I just submitted the following complaint to the BBC regarding a children’s programme:

At 15:23 in the episode ‘Sinker’s Return’ of Swashbuckle, the two male crew characters (Cook and Line) hug the female captain character (Sinker) against her will. They do it because they are glad to see her, but she is making it quite clear (verbally and with body language) that she doesn’t want to be hugged, they physically trap her to hug her (in a rather uncomfortable position for her), and she doesn’t look particularly pleased when hugged. The whole thing is presented as being funny.

This promotes rape culture, by telling children of an impressionable age that

– it’s OK to initiate physical contact with someone against their will
– it’s OK to initiate physical contact with someone despite their expressly refusing consent
– it’s OK to physically obstruct someone from leaving an uncomfortable situation and trap them in order to make physical contact with them

Even though the hugging is not in the least portrayed as sexual, this scene still depicts attitudes that can normalise rape situations. Girls may feel less able to resist if they don’t want to be touched, if they have seen at a very young age that even an ostensibly powerful woman (a ship’s captain) is unable to resist unwanted physical contact from men who are ostensibly her subordinates. Similarly, boys will feel more enabled to pressurise girls.

The scene could still have been shown, but there should have been some acknowledgement that what Cook and Line were doing was wrong and that Captain Sinker’s body belongs to her. It could have been a very powerful positive message to girls if Captain Sinker had been able to refuse Cook and Line’s hug, or at least chastise them for it.

This seems like a lot of responsibility to put onto a single scene in a children’s programme, but it is the constant drip of such scenes that builds the attitudes of the next generation.