London Heathrow for Kids: They Get It a Bit Right and a Bit Wrong

I flew out of London Heathrow yesterday after a quick work trip. Last time I was there I noticed that they were trying to make it a better experience for kids with the character of Mr. Adventure:

heathrow mr adventure

He’s all happy and fun and adventurous and welcoming. I can’t say my Heathrow security experience was as fun as all that, but I applaud their efforts to lighten it up, especially for kids, whom I can imagine would find it even more tedious.

In the waiting area where you wait for your gate to be posted they have a play zone for kids. That’s another plus because it lets the kids be active instead of sitting around, and chances are they’ll be sitting around for a long time once aboard.

But I was dismayed to see that, in contrast to Mr. Adventure, the feature character at the play area is Little Miss Naughty. She’s the bad girl who breaks the rules. A sign implores the children not to be like Little Miss Naughty:

Heathrow little miss

Now, maybe it’s just because I was stressed about timing even before I got to security (because traffic!). Then the long wait for the random search of my laptop and liquids bag (all to code, I might add) just compounded things because the gates are so darn far away (like 15 minutes if you use the moving walkways). But I found the representation of Little Miss Naughty to be an infuriating reminder of the way girls and boys are differently presented. Mr. Adventure is all positive. Little Miss Naughty is all bad.

Not only that, it made me think about the gender gap where kids’ activity is concerned. Boys are encouraged to be active; girls not so much. So it annoyed me to see Little Miss Naughty as the one who needed rules, being told not to climb. It seemed like an example of the way girls get reprimanded for expressing themselves through activity.

It could be that I’m reading more into it than is warranted. But something about these gendered representations, pitched at children, doesn’t sit right with me. It feels like a micro-aggression, perpetuating subtle messages about the different and gendered expectations placed on boys and girls.

What do you think about Mr. Adventure and Little Miss Naughty?

19 thoughts on “London Heathrow for Kids: They Get It a Bit Right and a Bit Wrong

  1. Yes, ridiculous. I can just see the meeting where the agreed that OBVIOUSLY adventure can’t be a girl because then she’d be misadventure, blissful unaware that the honorifics themselves are also problematic (and unnecessary). Why on earth are these characters even gendered at all?

      1. Oh good god. I didn’t even notice that part (too busy steaming about the whole thing in general).

  2. Yup, it’s everywhere; it’s insidious; and it sucks! Recently at a cheap chain clothes store, I moved several of the pink, glittery, passive girl’ T-shirts over into the boys section, and moved the dark blue ones with tractors, scientists, athletes and superheroes over into the girls section; it starts early, this restricting of females’ freedom and fitness : (

  3. They are using characters from the Mr. Happy series of books, presumably under license. Mr. Happy and Miss Naughty are two of the characters. Here is the link to see all the characters, which are pretty much equally split between positive and negative attributes between male and female characters.

  4. Actually, I don’t think they intended to imply that girls are naughty. Little Miss Naughty is an old character from books (since my childhood, at least, and I’m in my 40’s – I think they’re from the early 70’s). There are a whole bunch of other characters and, if i remember correctly. there’s a pretty even split between “good” and “bad” in the two genders. UK kids would recognize them.

    This isn’t to say that the series isn’t problematic (for starters, they’re called “Mr Men” and “Little Misses” – so, men and girls … ug). And, certainly, they didn’t handled this perfectly. If it were up to me, I would have had one of each gender representing both. Maybe Mr Adventure and Miss Wise, and then Miss Naughty and Mr Mischief or Mr Rude.

    Point being, I agree with your concerns, but I think you might have read to much into it – they were using established characters, but just didn’t have the brains to have both “good” boys and girls, and “bad” boys and girls.

    1. Interesting. I didn’t realize they were based on actual characters that would be familiar to British kids. Nevertheless, the “Mr” versus “Little Miss” is still an issue. And as you say, if there are more to choose from, why not be more inclusive? And finally, it may be a good idea to use a less UK-centric set of characters (if they’re trading on familiarity) since Heathrow is — ahem — an international airport! Thanks for your comment.

      1. Yeah, even as a kid, I found the “Little Miss” thing really annoying and patronizing. I can understand why they might want to use a UK character set (it’s really no different from us always having hockey, beavers, and Mounties everywhere), but there are other ones that are more modern and better known around the world (Peppa Pig and her family, for example).

  5. I kind of like Miss Naughty. At least girls get to be bad as opposed to passively good and quiet, the usual children’s book trope of wild boys and girls who calm and tame and care take.

  6. I completely disagree. Look at how gleeful she is! Rules signs are by default patronising and I can’t think of anything more feminist than a little girl sticking it to the Airport Authority. If I was an exhausted mom trying to get somewhere with little kids the subversive nature of this sign would make me smile.

  7. Reading the comments for this post was really useful. I’m so glad you brought this to our attention, as it’s a good way to think through the complicated gender associations that go with things like meant to be banal signage. I have to say, I would have preferred neutral rule followers and breakers; it might be easier for international visitors. And is the word “naughty” going to be meaningful for non-native English speakers? On the other hand, I did like the idea of a girl wreaking havoc in the security area. But let’s make it more fun– I’d prefer the illustrations to be more extreme. After all, this is not IKEA– they can put in more detail, esp. since they kitted out Mr. Adventure with a backpack, flag, hat, etc. Why does Little (argh) Miss Naughty get only an ugly dark green weird bow?

    Anyway, loved reading this– it was a highlight of my busy work day!

  8. For anyone not familiar with the series.

    This series was a favorite of mine growing up. I totally agree that the two characters they picked gives a subtle message to children. A message that seems to be insidious for the girls of today. Especially since some other characters exist but they could have chose, like mr. mischief or little miss fun. Now that I’m looking at it from an adult perspective, the whole series is flawed though. Gender stereotypes all over the series, but overall, still positive messages to children.

  9. Hi Tracy!
    Some context. The Tube (Transport for London) began running adverts over the summer to help customers (probably locals, very probably tourists) navigate the system more cordially. They all feature the Mr and Little Miss characters. Typical adverts include notes for “Mr Dizzy” who “had a funny turn on his way to work” and so was encouraged to get off the train at the next stop and seek help; and Little Miss Stubborn, who would not move into the middle of her carriage with her shopping, thus pissing off all the people crowded into the doorways. Overall there was, I found, (some) balance among the male characters’ representations (Mr Dizzy couldn’t help getting sick, but another male character was being unnecessarily helpful and then held up the whole train), but Little Miss Stubborn was representative of how women appeared in the adverts. I recall it being called out at least once on Woman’s Hour, the BBC Radio program.
    So no, you’re not making this up; it’s a feature of using this framework as though it’s neutral (as noted above, these are old characters from another time, gender-awareness-wise), and not thinking carefully about how it might impact children especially. The airport authority in this case really ought to have paid a bit more attention, since their primary audiences here are parents and children.
    Hope your flight was good!

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