Mr Men at centre of sexism row as feminist accuses Mr Clever of 'mansplaining'

The claims centre on a conversation between Mr Clever and Little Miss Curious, and a pun about the Forth Bridge in Scotland.
The claims centre on a conversation between Mr Clever and Little Miss Curious, and a pun about the Forth Bridge in Scotland. Credit:  Mr Men in Scotland/ Mr Men in Scotland

It was meant as an innocuous joke to amuse young children.

But on Monday Mr Men found itself at the centre of a sexism storm when a feminist academic condemned a gag as an example of "mansplaining".

The claims centre on a conversation between Mr Clever and Little Miss Curious, and a pun about the Forth Bridge in Scotland.

An exasperated Mr Clever explains the Unesco site is so-called because of the Forth River, after Little Miss Curious asks “what happened to the First, the Second and the Third Bridges”

It resulted in a backlash from PhD student Shelby Judge. She accused Roger Hargreaves’ long-running series of perpetuating “antiquated gender roles” and branded its illustrated characters part of a “sexist iconography”. 

The 24-year-old academic said Mr Clever’s clarifying comment in the book, Mr Men in Scotland, is an example “mansplaining”, and said the book was telling girls they “need to be stupid”.

The publishers dismissed her concern, saying the pun by the sightseeing fictional creations was nothing more than the characters getting up to their “usual antics”.

 

"They're using Mr Men to enforce these ridiculous antiquated gender roles,” English literature student Ms Judge said.

"It's meant to be a funny joke, but then it's always at the expense of women.  It’s punching down. You don't have to joke at the expense of anyone, there's just no need.

“It's an example of these tiny things that build up to create a whole patchwork quilt of sexist iconography that every child of any gender is going to internalise."

Ms Judge, studying at the University of Glasgow, claimed that jokes never need to be at anyone’s expense.  She would however welcome a satirical “Mr Mansplain” character in Misterland, who could be mocked for his attitudes.

The PhD student uncovered the allegedly misogynist Mr Men material during a visit to  Stirling Castle where the book, with a reading age of three and up, was being sold in the gift shop.

The passage from Mr Men in Scotland Credit: Kennedy News and Media/Kennedy News and Media

In the offending passage, Little Miss Curious naively asks what happened to bridges preceding the Forth Bridge, before Mr Clever explains the name comes from the River Forth.  The blonde character then questions what happened to the “The River First, the River Second and the River Third”, before the bespectacled Mr Clever sighs: “It was going to be a long day”.

Ms Judge said of the gift shop volume’s message: "They don't need to rely on such tired gender stereotypes for a children's story about Scotland.” 

"Why is that what you want to give as part of your souvenirs?  It's the very definition of a micro aggression.”

The publisher of Mr Men, now penned by the late Mr Hargreaves’ son Adam, has denied there is anything sinister in the special regional Mr Men adventure, which sees the nominatively determined characters acting out their various compulsions.  Mr Strong tosses a caber, Mr Tickle pesters the Loch Ness Monster, and Mr Noisy plays the bagpipes.

"In Mr Men Scotland, the many Mr Men and Little Miss characters in the book get up to their usual antics,” a spokesperson for publishers Egmont UK said.

“The book is a celebration of Scotland and its unique heritage sites."

Mr Men has previously been criticised for alleged sexism, over the marital title given to female characters, and the negative traits given to the Little Misses, including “Bossy”.