graduated from some country college and are leaving your sorority behind to go to the big city, Green Acres style.  Only in this case you are Eddie Albert in a dress and cleavage, not Eva Gabor.  If you go to the splash page of the City Girl game, here is what you read:

Pack your bags and head to the big city…

With suitcase in hand, it’s time to leave your small-town life behind and head to the big city to make your dreams come true! Do you have what it takes to skyrocket to stardom? In the spirit of Sorority Life, Disney City Girl gives players the chance to engage in a stylish and aspirational virtual world! As a recent New York transplant, the player will explore the city with the help of her fabulous friends, from BFF Jenna to adventurous Auntie Kate. She’ll discover the best places to shop and hang out, choose from a variety of glamorous career paths, and visit exotic locations. As she progresses through her career, your City Girl will accrue style points, continually decorating and upgrading apartments, expanding her wardrobe, and facing off with her friends in “Daily Look” fashion competitions! From a grungy studio to a Park Avenue penthouse, from overworked intern to successful CEO, from country bumpkin to glamour girl, City Girl will keep you coming back again and again.

Explore the glamorous world of City Girl!

  • Customize your avatar and be a fashion trendsetter!
  • Show off your style and compete with friends in “Daily Look” Competitions.
  • Upgrade apartments and decorate your dream home!

natasha_mirrorI decided to try out the game for myself to see what it was about.  And what I found was much worse than the text above suggests.  Maybe somewhere deep in the bowels of the game one might find their way to a CEO role, but in the more than an hour that I checked it out, the only activities I found for my character to do related to fashion, make-up, girl talk with friends, shopping and other activities that aren’t exactly the straight line path to the White House or the Board Room. Almost all the activities available involve changing clothes and decorating one’s apartment while collecting “good vibes” and “relationship” points. When you’re really humming along you get rewarded with a mirror for your apartment and new wallpaper choices.  Holy crap.

On the career front it was even sillier.  The only two career options one is first offered in the game are a) working in a dress shop en route to being a fashion designer; and b) working as a cook en route to being a chef.  There is nothing wrong with either of those careers, but there are no science, engineering, finance or other choices that are more traditionally associated with men (not even badly paid nurse opportunities).  In the chef apprentice option you are assigned to be trained by a sadistic sous chef named Claude who starts your training by suggesting you are inferior, that you will never see the actual chef and that he will be leading the show.  Claude sneers as he tells you to start washing dishes, “I want to see my reflection in every pot, even the cast iron ones.  Now go.”  It is truly surreal.

The good news: you can change careers to the fashion design track where you can stock shelves and fold clothes.  Maybe you can move up in this company to senior management, but I lost interest before finding out.

As you gain enough points to unlock new options, the next two career choices offered are Musician and Author.  Again, very esteemed careers but neither generally puts you on the path to running a Fortune 500 company or solving the world’s biggest challenges.

woman-doing-her-nails-vertOn the social front, you can go to your “BFF’s” house and, despite being in the Big Apple, home of more museums, live entertainment venues and speaker programs than anywhere on earth, here are your activity choices:  you can watch TV, use the toilet (oddly enough without removing your pants), look in the mirror, fix your nails, have a “light meal” (guess they want you to watch your figure!), sit and relax, sleep, dance and listen to music, or talk to a statue of Shakespeare, this being the closest thing to culture you are going to get in this game.  You can’t use the computer because that takes “extra knowledge points” and god knows they don’t give you those to start out, girlie.  Lest you get bored you can always participate in a Daily Look contest or go shopping again.  God help me.

The influence of the Internet and social networking and gaming are huge in the lives of our next potential generation of leaders.  It has long been acknowledged that most of the games, in particular, have been designed with boys in mind and that creativity needs to be applied to engage girls in a similar fashion. But is this really the best that one of America’s best companies can do?

Female-Athletes-STACKWhy isn’t one of the career choices in City Girl a game programmer or a role in a social networking company?  Why aren’t sports among the activity choices? Why do we send our girls the message that it’s beauty first and that it’s ok to take abusive crap from our male work colleagues?  If that’s what girls are raised to believe then there will forever be no line for the ladies room at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference; you will instead find them lined up to use the mirror at the Neiman Marcus makeup counter down the street and be happy for the opportunity.