Sisters Stephanie Guidetti, left, and Suzanne Hand give each other a high five while demonstrating their game, "Madame President." Amanda Parker, a marketing executive who helped the sisters create the game, sits at center. Credit: Deb Cram | The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — In the lead-up to this fall’s mid-term election, there’s a lot of buzz about “the year of the women,” as women are running in greater numbers than ever before for state and national office. But is that “can do” message percolating down to daughters or granddaughters? And will it lead to the White House?

Two sisters from York pondered that question following the 2016 presidential election, when a woman ran as a major party nominee for the U.S. presidency for the first time.

“It became a reality that there could be a woman president,” said Suzanne Hand, “and young girls could see that. Why not encourage and empower girls to be successful in that way? I was a preschool teacher, so that’s where my head is. And I think you have to start young.”

She brought in sister Stephanie Guidetti, a marketing executive, and the result of their brainstorming is Madam President — a board game for girls that teaches the rudimentary skills of running for office in an interactive way that the sisters say is a lot of fun to boot. Now they are raising money, including a Kickstarter campaign, to bring the game to market.

“I think it could make a difference,” said Guidetti. “It teaches them leadership skills, cooperation, and how you run for president — like being successful at campaign stops, seeking donations and how to be successful in debates.”

The game is for two to four players, with a suggested age range of 8 and older. Every player has to collect chips correlating to six areas: community, good decisions, experience, learning, ability and character. Depending on where their piece lands on the board, they get cards that tell them about actions they have to take or congratulating them on their decisions. Collaboration is also key. So for instance, one card has the congratulatory message, “You helped another woman get elected to public office.” Another said, “You bounced back, which means you don’t give up.”

“People are competitive by nature, but when we collaborate there are much better outcomes,” said Guidetti. “There’s a lot of high-fiving other players.”

But there are also “STOP” cards, so the players take a moment to consider a message. “One says, ‘People are discouraging you. Stay focused.’ Another says, ‘People say you can’t do this because you’re a girl. Not true.’ There’s one that says, ‘You are listening to negative comments. Stop,’” said Guidetti. “It’s not only positive messaging, it’s also realistic.”

The ultimate goal, obviously, is to make it to the White House.

The two sisters early on brought in Amanda Parker, a marketing professional who worked with Guidetti. What if something similar was already available, they wondered? So Parker began to do research, delving into game market. What she found was a “huge gap.”

“If you look at the market in terms of games for girls, there are a certain number of games that are gender neutral, like Monopoly and Sorry, and that’s perfectly fine,” Parker said. “But there’s a huge gap in the market of games that educate and empower girls. The girls section of toy stores is all pink and frilly — not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not sending an empowering message, either.”

“There’s even a pink Monopoly game for girls. There’s nothing that takes girls’ ambitions seriously,” Guidetti said, shaking her head.

“Just the opposite. The games that are out there dumb them down. How do you look? How popular are you? Shopping games,” said Hands. “There’s a general superficial messaging that is prevalent in our society.”

The women started a company, aptly named Athena Unlimited, for the goddess of wisdom. And they began creating a prototype game. From the start, it was important to them that all girls see themselves as of value. And so the packaging artwork depicts girls of different ages, sizes, races and abilities.

It was also important to them that the game steer clear of all political overtones. “We do not bring party-driven issues into the game,” said Guidetti.

“It was important to us to educate and empower, but also important not to put political thoughts into the girls’ heads,” said Parker. “It focuses on character development and leadership skills, but it doesn’t focus on party politics.”

When the prototype was ready, they tried it out on three girls age 8, 10 and 12.

“As they were playing, I was watching them,” said Parker. “They had a great time and wanted to play again. But it informed us about how girls would play the game, and that we needed to simplify and clarify the language.”

The women are taking this slowly. They have raised more than $12,000 toward their $15,000 Kickstarter goal, although the campaign ends Aug. 8 and they are hoping to receive enough donations to see them over the line. That money will allow them to create 1,000 limited edition games, which they anticipate will cost $35 per game.

They will plow the money back into the business and build up their customer base slowly. At least at the start, all sales will be through their website, But they’re hoping they can expand Madam President into toy stores and expand their products in years to come – to include more board games, coloring books, maybe an app.

All three women see this game as a way to begin to give girls a sense of self-worth in a society that doesn’t always find them worthy.

“This game is such a great idea. There’s a lot going on in our society that says women don’t have equal access. So you have to start younger,” said Guidetti. “Confident girls become confident women.”

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