Professional contrarian Katie Hopkins is currently appearing on a little watched TV channel called TLC, sort-of-but-not-quite (because Mark Dolan is really doing it) hosting her own chat show called “If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World”. This rather laboured format sees Ms Hopkins and her guests propose assorted laws which they’d implement if they had the power to do so – thus, the studio audience can vote on such proposals as: only men should propose marriage (to women), “if you’re not groomed, you’re doomed” and, a particular favourite of Katie’s, anything to do with being overweight, because she’d actually like to ban the existence of people with a BMI of 25+.
Along similar lines and when I was recently asked to draft my own updated 100 word bio in which I was asked to indicate a light hearted point of view, the idea that I would also like to ban Something came to me.
And the Thing that I would like to ban is the use of the word “banter” in the workplace – in one particular context.
I’m not in any way a killjoy and of course chat, wit and humour between peers is a great thing and is often what people miss when they move jobs, change offices or even work from home.
My “gripe” is that is that the concept of “banter” is often used as a dismissive term to disguise the fact that people use it as a shield to hide behind when they’re making remarks (at work, specifically but also in social media posts, emails, text messages or on a football pitch) which others may find offensive. So sexist, racist or homophobic comments are cloaked as “banter” and then when the recipient of said remark objects, they’re often told “it’s just a bit of banter” and are accused of having no sense of humour, taking themselves too seriously or (the horrors) being politically correct.
“Sheer bant”, as my friend’s teenage daughter refers to it, between friends/peers = no problem, but as a device to allow people to say what the hell they like to others and pass it off as “banter”? No.
And, if we don’t hold people’s feet to the fire and call them out when they come out with utter rubbish and hastily re-badge it as “banter”, how will we ever effect change in our language, customs and behaviours?
The People Stuff blog covered this from an HR perspective last year – take a look; Gemma makes a lot of sense.
(Image (c) @the100)
“Here’s the thing. Banter is never, ever a defence or an excuse for discrimination, bullying or harassment. Not in the employment tribunal, not anywhere. … Instead of the banter justification, I would instead advocate using the complete pillock defence. As in admitting you have behaved like one. Followed by a grovelling apology. You can’t undo harassment or bulling once it has taken place. But you can avoid pointless legal expense, or the implication that you just don’t care about equality, by leaving this particular word where it belong. With The Inbetweeners.”