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Students’ Union staff files complaint on sexist language

By Alex Tawse

Jo Walters, Membership Development Coordinator for Student Union

A woman from the Students’ Union accidentally became the centre of a media frenzy this week after a story about her complaint to the Brighton and Hove Bus Company went viral online and in the press.

When Jo Walters took offence at being called “babe” by a bus driver last week, she reacted by e-mailing the bus company, complaining that she found this sort of language to be “demeaning, patronising and sexist.”

As a result, the Brighton and Hove Bus Company issued a formal warning to drivers asking them not to use terms such as “love”, “darling” or “babe” when talking to passengers, for fear of causing offence.

The bus company’s statement caught the attention of a local radio station and the story appeared in The Argus.

As online attention grew, the story soon made the national press, featured on BBC News and Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, thrusting Ms Walters into the media limelight.

Ms Walters said: “The driver called me ‘babe’ as I got on and ‘babe’ as I got off… occasionally they call me ‘love’ or ‘sweetheart’ and personally it makes me cringe a little bit.

“When I emailed I wasn’t trying to get anyone into trouble… I wasn’t starting a petition or a campaign.

“I just think that if you have feedback and you don’t tell them, nothing will ever change. It didn’t occur to me that someone might leak it to the press or that it would get so big.”

The bus company’s decision to ban the word “babe” has divided opinion across both genders and sparked a fierce online debate.

One comment read: “I think people are missing the point, it is not whether or not it is sexist that is the issue.

“As far as I am concerned someone who works in a customer-facing role should not be using familiar terms like that.”

However, one bus driver said: “It’s just the height of political correctness.

“The drivers are the best judge of how to speak to customers… People in Brighton don’t want their bus drivers to be robots.”

Speaking on The Wright Stuff, Caroline Lucas MP also disagreed with the bus company’s decision, saying: “I think a ban is too far”.

Ms Walters responded to the critics in The Guardian and on her blog.

She stated: “I’ve had some criticism for writing a piece for The Guardian. What I was trying to do was have my say; no one knew who I was so I didn’t have the right of reply.”

However, Ms Walters’ article appeared to fan the flames, as many of the online comments use words far more unpleasant than “babe” to describe her.

“My favourite one is ‘evil fame-hungry bitch’” she said. “I was expecting that sort of response, but was surprised at how aggressive it was in some cases.”

When asked if she regretted her actions following the backlash, Ms Walters said: “Whilst the broad principle is important to me and I’m glad that it may have got some people thinking about the issues behind it, I don’t think one person’s comments to a bus company is national news.

“I don’t want to become known as the ‘Brighton Bus Babe’”.

Jo Walter’s blog can be found at http://pleasedontcallmebabe.tumblr.com/ and Twitter users can follow the debate using #dontcallmebabe.

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