Roger Hargreaves, much beloved author and illustrator of the Mr Men and Little Miss books died in 1988 leaving a much-loved legacy. His son Adam took over, somewhat reluctantly, but soon got into the swing of things. Bizarrely, I think, the name Roger Hargreaves remains on the front cover even of the books created long after Roger’s death.
I will make a passing mention that the Mr Men are “Mister” and “Men”, while the women characters in the series are explicitly “Little” and “Miss”. I am going to have to put that down to the fact that Roger was born in 1935 and had some specific views on the proper relationship between exactly two sexes.
Fast forward to 2014 and the publication of a book with the very round and very pink Little Miss Hug.
Miss Hug can work magic with a little bit of intimacy and a bit of touch. Touch and intimacy are wonderful things for most of us, and most people respond warmly to genuinely selfless, self-giving hugs. It seems that Miss Hug is just the right sort of person to give out these things. Maybe Little Miss Codependent was already taken, but she does seem to thrive on raising people’s mood. She’s a firm believer that hugs can fix anything that doesn’t need an ambulance (and a hug would go down well there too).
In the book, we see her helping Little Miss Tiny, Mr Small, Mr Bump and Mr Greedy. Little Miss Quick gets a birthday hug. It’s all very happy and lovely.
But then, as we segue from the introduction into act two, Miss Hug encounters a very grumpy Mr Grumpy. Poor Mr Grumpy is grumpy because the sun is out, and he’s having a right royal rant about it. At this point, I put down the book and have a quick discussion with my young children about the whole issue of consent. Because what Miss Hug does next is clearly and unambiguously assault and battery.
Quick as a flash, Little Miss Hug ran around the hedge, stretched out her arms and hugged Mr Grumpy…
Mr Grumpy pushed her away.
“Get off me!” shouted Mr Grumpy.
It could not be laid out any more clearly than that.
Here, I talk again to the children and get them to notice that, not only has Miss Hug grabbed onto Mr Grumpy without his prior consent, he has now explicitly told her not to touch him. It was not OK for her to grab him in the first place, and his actions and words have confirmed this in no uncertain terms. She has no moral nor legal authority to touch him at all.
So, what does she do? She hugs him again.
She hangs on to him in spite of his continued protestation. There is even a picture of a very grumpy Mr Grumpy clearly in shock at having his personal space invaded over his clearly stated wishes, with Miss Hug clinging on for dear life.
It all ends well, of course (in the book, anyway): Miss Hug’s magic hug slowly melts through and Mr Grumpy ends up smiling and he even returns the hug. But that really is missing the point. Miss Hug assaulted Mr Grumpy and had her actions affirmed by the narrative. It sends the message to our children that a) they have a duty to touch people who do not wish to be touched and that b) if someone wants to hug you, then you are wrong if you do not want them to: you have to suck it up and allow the assault to proceed.
I guess it’s a tricky concept to convey in 16 pages of toddler-friendly text, but it really should have been presented differently. If Miss Hug needed to hug Mr Grumpy so badly, she should have spoken to him and presented her case for the benefits of her own hug therapy and invited him to try it out with no pressure on him to accept her offer. Even if the therapy is guaranteed to work, and a person is going to feel better for it, it is not acceptable to force that therapy onto someone who has not asked for it. It is doubly not acceptable to continue to force the therapy onto someone who has asked you to stop.
It’s all about consent. Regular readers of this blog (there is one, I am assured) will know that I am trying to teach my children what consent is and that they have the right to refuse consent at the beginning of an interaction, and that they have the right to withdraw consent at any point during an interaction. Miss Hug allows Mr Grumpy neither of these options. Her tried-and-tested techniques are guaranteed to make people feel better and they’re damn well going to feel better whether they want to or not.
“I know what you’re trying to do,” said Mr Grumpy… “I am grumpy and I like being grumpy…”
If that’s not clear, I don’t know what is. Miss Hug must have cotton wool in her ears.
So, by all means, read this book to your kids, but please use it as a way to teach them about consent and assault, and point out that, even though Mr Grumpy is happy at the end of the story, that doesn’t begin to justify the initial assault. I like to imagine one more page that goes
Then the police arrived and carted Miss Hug away for a well-deserved rest.
Be well, and I hope nobody invades your space without consent today.