Tony Abbott copped a lot of flak in the media, mainstream and social, for introducing the candidate for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, by saying “I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal”.
Tracey Spicer wrote a great article for The Hoopla:
Too often, a woman’s stocks rise and fall on the value of her sexuality. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wanted to scream, “Stop looking at my tits and listen to what I have to say!”
Then in middle age, we are disappeared by the diminution of this appeal.
Clementine Ford wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald:
Some people have leapt on the comments as evidence of Abbott’s inherent misogyny, but that’s being a little opportunistic. Abbott isn’t a misogynist (he owns four women, remember?) any more than he is a worthy candidate to run the country.
Ed Butler wrote a piece for AusVotes2013
Time and again, Tony Abbott has, in his unguarded moments, gaffed. As we all do. But time and again, his gaffes somehow always come back to a certain view of women’s role in society.
All these articles took a slightly different approach to the problem of Tony’s gaffe, but from a somewhat dispassionate distance.
I have seen a fair few people, Joe Hockey among them, saying what a lot of fuss about nothing. @JulesDeLard on Twitter pointed out that sex workers actually rely on sex appeal for their work.
Yes, Jules, as do spies, models, actresses and a few other professions. Most of us ordinary folk need other criteria for our work.
My friend from up north, Noely, took a different approach. Noely added the personal touch.
Now, there were 4 of us in the same position, 2 girls, 2 guys and all undertook the same responsibilities. Just prior to the head honcho’s arriving as we are having our department heads meeting, another department’s manager turned to us, looking at just myself & the other female and said “Girls, loosening another button would be good, a bit of sex appeal will put them in a more amenable mood”.
I am going to follow Noely’s lead and share a personal experience from the dim, dark past as well. Hopefully, if enough women share their personal stories, some of these people who think it is “nothing” might start to “get it”.
This was back in the 1980s. I was a departmental manager for a company that was a wholly-owned subsidiary of another company. As a marketing exercise, we were sponsoring a golf tournament. The CEO of the parent company decided to join us for the night away.
After a company dinner, the CEO invited us all back to his room for a drink. We all dutifully accepted his invitation. From memory I think there were six managers and the CEO.
At some point I went to the bathroom. I came out to the main area and EVERYONE else had disappeared. All at once. It was just the CEO and I.
The CEO proceeded to inform me he and his wife had an “open marriage”.
“How nice,” I replied, “I’ll believe you when I hear it from your wife.”
“No, no, it is true” and a whole lot of other stuff I don’t recall from so long ago.
I looked him straight in the eye.
“Listen very carefully, I am going back to my room now. This is not happening: not now, not ever.”
My parting shot was, “I do not expect to be fired on Monday morning either.”
Unlike Noely, I never went to HR. Oddly enough I saw it, at the time, as a private matter, unaware as I was then of the existence of sexual harassment. As I was not easily intimidated, I had always managed to deal with any unwanted advances quite effectively on my own. If he had laid a hand on me, he would have got a very swift kick in the groin. I would not have hesitated.
Of course, I learnt later not all women are as comfortable dealing with men in the workplace and it can be intimidating. Women can be fearful of losing their job and being unable to feed their kids.
Did I feel flattered? Not a hope in hell! I just thought he was a sex-starved lecherous old man. I was young and innocent then and didn’t realise many powerful men have a tendency to seek as much sex as they can get their hands on, so he was likely not sex-starved at all. I also didn’t realise he was just one of many who seemed to think the workplace was a suitable hunting ground.
In her closing paragraphs, Noely says:
I would like to remind you now, should you start to get asked to “loosen the top of that silk blouse a tad more to make the visiting investors more amenable“, you have Mr Abbott to thank for that grubby devalued feeling you have in the pit of your stomach, hell don’t look at your male co-workers either, they will most likely be smirking. Mr Abbott has set the tone and lowered the bar for “men” in charge all over this country, worse, he is a serial offender who looks like being rewarded for his efforts.
I can’t say it any better. That is EXACTLY how I feel too. Do I want my daughters subjected to this sort of thing in the workplace? NO! I don’t think YOU do either. Yet if this lecherous approach to women in the workplace is set as the tone of the nation by the leaders, all the work we have put in to prevent this happening will start to unravel.
What if you do genuinely like someone you work with? There is no law against asking a co-worker out. HOWEVER if the co-worker declines and makes it clear there is no interest, it is NOT appropriate to pester. It is not appropriate to use a position of seniority to put pressure on someone. If you have any doubts, check with your HR department!
As to the little matter of Fiona Scott trying to explain it away by saying:
“There is no need to apologise for what is an absolute charming compliment between friends”
I have this to say. Fiona, if you want to listen to Tony rave about your sex appeal, do it privately. DO NOT be the woman that says it is OK to encourage sexual stuff in the workplace. It has taken a bloody long time for women to get rid of that crap. If I was in your electorate, I’d be campaigning as hard as I could to make sure your political career stopped before a number ever went beside your name on the ballot paper. Why? Because I’ll be damned if I want my daughters to experience the sort of things Noely and I went through. Sell your sex for a seat if you like – ours is not for sale.
It also goes beyond just the workplace. It becomes pervasive.
I had just heard first hand in the Supreme Court where “Stand By Your Man” gets you. Stuffed in the boot of a burnt out car. I don’t need to watch The Project to understand this reality. Abuse & degradation of women should not be seen to have “entertainment value”.
What worried me even more than the sex appeal comment was the excuse offered that it was a “Dad moment”.
No, actually, you can’t say that. Who even uses the words sex appeal any more? Abbott later, oddly, excused his remarks as a ”dad moment” – although retro, disturbing or archaic would be more appropriate – and wrote it off to ”exuberance”.
A Dad moment? Most Dads I know want to desperately ensure their daughters appear as sexless as possible for as long as possible. I gather this was a twisting of the daughters words excusing their father, which makes it even WORSE! A lot of other people agreed, as can be seen from my tweet below.
I encourage anyone, male or female, who has an incident of sexual harassment in the workplace to relate – write about it. Share what happens in the real world and maybe some of these people who prefer to ignore the realities might see reason.
Let us hope Halle Berry is never the President of the US during any term as PM Tony may serve. I can just see him in Congress suggesting how the POTUS “has a bit of sex appeal”. Should go down a treat, don’t you think?
In closing may I recommend Mike Carlton’s absolutely side-splitting article, “Don’t quote me, says Tony, but maaate…“
- Abbott sex appeal gaffe no surprise: Wong (news.smh.com.au)
- Tony Abbott’s ‘pretty face’ remark: this language must now be a strategy (theguardian.com)