Top of the pops in the list of links that went viral on social media was this opinion piece on the Guardian. Jo Walters’s complaint? Some bus driver called her babe. How disgustingly sexist, right? Erm, wrong actually. But this world being what it is, Ms Walters’s diatribe seems to have pushed all the right feminist buttons.
If we leave the mantle of hypocrisy out in the cold for second or two, the majority of females must admit that they are usually quite okay with being addressed in terms that, three decades ago, might have been considered over-familiar. Particularly in scenarios when it suits us such as jumping the queue at a bar, getting doubles for the price of singles… Sounds familiar anyone? In these cases most ladies will even welcome the odd “here you are, love”, maybe even – shock, horror- responding in kind with a wink.
Don’t even bother to go all self-righteous on me. We are all guilty of it and the whole world knows it. However, heavens forbid that a male dare use the same terminology in situations where we do not stand to gain anything. Not only will Ms Walters and misguided feminists of her ilk cry foul, but they will also go out of their way to make some poor sod’s job even more difficult than it already is by removing the little bit of humanity that is left in it.
Ms Walters, of course, is perfectly free to voice her disapproval at being subjected to such horrible insults as being called “babe”. However, I’m also free to tell Ms Walters exactly why she is being a boring, pedantic so-and-so in need of a shot of SoH, stat.
But first I will start by saying that no matter how loud and often she declares, on the media, that this is not a matter of gender, she is lying through her teeth. Ms Walters, as soon as you uttered the words “I personally find terms like “babe” coming from men to be overfamiliar, sexist and patronising”, you pretty much stamped a big, red OVER-ZEALOUS FEMINIST sign across your rant.
So let me get this straight, you are perfectly fine with a female bus-driver calling you “babe”, right? When it is woman to woman – and yes, the word “babe” nowadays is used pretty freely by men and women alike, hello 21st century – then there is nothing patronizing about it? But throw the Y chromosome in the mix and voila, we suddenly have a case of the poor, down-trodden female being imposed upon by the nasty Man.
Ms Walters, it is women like you who give the genuine feminists – you know, those who complain about rather more pressing matters like real sexual harassment, discrimination and the like – a bad name. It is women like you who make the rest of society collectively roll its eyes even when there is a true case of sexual discrimination, probably adding something on the lines of “oh no, not again, what are they complaining about now”. Well, you all know how the story goes, cry wolf enough times and…
Of course, I’m not condoning cases where public officials really do overstep the mark. A sneering “babe”, accompanied by a good ogle, would set my alarm bells ringing too. Most women have found themselves into a situation where they would like to sock one in the jaw to some moron who thinks his job package includes harassing any personable female he comes in contact with. There are several ways to deal with this scenario. One option is to give the offender my most contemptuous look, accompanied by a loud “watch your manners”. I belong to this camp and it usually shrivels up the bad behaviour like magic.
Another option is to report the offender to Big Daddy, cause a national incident and put the whole profession under a bad light. Sigh. In serious cases the latter would be justified. In most cases it is not. Ms Walters’s over-reaction, sadly, only serves reinforce the notion that women are frail creatures who should be sheltered from anything that distresses them. When anything distresses me I don’t run to daddy. I make sure I make the offender feel as uncomfortable as he made me feel. This way, no one ever pulls the same crap on me twice.
Only, of course, in this case there was no crap being pulled. Ms Walters herself says that the drivers are courteous but she finds the use of the words “love”, “babe” and “darling” demeaning. Bearing in mind that nowadays these terms are the female equivalent of “dude”, “bro” and “mate”, how exactly does Ms Walters feel demeaned by their usage? Will she also lodge an official complaint if they are used not by her bus driver but by her supermarket cashier/colleague/local barman? Or did she lodge the complaint only because she was going against a big, national company and she knew that the complaint would make the headlines?
Ms Walters professes surprise at the way her complaint was picked up in the media and insists that it was not her intention. Pull the other one, why don’t you? If you didn’t want to make some noise about it you would have done the adult thing and politely told the driver that you prefer not to be called “babe”. Instead, you filed an official complaint for a harmless greeting.
To conclude, next time you are on the bus and the driver greets you with a stiff “morning ma’am” and no hint of a smile, doing a very good impression of a soulless robot, well… you know who to blame.