Sex Appeal in Politics

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…

38 comments on “Sex Appeal in Politics

  1. […] to the election we had the whole Sex Appeal in Politics thing and when I went to vote the local Liberal Candidate was a young woman. The Liberal Party won […]


  2. […] each other, although I understand I didn’t do Jules’ blood pressure any favours with my Sex Appeal in Politics […]


  3. […] really seen in this whole election thing is Fiona Scott, because she has Sex Appeal (TM). Team Oyeniyi has an excellent summary and takedown. A slightly different perspective comes from Zoya at lip magazine, who asks if getting outraged at […]


  4. […] the sort of comments that lead to my recent summary of the furor over Tony Abbott’s “sex appeal” […]


  5. Great piece, it was nice to read the varying perspectives people took when condemning or supporting Abbott as well.

    And even better perhaps, was the discussions that occurred here in the comments section. You cannot justify sexual commentary or sex talk in a work environment. It is unprofessional. What Abbott did was degrading to Fiona Scott and her response shocked me. Compliment? Pity he did not compliment your intelligence and competence to do your job until AFTER shit hit the fan in mainstream and social media….


  6. Ahh, Robyn, where to start? So, you’re saying that sex workers aren’t ordinary folk? That’s what it sounds like to me. And there lies the crux: You and I, like everybody else, have differing views on many things and similar on others. Isn’t life and free thought great? As I was trying to say on twitter (damned 140 limit!), you see things from a certain perspective and I see them from another. I happen to accept Fiona Scott’s response. Does that make me sexist? I don’t think so. I could go on about Gillard’s woeful, spiteful and simply plain wrong allegation of misogyny but I won’t. Do you honestly think that there aren’t ‘normal’ women out there in the workplace whose behaviour could be viewed as sexist? I’m afraid to inform you that there are people, of BOTH sexes, who see the outraged reaction as PC gone mad. I’m sure we’ll continue to agree to disagree on many things but I’ll offer Stephen Fry’s take on being offended:


    (I think you’ll have to copy and paste that link).

    Until later 😉


    • Jules, Jules, Jules – I see I finally broke you down and cracked that 140 character limit.

      That aside, I don’t know if you are sexist or not. I do know you are firmly stuck to the Liberal ship (which actually surprises me, but that is a debate for another day). Why do I mention that, you ask? Because as you may have noticed I am quite ready to criticise any politician regardless of affiliation, whereas I do notice those glued to ANY party are less ready to do so.

      Sex workers are indeed ordinary folk: as ordinary as the other professions I mentioned that also rely on physical attractiveness to earn a living. I do suggest there are less of them that all the other professions put together, although I admit I don’t have numbers to hand. If you do, please share. My point was not that sex workers, actors and spies are ordinary folk, but their professions are not ordinary when it comes to the physical requirements. A doctor can be the least or most attractive person in the world externally, yet that person can still be a wonderful doctor. I can’t see the Levis company hiring a less than “sexy” specimen to advertise their jeans – at least I have yet to see such an ad.

      I do indeed think there are women out there who can be viewed as “sexist” HOWEVER I don’t think there are too many men (I am sure there are some) who are physically intimidated by a bigger, stronger female in a position of authority. The vast majority of sexist behaviour is directed at women by men. The reason? Well, do refer to my article on women and religion! https://teamoyeniyi.com/2012/11/09/what-is-it-with-religion-and-women/

      I am one of the first to state I think “political correctness” has taken a bit of the fun out of life (you may have missed that somewhere along the long). I hope in the long run our social evolution reaches the point where we can happily joke about many things that at the moment we can’t simply because doing so reinforces the very inappropriate behaviours we are trying to eradicate. It is what it is, as they say. Moving from a racist, sexist, ageist paradigm to a culture of tolerance and equality doesn’t happen overnight. I am sure you know as well as I do it is not that long ago that British women were merely chattels. Women couldn’t vote – remember that? Black people were held as slaves and considered less than human.

      We are not talking 1,000 years ago, we are talking about times much more recently. Some cultures are still not there yet, women are still effectively enslaved.

      Only a woman can understand the feeling Noely talked about, that dread in the pit of the stomach. I’ve never felt that dread, but that doesn’t stop me recognising many, many other women do feel it. Like being a parent: it is impossible to imagine until you are one and this was brought home to me again today when I met up with a male business colleague whose wife has just given birth to twins. Many years ago a friend was high on the Azaria Chamberlain joke train. He was not a parent. I told him I didn’t think they were funny, being the mother of two young children. Two years later (by then a very proud father) he came to me and told me I had been right – the jokes weren’t funny. He also thought his kids would never have runny noses: “No excuse for parents to allow kids to have runny noses”, he said. Hmmmmmm – OK 😆

      Seniority comes at a personal cost: being a role model. A potential Prime Minister is a role model. Fiona Scott is a potential role model.

      Make not mistake the message that was sent by both of these people was it is OK to make a sexual comment about a junior female staff member in the workplace and that junior female staff member better take it as a compliment. THAT is why many men and women are up in arms. None of those fathers or mothers want their own children being accosted in the workplace by some older man (or woman) saying they have great tits or arse or asking “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” and being expected to think it is a “charming compliment”.

      If Fiona wants to accept a charming compliment from Tony about her sex appeal she should do it in her own time, privately, when she is not effectively telling young people such comments are compliments. They aren’t usually when made in the workplace, they are usually someone trying to get into someone’s pants.

      You know what? As a parent I don’t think I am being too politically correct on this one – I think I am caring about my daughters and my sons.


    • Hi Julies,
      It’s not about offence (even though I find it personally offensive) it is about good workplace practice and standard set in this country.
      A. Tony is head of the political party ie. Boss
      B. Ms Scott is one of Tony’s candidates ie. Employee
      Sexual suggestions are a no go zone…
      Suggest you review: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/sex-discrimination/guides/sexual-harassment
      Mr Abbott being the man in power & Ms Scott being ‘beneath’ him, yet obviously ambitious has no other alternative if she wants to keep her job than to tell us she thinks his comment is charming… As this is a capable, ambitious, educated business woman, she well & truly knows workplace law, so if she honestly believes that & you honestly believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you.


  7. OMG Australia is the strangest place.


  8. women complaining about men ?…..stop the hatred and get back to natural things as nature intended, our next generation will be to scared to talk to one another without being sued or offended. wake up to this political corrective crap, it only grows hatred. it was once said that the pen is mightier than the sword it seems that the mouth has grown bigger and stronger than the pen if you are to judge a politician judge him by his policy’s not by his Gibberish.when i vote it wont be wasted on who has got a better personality but who has got better policy


    • It strikes me as odd how many men deplore Tony’s behaviour, yet every now and then one pops out waving the “hatred” flag as a distraction from the real problem.

      Robert, there is NO WAY you can justify sex talk in the work place. It isn’t appropriate, it sets a bad example and is simply unprofessional.


    • I think you are missing the point here Robert. Robyn is not a male hater, nor am I or most women I know. The point is that you cannot actually speak about a woman in the tones that Mr Abbott does, it is demeaning, particularly in the workforce. IF a CEO was to introduce a new Manager to all the staff in a public arena and label her as having ‘Sex Appeal’ he would be in very serious trouble. Though, and this is where the biggest concern is, in this day & age where respect in the workplace is supposed to be a legal requirement, the likes of the comments that Mr Abbott has made would have meant he would never have actually progressed up the ladder to be leading the party.

      This is a very serious issue as society takes it’s lead from the top and should Mr Abbott be at the top in this country, that is concerning as the attitude of “Casual Every Day Sexism” that he has displayed on more than one occasion could become an insidious slide back to the 80’s 😦

      AND if you want to make the judge on ‘policy’ call, well, there has been very little of that. The majority of women in this country are NOT wealthy, therefore there is very little in the limited policy that Mr Abbott has released so far. We are discussing a social issue here, not so much a political issue and I am pretty sure you can tell from Robyn’s blog that she is not an ALP partisan type, so how about you actually read the post all the way through and actually have a think about the sort of society trends you want set for the women in your life that you love?


  9. Abbott definitely has form at belittling women. I wonder what his vaunted household of women has actually taught him about women – anecdotally, nothing positive.

    I also wonder which is worse – Fiona Scott having sex appeal in her boss’s opinion, or Julie Bishop being “a good girl” as his deputy leader?

    Which is more demeaning, an off the cuff (and thus, as with so many such comments, reflecting what is truly embedded in a personality) comment about… well, actually, they are both assessments of behaviour, aren’t they? To Abbott’s eyes and do-not-pass-through-the-brain tongue, anyway.

    There is nothing “charming” about Tony Abbott. He’s testosterone in a tiptruck, and so far from what this country requires of a national leader that to make him ours would be to turn back more clocks than Australia can afford to count, let alone reset to decades past.


    • That, sadly, sums up the concerns of many, both men and women. The example being set to young people of both genders is entirely unacceptable.

      On the world stage? Don’t get me started….


  10. He is certainly awkward around women. Very worrying. The more he attempts to explain anything the bigger the hole he digs for himself. Certainly NOT PM material.


  11. Ahhh Robyn, I have one night off Twitter and you are on fire!! Love the difference in handling of the workplace sexism, is a great reminder that everyone is affected differently AND everyone has different life experiences which affect how they handle the sexism. Sadly, it seems that too many think that we should have to ‘handle’ it in the first place 😦

    You are correct that it would be great to get everyone who has ever experienced workplace sexism to write about it & let others know, as it spreads the word and as I found chatting with someone last night, they did not even realise that what they were experiencing at work was in fact against the law… Only by talking about it, can we educate others AND by calling out Sexism will we make a change.

    We need to get this back on the agenda and the likes of Tony Abbott being given a ‘pass’ on this is plain offensive and sets a horrendous example for every Boss all over the country.

    Of course have added this post and quoted you to my rant, in most disrespectful tones of course mate LOL ‘-)


    • I didn’t mean to imply I did the right thing – does it sound like that? I think I did the wrong thing through ignorance and innocence at the time. Not necessarily wrong for me personally, but for all the other women out there experiencing similar stuff. I just did not think!

      Perhaps I should reword slightly?


      • NO! It doesn’t sound like that at all. IT was great that you had the belief in yourself & fire to respond the way you did. I was more commenting about the fact that many ‘don’t’ have that sort of make-up for a variety of reasons to be able to know how to respond to sexism in the work force 😦

        AND to be quite frank, nowadays with Laws in place and most organisations having some form of Human Resources, women should not actually even have to be working out how to deal with it as it shouldn’t bloody be happening UGH!


      • Whew thanks! Always aware different people read things differently and wanted to be sure I hadn’t given the wrong impression.

        Thanks for the feedback!

        Shouldn’t be bloody happening – AGREE!


  12. Is that what you have to put up with still in 2013 in front of cameras, let alone in private in a work situation, to keep your job or electorate? Honestly is it worth it.
    Means we have still not come very far at all since 60s. Where is Fiona’s pride and self respect? Let alone is this what we want for our younger women to learn, that we are a thing to belittle and laugh at.
    If my husband said that to another women and then involved my daughters in it, I would be packed and gone as it means no respect for women.


    • It was quite amazing and as several commentators have pointed out, it isn’t a “one off” – this is a trend.

      Why are Australians tolerating this bullshit?


    • I find his “dad moments” creepy & inappropriate.This is not the sort of thing a father says to his daughters, or a mother to her sons, for that matter.

      Were I Julie Bishop, I would have seethed at being called a “good girl”. She is a highly qualified woman in her fifties, hardly a girl. Yet this is the sort of demeaning and dismissive treatment she receives from her chauvinist colleagues.

      We also have the example of the thuggish Hockey & Pyne heckling and catcalling the Prime Minister of this country in Parliament House. Would they have behaved in the same way to a male PM? I think not.

      Anyone who claims that this sort of behaviour is acceptable should ask themselves if they would be so sanguine if it was their grandmother, mother, sister, aunt or daughter?

      Or if they would enjoy being treated in such a disrespectful and threatening manner by another person?

      I think the answer is a resounding no in all cases.

      It seems that men like Robert Rei are incapable of understanding how uncomplimentary, threatening and demeaning such comments are. They dehumanise and reduce the recipients of such “compliments” to their genitalia.


      • so now we have haters of words single me out too and accuse me of being incapable to understand ……i made my point you can twist it any way you like but remember you are the one that is hating with your negativity .time to grow up and understand what everyone is really doing here all men know and understand that certain things we do are not acceptable and the same could be said for women. so Lets find someone with a high profile job highlight something they say even that it has been said for centuries but the tone is no good for our ears and run a war on it if that is ok with you princess and please do not judge my tone i did call you princess.


      • Robert, I am going to let your comment stand as an example of exactly the sort of attitude this article and the other authors are trying to highlight.

        I do remind you this website has a comment policy, which can be found here: https://teamoyeniyi.com/comment-policy/

        I assess that you are sailing very close to the wind of personal attack with the above comment.

        Please stick to the discussion at hand.


      • Jane, you asked “Anyone who claims that this sort of behaviour is acceptable should ask themselves if they would be so sanguine if it was their grandmother, mother, sister, aunt or daughter?”

        The issue is unfortunately there are some who in fact do treat the females in their family in such ways and furthermore consider it perfectly normal.

        It is those people we must seek to educate.


  13. Yep. I face sexual harrasment & discrimination on a daily basis. I am a man though & have to live with it. The notion of sexism is sexist itself here in Australia. Funny how every single woman is a victim here but not one man.


    • Ian, men can be harassed as well. Share your stories too. It needs to stop. That is one of the reasons I made by paragraph about dating at work gender-neutral.

      I think this is a bit like rape – men are victims of rape, yet little coverage is given and it should be. Men are also victims of domestic violence and that too receives little media attention.

      However, there is little denying that overall the majority of victims are female.


    • Not at all, Ian. People shouldn’t be subject to such treatment in any setting; it should never be tolerated.


  14. I totally agree with your words Robyn. Tony Abbott as Fiona’s boss should not say such a thing, and Fiona Scott, having just accepted this idiotic compliment as a friendly compliment is just lame. I certainly don’t want my boss looking at me that way, or telling me I look sexy!!
    Tony wouldn’t pay such a compliment to a good looking guy working with him, would he?


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