Don’t call me babe Mr Bus-Driver? Seriously?

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.

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Comments

  1. You are one hot blogging chick.

  2. FG says:

    Quite apart from the striking misapplication of the meme format, this article is a bit off-putting.
    You are writing from a place where ‘feminist’ is necessarily something to be reviled and feared, and there is currency in making what you think are favourable comparisons between overzealous feminists and yourself, a REAL feminist who criticises other women and dictates when another person has the right to feel unsafe.
    The argument itself is problematic. You say that some women allow men to call them babe when they have something to gain, apparently insinuating that this applies to the opinion columnist in question. You then point out that when they have nothing to gain they feel insulted. Do you mean to suggest that people who feel offended by the use of the word babe should complain MORE? This is hardly in step with the rest of your argument, which sounds more like this: http://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2010/08/it%E2%80%99s-not-sexual-harassment-it%E2%80%99s-bullying/
    Personally, if a woman called me babe I wouldn’t care. If a man called me babe, depending on the context I might feel uncomfortable. That isn’t sexist, it is merely acknowledging a reality. Feminism doesn’t mean ignoring all differences between genders. Done properly it should involve embracing your own femaleness and avoiding accusing other women of ‘playing the victim.’ Personally I wouldn’t feel upset enough to complain if a bus driver called me babe, however we are all different and I don’t think this woman is being disingenuous. In your opinion, ‘babe’ is the same as ‘bro’ but in her personal experience of the situation to which none of us were privvy, she felt it was something more lecherous. I’m not going to judge her.
    It isn’t fair to require all women to aggressively put every sexist man in his place. Women have the right to go about their business quietly as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. If someone else behaves offensively, the onus is not on the woman to act contrary to her nature and shout at them or give them contemptuous looks. Taking part in a mechanism provided by the bus company to discreetly complain is not ‘crying to daddy,’ it is taking a stand in a more meaningful and effective way than your method, which could be interpreted as the driver as simple rudeness.
    In short, I agree it would be a shame if people behaved like soulless robots, but I don’t understand why you find it necessary that the woman in question should behave like a soulless robot and deny her own feelings, or why you find it necessary to paint all people as gender neutral robots in order to achieve equality.

  3. Andre Delicata says:

    While genuine forms of harassment should never be condoned, we are living in an age when over-thinking everything to the extremities of political correctness has turned most people into paranoid weirdos who revel in the attention and drama that what is genuinely trivial can be aggrandised into to attract instant media attention. Common sense no longer exists and neither does the notion that life would be a lot better with a bit of give and take and a strong sense of humour – this isn’t just feminism – it’s everything and everyone- even the fact that so-called “feminists” take offence and bother writing about this stuff to defend their rights/ human or otherwise over equality and god knows what else shows that we simply LOVE making mountains out of molehills. The 21st Century sucks because it’s pseudo-progression has sucked the humanity right of us. I have been called “love” and “dear”, “hanini” “sweetheart” and “sweet” (a la hamalla) as well as the obvious “Hi” – often by some very unsavoury women and chavvy slutty girls. If I were to kick up a fuss about it, I’d be sent to hell for being a wuss – double standards anyone? And besides… what the hell? If people really want equality in this world which is increasingly resorting to playground tactics and behaviour to “stand up for their rights” then shouldn’t we all be stealing each other’s toys and slapping each other, rather than dealing with what really matters? My grandmothers, who both lived through WW II and had very few rights by today’s standards were more stoic and brave than all the self-proclaimed fighters for women’s rights in the post war years. They got on with it because there was a genuine need to get on with it and emerged stronger and more admirable than before without complaining about being called a pet name that may or may not have been lewdly intended. If it had bothered them then, they’d have whacked the idiot with their handbags, given him a piece of their mind and walked haughtily away on their smart black heels, while adjusting their hats and straightening their gloves…

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