Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

She’s got it: responses to Tony Abbott’s ‘sex appeal’ comments

Since opposition leader Tony Abbott’s self-described “daggy dad” comments about Liberal candidate Fiona Scott’s sex appeal, gender issues have re-emerged in Australian politics. Labor frontbenchers claim…

What do the various responses to Tony Abbott’s ‘sex appeal’ comment say about the role of gender in politics? AAP/Alan Porritt

Since opposition leader Tony Abbott’s self-described “daggy dad” comments about Liberal candidate Fiona Scott’s sex appeal, gender issues have re-emerged in Australian politics.

Labor frontbenchers claim that these comments reveal what Abbott “really thinks” about women, and cite it as evidence that he is stuck in the past – “a 20th century man”.

But beyond their immediate use for point-scoring in the election campaign, responses to Abbott’s remarks reveal some of the complex and competing elements of how sexism is responded to in Australian social life.

Response #1: Deny any problem

The woman at the centre of the storm, Fiona Scott, has dismissed any concerns about Abbott’s reference to her “sex appeal”, calling it a “charming compliment”. Former sex discrimination commissioner turned NSW state Liberal MP Pru Goward has also downplayed its significance, saying that “a lot of politicians are described as sexy”. So what’s the problem?

To be sure, the “sex appeal” comment is a far cry from some of Abbott’s earlier observations about gender, including his notorious claims that women are physiologically less suited to leadership than men, and that abortion is “the easy way out”.

But this kind of thing does matter. It reinforces views about gender that are detrimental to women in politics and public life. Women in politics get a short term boost to their likeability and “relatability” from being seen to be “a good sport”, but this often comes at a cost to their perceived credibility. It also perpetuates long-standing gender stereotypes that relegate women to primary roles as decorative and attractive helpmates to the real protagonists: naturally assumed to be men.

Response #2: Ignore it and move on

The initial response from Labor was to play a straight bat, with Labor HQ issuing a statement that “Mr Abbott’s comments are entirely a matter for Mr Abbott”.

Although the remark has since been condemned by several senior Labor figures, including prime minister Kevin Rudd, Anthony Albanese, Kim Carr and Penny Wong, ALP frontbencher Kate Ellis reflects the caution of many women about calling out sexism. Ellis reportedly declined to comment on the sexism allegation, tweeting that she had heard “loud and clear” the message that voters “want focus on THEIR issues”.

This apparent wariness about being “derailed” by sexism reflects a reality in which women are often penalised for calling out instances of sexism experienced or witnessed by them. Researchers have found that women who make complaints of sexism are often seen as unlikeable troublemakers, especially by men.

One of the reasons that former prime minister Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech was greeted with such excitement was that it seemed to open more possibilities for women to speak out about sexism in their own lives. Reluctance of public figures to speak out against sexist remarks, as understandable and strategic as it may be, creates a climate that makes it harder for women to protest instances of sexism in their workplaces and private lives.

Response #3: Try a gender reversal

Another minimising response to sexism is to suggest that men experience sexism too, or that they wouldn’t mind if they did. Witness Liberal MP Christopher Pyne’s “wish [that] people would describe [him] as having sex appeal”, or Amanda Vanstone’s claim that women frequently comment on how “nicely men are packed”.

This simplistic gender reversal analysis fails to take into account that comments about appearance and desirability are made in a social context that emphasises the centrality of these attributes to women’s identity. Women are objectified - seen as objects to be judged in terms of beauty and desirability - to a far greater extent than men, and with more far-reaching consequences.

Comments such as Abbott’s legitimise this kind of attention in a sphere where it is entirely unwarranted.

Response #4: Accuse others of (wilful) misunderstanding

Finally, a frequent response to allegations of sexism is to suggest that those who are offended have simply misunderstood, misinterpreted, or over-reacted to the speaker’s true intention. For example, many senior figures in the Liberal party have rushed to defend Abbott, stating that his comments were “largely in jest”, “clearly light-hearted”, and “not offensive”. Former prime minister John Howard has weighed in to suggest that “the reaction of some people who tut-tutted about it is out of proportion and ridiculous”.

It seems fair to assume that Abbott did not intend to demean Scott. She is, after all, a candidate from his own party, and he was attending the event to extol her virtues. The remark has many similarities to US president Barack Obama’s “endorsement” of Kamala Harris as “by far, the best looking attorney-general”.

But intention is not the key issue. These kinds of comments have serious consequences for both the individual woman involved and for women in public life more generally. Pervasive gender stereotypes mean that women are already fighting a battle to be seen as potential leaders, and comments about traditionally feminine attributes, such as sex appeal, reduce the perceived competence and suitability of women for public office.

While president Obama later apologised for his remarks, Tony Abbott brushed off his comment as a harmless over-exuberant “daggy dad moment”.

Another word for “dad” is “patriarch”.

Articles also by This Author

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

122 Comments sorted by

Comments on this article are now closed.

    1. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      plus other words starting with D (deceptive, despoiler, disastrous) ...

      I am resigned to the dolt (Scott Morrison) getting in and look forward to seeing the smirk wiped off his imbecilic face with each and every boat person that arrives ...

      report
  1. John Newton

    Author Journalist

    'Labor frontbenchers claim that these comments reveal what Abbott “really thinks” about women, and cite it as evidence that he is stuck in the past – “a 20th century man”.'

    And yes, so is most of the electorate Abbott is pitching it. My theory is that all these 'gaffes' – the suppository, sexy et cetera – are deliberate and pitched at his core audience.

    "Gees Tone you're a funny bloke. But a good bloke."

    And in those circles, many women see feminism as a bit weird - hairy armpits and all that.

    report
    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to John Newton

      I'd say most people see feminism as weird, because it so dated. VERY 1970s. It reminds me of my aunt and grandmother.

      report
    2. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to David Thompson

      "most people" David? From where do you get these stats.

      You and your ilk are the segment that refuses to face change. That is what's weird.

      report
  2. Urs Baumgartner

    Consultant for Environment and Sustainability

    Great article with a clear statement (I miss that these days). Excellent!!

    report
  3. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " Labor frontbenchers claim that these comments reveal what Abbott “really thinks” about women, and cite it as evidence that he is stuck in the past – “a 20th century man”. "
    What a joke those frontbenchers are for they'll attempt to take anything out of the context in which it was said and attempt to twist it into something else.
    Kevin Rudd was even claiming if Tony had been an employer and said something like that, he would have been in deep trouble and again he is removed from the context of…

    Read more
    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Greg North

      I wonder if Tony might say that about a man though?

      That is the point in one sense.

      And if an employer said that about one of his employees (male or female) it would not be an appropriate work place comment.

      report
    2. Henry Verberne

      Former IT Professional

      In reply to Greg North

      You are trying to defend the indefensible Greg. Abbott's slip was rather Freudian. And he is a serial offender.

      report
    3. Stuart Eley

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Greg North

      "Kevin Rudd was even claiming if Tony had been an employer and said something like that, he would have been in deep trouble and again he is removed from the context of some light hearted banter involving an attractive colleague."
      Lol. Not sure what companies you've worked for. I'm near 100% certain that if I mentioned a colleague had sex appeal in front of her and a group of men I would be in a huge pit of trouble.

      report
    4. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Greg North

      "As Fiona Scott herself says, it was taken as a compliment on her attractiveness ..."

      Of course she would reply honestly if she didn't take it as a compliment, wouldn't she? She wouldn't be cautious about responding negatively, even in spite of the fact that the comment came from the LEADER OF HER PARTY. Of course not.

      report
    5. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Nathan Grandel

      The strip club is old "news", NG. The Teleg tried (and failed) with that "gotcha" to keep Rudd from winning the election - did you notice the first line?

      Also, comparing Yatsen-li's 14-year-old comment (which, unlike Tony, he apologised for and retracted) to the ALTERNATIVE PRIME MINISTER'S "yecch" line is really no comparison at all.

      report
    6. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to John Perry

      John, you're speaking from the viewpoint and values of the older generation. Your generation confused the paranoia of far-left causes, with an anxiety about sex, which produced a kind of Stalinist feminism, way too heavily lesbian-inflected. My generation looked at what that generation produced, and said "whoa, no thanks". I can assure you that Gen X/Y women enjoy flirting, banter, and flattery. So do guys. Unlike the 1970s Rosa Klebb types, we do not think every batted eye lash means going to the HR Kommisars, and filing a complaint!

      report
    7. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to David Thompson

      Ah yes ... we can all relax - David here reckons the girls of Generation X and Y enjoy a laugh and don't mind a chase around the desk...

      Isn't it interesting how this issue brings out deeply held values and attitudes - and how little thought some folks put into forming theirs.

      Like the whole 20th century never happened ... a big mistake ... wrong, wrong, all wrong.... must be awful living in a century that is not your own.

      report
    8. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Greg North

      OK let's look at your argument. You say that "Fiona Scott herself says, it was taken as a compliment on her attractiveness and seemed to be in concert with a larger description asked about by one of the group of blokes."

      You forget, TA's remark was said in answer to a question about the attributes of this candidate that is, what qualities does this candidate have to run for public office?

      It (the remark) was said by someone who wants to be Prime Minister of this country speaking, in effect…

      Read more
    9. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, there isn't, and never has been, anything "wrong" with heterosexuality.

      report
    10. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      They weren't REALLY lesbians Alice ... they just hadn't met enough gen x/y lads, like Dave here. They were just making do.

      The overalled feminists of the 70s would've seen the errors of their ways, seen that Gen X/Y blokes were indeed New Men - freed of bigotry and anger (and of course totally committed to equality and a fair go)... and that in a single generation or less all the whining and complaining of those cranky women had been fixed up and sorted.

      Miraculous huh?

      report
    11. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to David Thompson

      Yes David, but heterosexuality too often becomes hetronormative hegemony.

      report
    12. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Alice Gorman

      Alice, there can be as many lesbians as you like. But \when they are overwhelmingly boiler-suited misandrists, who are driving the feminist movement, a lot of more balanced young straight women got a very ugly idea about what this women's lib was all about. Fortunately, when the rebalance happened during the 1990s (see my historical dateline above), the young women coming out as lesbians worshipped lipstick and Manolo Blahnik; not King-Gee and beer stubbie holders.

      report
    13. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      " I wonder if Tony might say that about a man though? "
      That was left to his deputy Julie Bishop on Jason Clare being the Rob Lowe of Labor re morning tele.
      Jason did not appear to be too affronted and it's possible Christopher Pyne may be pining.

      report
    14. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Stuart Eley

      " Lol. Not sure what companies you've worked for. I'm near 100% certain that if I mentioned a colleague had sex appeal in front of her and a group of men I would be in a huge pit of trouble. "
      Like Kevin and his mob you've missed the context bit Stuart.

      report
    15. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      " It (the remark) was said by someone who wants to be Prime Minister of this country speaking, in effect, to the nation on television. It was not said in private, at a party, in the office or in the context of banter between colleagues. "
      Jena, it has only been aired on national TV because of course it'd be something picked up as likely to create a bit of a stir.
      It was not all that Tony had to say about her and the sex appeal comment was more of an add on.
      As for " Does good looks equate with sex appeal? ", I suppose it is all in the eyes and minds of beholders, good looks covering quite a range and sharp minds or even being feisty as Tony had mentioned , also no doubt being considered by some.
      I expect she has much more going for her as a potential representative than what Tony alluded to with some lightness of thought.

      report
    16. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to David Thompson

      I think you may find that a lot of women looked at how MEN responded and judged 'feminists' and went underground. The 'ugly' idea you speak of was one mostly portrayed by men threatened by real equality or liberation.

      report
  4. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Geoff Anderson

      Geoff Anderson,

      Racist?

      Do you have evidence for this claim? Or is it just the slimy smear it appears to be on the surface?

      As to the most racist, are you forgetting? Julia Gillard was explicit about her motivations when she sacked a candidate for the senate because she was the wrong race.

      In civil society that would have had her up before the beak.

      report
    2. Eddie Jensz

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Abbott's racism is manifest when he frequently refers to asylum seekers as "illegals". Nothing that asylum seekers do is illegal and all these people are of a different race from Abbott. Logic makes that particular epithet at worst racist or at best xenophobic. It is not the tenor one would wish for the leader of a nation.

      report
    3. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Eddie Jensz

      Eddie,

      If that is the best you have in order to justify this vicious hate mongering smear, then you have nothing.

      report
    4. Peter Banks

      retired Civil Engineer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris,

      Eddie was not trying to justify Abbott's smear - which I would not have anyway called vicious or hate-mongering, except for misogynists. He was pointing out the innate racism engendered by both parties in their policies towards asylum seekers.

      report
    5. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Banks

      Peter,

      Geoff Anderson said: "Tony Abbott would be the most sexist, and racist, PM in our history."

      That statement, as well as being historical drivel, is what I described as a "vicious hate mongering smear".

      I stand by that opinion.

      As to the justification by Eddie. I'm sorry, but we know from interview that not all boat arrivals are asylum seekers, and to refer to those people as illegal immigrants is a precise and accurate description. Further, one of the prime responsibilities of government, any government, throughout history, is border protection. To label an aspirant to high office who intends to carry out his (her) responsibilities in this matter as racist or xenophobic is an abuse of language. I am certain Eddie meant well in his defense of Mr Anderson, but I have to regard his argument as simplistic at best.

      report
    6. Mike Cowley

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Eddie Jensz

      As repulsive as I find the policies of both major parties on asylum seekers, the most you could support about either party on the basis of their policies and statements (apart from idiots like Cory Bernardi anyway) is that they may dog-whistle to a racist element.

      But if you think that racism is the sole factor explaining the resistance to asylum seekers you would not only be wrong but dangerously wrong - there are economic and cultural concerns that IMO are more significant, and branding all…

      Read more
    7. Eddie Jensz

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Boat arrivals who seek asylum, as I said before, are NOT breaking any law, they are seeking asylum. If they are subsequently found not to meet the criteria imposed by the refuge country then it does not change their status from legal SEEKER of asylum to illegal immigrant.

      None of these people are IMMIGRANTS until their acceptance by their chosen country. If they are found not qualify under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Refugees then they can be rightfully returned to their country…

      Read more
    8. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Eddie Jensz

      Eddie that is an outright lie. He is not talking about stopping all immigration or our refugee intake. Clearly, his policy is neither racist nor xenophobic. When you're as desperate as the ALP is to limit the damage in September all you've got is this sort character assassination by name calling and deceit.

      report
  5. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    How often does one get the chance to vote for 1957 in 2013?

    Tony Abbott is a walking talking anachronism. Doesn't understand the problem - doesn't even think there is one. Where has he been for the last 50 years?

    Rip van Abbott.

    report
    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, there's no straight line of progress going straight from 1957 to 2013. The line headed south around the mid 1970s, before snapping sometime in the late 1980s. A renewed linear line of improvement wasn't restored until about the mid 1990s.

      report
    2. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to David Thompson

      Que????

      No lines, no railway tracks, no "progress" ... just old tired broken ideas with a lot of blokes clinging to the wreckage of the Good Old Days. They forget nothing - they learn nothing - they understand even less.

      And they seem to chart the progress of their own lives and see global trends. Glad you found someone to like you in the 90's though. We all need someone to boss around.

      report
    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      "We all need someone to boss around."
      Peter, this is known as 'inter-generational projection'.

      report
  6. Ronald Ostrowski

    logged in via Facebook

    Labor should be talking about policies not this sort of trivia. Let the media exploit these gaffes and such other vacuous matters as that is all they know about ion political reporting and analysis . As for the LNP female candidate in question she is not a bad sort, but I would not vote for her. I suppose Abbott and I share the same taste in women, but that is as far as it goes. Let's move on to an adult and mature discussion about policies and budgets, and Australia's future, please. That is what the punters want to know about or at least I hope they do.

    report
    1. Pat Moore

      gardener

      In reply to Ronald Ostrowski

      Hi Ron, Intelligent, informed, analytical people like many on TC, yourself included, can have fact-dense, statistically-informed analysis about political claim & counterclaim but there's a whole lot of un & misinformed people out there, fed on tabloid Murdoch, shockjock, crap TV etc or nothing substantial at all, as you know too well.

      Probably 80% (? estimation...factcheck?) of the electorate gets their 'information' from these biased sources, evidence on which they vote. Gossip wildfires on…

      Read more
  7. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    While we're all checking out the talent in Lindsay this liitle survey from Lonergan and the Guardian is rather interesting...http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/aug/15/western-sydney-lindsay-political-poll-report

    Not a big fan of robot polling myself but given all those caveats, there is an interesting num,ber buried in the report - 30% of Linday's voters have decided to vote Liberal BECAUSE of the recent switch to the recycled Rudd. (Page 8)....

    That little number should be making NSW marginal Ruddites very nervous indeed.

    report
  8. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    And while we're checking out the talent in Lindsay, this little survey from the Guardian might be interesting.... http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/aug/15/western-sydney-lindsay-political-poll-report

    Quick, robotic and cheap, I'm not a big fan of automated (machine) polling but buried in the report predicting a 60% first preference landslide for the "hottie" is this...

    30% of Lindsay's voters respond that the return of Rudd has made them less likely to vote Labor. (Page 8…

    Read more
  9. Jim KABLE

    teacher

    I thought it a particular yechh! moment for Abbott - given all that has gone on over the past year - let alone going all the way back into the latter decades of last century - but my attention had already been grabbed by the patronising/trivialising word "feisty" used before the "sexual appeal" phrase. Can one imagine using "feisty" for Christopher PYNE? Can one imagine HIM wishing it were used about him? Another yechh! moment for us all. No, feisty is only ever used about women - the kind of women apparently who jump up and down shouting for someone to notice them. It is a non-complimentary word. A real put-down!

    report
  10. Geoffrey Henley

    Research Associate

    Once again the Labor luvvies and self-righteous lefties like to jump on anything that Tony Abbott says and blow it out of all proportion. A clear sign of desperation.

    Julia Gillard's 'misogyny' speech was the act of a very desperate politician resorting to any means possible in some vain attempt to turn around tumbling poll results.

    Interesting that Rudd now endorses businessman Jason Yat-sen Li who is known to have made a sexist remark 10 times worse than anything Abbott has said.

    report
    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Geoffrey Henley

      Not to mention Rudd's habitual term of endearment to airplain hosties - "c***". Lovely.

      report
    2. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Geoffrey Henley

      Geoffrey - can't you see that the way you argue sounds like cheap insults from the playground?

      It doesn't matter who says it, the "it" was sexist but importantly it emphasised Abbott's wanton disregard and ignorance.

      report
    3. Geoffrey Henley

      Research Associate

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      So when Julia Gillard referred to Joe Hockey as the 'fatman' is that wanton disregard and ignorance. Surely insulting to overweight people.

      report
    4. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Geoffrey Henley

      Anything that is personally derogatory or abusive is unacceptable. And it misses the point. Joe is an economic ignoramus and bunkum peddler - the fact that he was chubby is neither here nor there. Personal stuff just gets in the way and clouds the issue.

      report
  11. Jena Zelezny

    research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

    Is there any doubt that Tony Abbott is not a particularly smart person?

    report
    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      I don't think it adds anything to the debate by saying TA is not smart.

      Anyone in his position gets there through being smart and influential.

      It's whether you agree with him or not - that's the point.

      It's also whether you think he's capable via his personality and leadership to become PM.

      report
    2. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Not sure that's as true as we'd like Stephen ... as evidence: Barnaby Joyce, Dan Quayle, George Dubbya,

      I think Abbott works himself incredibly hard ... that he must put things together very carefully in order to understand... but on other matters he just decides not to understand and bluff it out. He's doing that more and more.

      Also seems to have trouble with synchronising ... engaging mouth before finishing processing ...

      Those curious freeze-frame moments when some journalist throws him a curve-ball ... he's in there... he's thinking ... and he's utterly oblivious to the cameras and anything else.

      Reminds me of my first laptop actually ...Toshiba - 1984... 640ks of Ram, a 20MB hard disk (Wow!!!) , and a small and very hardworking processor. And lots of frozen screens ....

      Not so much dumb as ponderous.

      report
    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Well I guess we can differ here.........smart maybe knowing when you're not that intelligent and let others be intelligent for you.

      Smart people often employ brilliant and clever people.

      Smart is working hard to get somewhere and achieving success.

      Other synonyms for smart are - astute,shrewd, canny, keen agile etc.

      report
    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      I'd say Abbott has an IQ about 125, which would put him in the top class of the current sitting parliamentarians. He is arguably educated beyond his IQ, including degrees from Uni of Sydney and Oxford (where he was a Rhodes Scholar and boxing blue) in Economics, Law, Philosophy, and Theology. His book "Battlelines" validates these assessments as 'minimum'. So, yes, TA is a particularly smart person; when comparing Julia Gillard, we can only cringe again. Oh, god, when will the memory go away!?

      report
    5. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to David Thompson

      This is the problem with "IQ" really ... no one's exactly sure what it measures ... problem solving abilities, pattern recognition but common sense, sincerity, honesty, flexibility, adaptability... doesn't get a look in.

      Gillard too has a serious intellect, and a work ethic to rival a bee ... doesn't count for much at all does it?

      Find us a better measure.... a Politician Quotient.

      report
    6. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to David Thompson

      I'm sorry David but a bachelor's degree (and an unsubstantiated estimate from you) does not necessarily mean that TA has what it takes to become a progressive leader. Stubbornly professing a conservatism that appeals to certain segments within the community is not a qualification it is reliance on traditions such as the white Australia policy, misogyny, fear of the other, economic protectionism and entitlement. Stasis as a political strategy seems akin to some sort of repetition compulsion the telos of which is the death of thought.

      Surely it does not take much in the way of intelligence or good sense to avoid the mistakes he makes with such frequency, mistakes that leave him open to ridicule and contempt from his detractors.

      And to confuse suppository with repository?

      My observation is that there is a frighteningly low standard of intelligence among those who seek to govern and, moreover, they, the candidates, don't seem to care.

      report
    7. Jena Zelezny

      research for second PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (Performance Studies/Theatre & Drama/Dramatic Literature/Visual Arts) at La Trobe University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Ok Stephen, so why does TA not do it? Why does he not curtail his off-the-cuff remarks and use a a cache of surrogates instead? Where are his band of "brilliant and clever people" and why are they not advising him? Do they exist?

      Does it not worry him that he appears stupid?

      report
    8. Tim Niven
      Tim Niven is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Student at Tzu Chi University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi Stephen.

      Obviously how "success" is defined is an important question. A colleague at work the other day cited Steve Jobs as a success - I guess that's a fairly normal definition, though it's not mine. Still, sticking to such a normal defintion I think this one is either a tautology or a non-sequitur.

      A tautology to the extent which people who are successful are seen as smart...because they are successful.

      A non-sequitur because "success", as often defined, can be achieved by knowing…

      Read more
    9. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter,

      Good analysis. Abbott didn't become a Rhodes Scholar by coasting…

      As to Joyce and Quayle, well yeah. Quayle’s brief exposure to the lime light rapidly convinced everyone else he should be kept out of it in future.

      Dubbya though, no. The man had the academic smarts, and was ferociously well informed. He was not an articulate man, and that counted against him, and when he did speak he adopted a folksy style which resonated with his core constituency but tended to put off liberals and non Americans. Compare that to his successor. The current incumbent is ferociously articulate, giving the impression of high intelligence, but is actually as dumb as a door knob.

      report
    10. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to David Thompson

      Cecil Rhodes was a typical product of the Victorian era. Sport and muscular Christianity being as important to the upper classes as brain power.

      That Tony Abbott received only second class honours could only be that his achievements had been hopelessly compromised by too many blows to his head in boxing-two blues in boxing does not say anything about his mental prowess to be the leader of Oz.

      report
    11. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The man was not articulate, he mangled his words. Damned if I know how he even managed to become President in the first place.

      Doesn't mean I change what I said tho.

      As I also said, compare him to Obama - articulate as all get out, still as dumb as a post.

      Intelligence and verbal skills are often combined, but not necessarily.

      Quayle, on the other hand, had neither.

      report
    12. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      Jena, I responded to your question with data - both absolute and relative - you have rejected my answer with ignorant words completely unrelated to the question you asked. When ignorant stay silent, listen to the knowledgeable, and learn. That is how we progress/

      report
    13. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Tim Niven

      Tim I take your points.

      There is a difference between smart and intelligent as I have said.

      A man who goes it to Oxford, gets a degree (however borderline),
      enters politics and makes it to the top (or thereabouts) and is admired by a large number of Australians (not me btw) cannot do it on dumb luck or by knowing the right people.

      That type of "luck" may last a little while, but TA has stuck at for over 20 years. There may be people in politics who are dullards or low on intelligence and not "smart", but I just don't think you can put TA into that category.

      My guess is that those who don't consider TA smart are people who are at best irritated by him and his behaviour, and loathe him at worst.

      It is too simple an argument to say he is not smart OR intelligent.

      Anyway that's my opinion........

      report
    14. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Venise, your uninformed biography and psychoanalysis of Cecil Rhodes does not really address Jena's question.

      report
    15. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      " Is there any doubt that Tony Abbott is not a particularly smart person? "
      No doubt Jena, there are some with no doubt at all and perhaps that could even be your position.
      Then again, I reckon there could be many people that we might class as smart who will at times have said things that in hindsight they might reflect on it being something that would have been better to not have been said.
      It does not necessarily mean that it makes someone look stupid even if there are always many people about just waiting for a stumble with words.

      report
    16. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      "The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th." --Washington, D.C., July 12, 2007"

      Which is absolutely true of course.

      report
    17. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to David Thompson

      The problem I have with quoting IQ numbers is that 100 is always the average, says little about what 100% of 'intelligence' means and always leaves 50% of people below the line... If TA was really about 125, it doesn't necessarily mean he is intelligent, just that he is above the mid line - wherever that may be actually situated... I fear the whole population is dumbed down at this stage, with small areas of specific expertise maybe, but giving the false impression of 'intelligence'. Just look at what we do to our natural environment - does that show intelligence?

      report
    18. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to Greg North

      No, what makes someone look stupid is not to apologise when one realises one should not have said something - or learn from it and not repeat the same blunder again.

      report
    19. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      Consider JFK - very few would doubt that he was intelligent and even "smart".

      But how smart was his womanising? He jeopardised his presidency, his marriage, his fellow citizens trust etc. - not smart at all.

      But he is lionised in history.

      report
    20. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Might not have had much sense to it Stephen but the world did get a memorable rendition of Happy Birthday to You Mr President... perhaps JFK's longest lasting legacy ....

      A difficult choice for any 1960s male - saving the free world or snogging Marilyn Monroe?

      report
    21. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The "Camelot" days of Jack & Jackie - the days of wine and roses.

      The irony of Marilyn singing so sexily to Jack........two giants of history but both such broken individuals.

      report
    22. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      Suzy,

      You said: “I fear the whole population is dumbed down at this stage”

      Then rest assured, your fears are groundless.

      Decade over decade, “intelligence tests” need to be recalibrated because each generation (on average of course) achieves a higher score on the older tests than did the original target population.

      The indications seem to point to the conclusion that the whole world, or the bits that have been tested anyway, are becoming smarter. Either that or they are just getting better at performing intelligence tests.

      As to TA, a score of 125 puts him 1.7 standard deviations above the average, that's pretty impressive you know, puts him in about the top 5% of the population - in whatever it is IQ tests measure.

      report
    23. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen, please consider who wrote the history. (Hint: most likely had a truncated chromosome ;)

      report
    24. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      That's exactly the point - what they measure. Who defined intelligence and what did they include/leave out are the question which need to be asked before one quotes figures as absolute proof of 'intelligence'.

      report
    25. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It's a strange business Stephen ... the drivers of politicians ... the incessant need for popularity, adulation and attention.

      It is such a shocking abominable life - trashing families, personal lives and inherently unstable... it's a gambler's life. Relentless, demanding and utterly unforgiving.

      And yet we expect saints - we demand saints... we want to vote for super heroes endowed with every human virtue and none of the other stuff. Pity - most of them end up being sinners like us all.

      report
    26. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      When I say "sinners like us all" Stephen I was of course implying that certain classes of persons - folks of moral fibre - would of course be exempt, standing well above the common venal temptations and blandishments of the flesh ... including folks like myself who have been elevated to the Cherubim simply by age and a generalised lack of interest.

      report
    27. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Thanks for the clarification - I take my moral fibre every day, and feel the more cleansed for it.

      And the view from the high moral ground is gratifying.

      report
    28. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Oh dear, Stephen, who 'lionises' those displaying such behaviour usually? And in historical records? Those who themselves value a patriarchal attitude and display. It's really not that far fetched that history was - and mostly still is - written by men and focuses on those parts that men value.

      report
    29. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      The histories of JFK I have read have not been flattering in many ways.

      And the glories of the "Camelot" days included Jackie as much as Jack.

      I concede that men have written most of the world's history - at least from a Western perspective. But that has certainly changed in the last few decades. One of the most memorable writer's of history for me is Barbara Tuchman.

      Men have dominated the world for tens of thousands of years.....but at least we can move on. Can't we?

      report
    30. Tim Niven
      Tim Niven is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Student at Tzu Chi University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I think you're right that Tony Abbott has a reasonable level of smarts, Stephen. How much that went into his "success" is perhaps more of an open question to me. I don't feel well enough informed about the inner workings of the Liberal Party and his historical rise to the leadership to make a strong judgment myself. I digressed a bit off topic into business territory because the smart-successful link (or not) has been a topic de jour for me :)

      But think again of George W. If I can paraphrase…

      Read more
    31. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Tim Niven

      Thanks for the reply......

      I consider myself reasonably "smart", but my goodness some of my actions and deeds in my life have been far less than smart, and as I get older I dwell on those things I regret, and some hurt I may have caused.....

      report
    32. Tim Niven
      Tim Niven is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Student at Tzu Chi University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I'm responsible for my fair share of less-than-smart-ness. We try to try our best, eh - imperfect as we are?

      Even recently I've been caught off-guard by high irrationality - people who have cannot see their less-than-smart-ness, against all reason and evidence, have no capacity to attribute even any small dosage of less-than-smart-ness to themselves, and therefore zero probability to change.

      If you have power I guess you don't need reason. If you don't, when reason exhausts itself I guess all that's left is ridicule?

      report
    33. Suzy Gneist

      Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Maybe greater humility needs to accompany greater intelligence :)

      report
    34. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      Suzy, you have used a lot of posts to tell us you are not knowledgeable in this area. Thus, we can take it you are saying Jena is wrong.

      report
    35. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Jena Zelezny

      You'd want to check out his education history before making that sort of assertion, Jena. It might stop you from making such an idiot of yourself.

      report
  12. Craig Myatt

    Industrial Designer / R&D

    This is less a comment about Abbott's response, and more a search for a good model of human equality.

    I would say, I am not female, so I should make that disclosure. I don't like feminism, but have grown to see the benefits, some of which are (...feel free to comment...)

    1. Men don't have to do all the work anymore, leadership is lots of work

    2. Hopefully that will translate into more even life expectancies for men, as women start to match the workforce participation of males

    3. In time, feminists (and this is a two way street, guys, so don't go overboard) might rue the clear downsides to equality: higher proportion of females being processed in criminal systems, higher death rates from high risk jobs like front line armed forces, etc; and simply not having the unspoken 'special treatment' for the 'ladies'.

    report
    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Craig Myatt

      Human equality had long been rejected as a desirable social outcome.

      report
  13. Philip Dowling

    IT teacher

    I find it puzzling that so many have commented on a single phrase without having read the full response of Tony Abbott.
    He was responding to points of comparison between Jackie Kelly and Fiona. This fact seems to have eluded this author and many other commentators.
    The author's political intent is clear when she equates dad with patriarch.
    I fear this suggests a tendency by the author to be pratriarchal.

    report
  14. Barry Nicholson

    Engineer

    Quite unbelievable that someone can write such drivel and not notice the multi billion dollar make up industry. It appears thought policing is in force in 21st century man, as you can think it but dare not speak it.

    report
    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Barry Nicholson

      "Quite unbelievable that someone can write such drivel."
      Barry, drop in every few days. At any time about 25% of the articles on TC are of this calibre. Another 25% on boat of equal calibre...

      report
  15. Venise Alstergren
    Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

    photographer, blogger.

    Tony Abbott's sexist remarks are indicative of 1950s Australian thinking. In that era sex was the blanket cover against which any woman who looked like questioning the status quo was automatically reduced to a being a sexual nonentity. A woman questioning the status quo was "sexually frustrated; her partner wasn't giving her enough sex; she was going through that 'time of the month'; had mid-life crisis with its apparently concomitant suggestion of mental degeneration; was seeking the attention…

    Read more
    1. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Venise to be comparing 2013 with the 1950s, you must rather elderly - I'm guarssing in your seventies or eighties -, and probably not the most astute observer of sexual culture in the modern world.

      report
    2. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to David Thompson

      Wrong. I'm a hundred and ten.

      Sex is older than time.

      Also I am conversant with the sexual mores of the Romans, Carthaginians the Greeks-and the practices of ancient Egypt. None of these civilisations produced-almost exclusively- pimply- faced cleft -pallated (sic) youths of fourteen to twenty years of age demanding blow jobs from their twelve-fourteen year old dates; most of whom are far from satisfied at having to 'wear a pearl necklace' as it's euphemistically referred to, and who receive little sexual satisfaction in return.

      I imagine this makes me three to four thousand years old?

      report
    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Venise, great stuff. So keep the ditties from the nooky in the Athenian agora and Roman knocking shops coming. But leave the sex scene in 2013 to those who are actually producing that scene.

      report
    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      It also requests comments informed by education and evidence.

      report
    5. Tiffany Meek

      Graphic designer, psychology student

      In reply to David Thompson

      David you make patronising and insulting remarks that have no place on this forum.

      You owe Jena an apology for your 'shut up little woman and listen while the man speaks' style comment.

      You owe Venise an apology for your 'shut up little woman and stop talking about things you know nothing of' style comment.

      This website is all about free speech. We all have different amounts of knowledge and life experience. That in no way affords us less or more right to voice our opinion. In the case of your remark to Venise, if we could only comment on those things we had absolute personal experience of there would be very little written here on 'The Conversation', if anything at all.

      I would appreciate it if you would show some good sportsmanship.

      report
  16. jennifer larkin

    female

    I am a teacher. If my principal was addressing a parent group about what I bring to the job of teaching VCE, I would be horrified to hear the principal tell them I bring sex appeal! Wrong context Tony Abbott!

    report
    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to jennifer larkin

      Heck no Ms L ... Tony's spot on ... superficial charm, raunch, huge bazookas, a penchant for fishnets and lederhosen ... these are the attributes of the modern marketable polly.

      Brains, ability, integrity, capacity and such hard to package items are best left to the ingredients label on the side of the package in three point yellow type.

      The Woolibuddha Men's Shed has decided to organise a meet the candidates evening at the RSL next week. Everyone's looking forward to the "talent" and the "swimsuit" sections.

      Betta get on - we've gotta do some welding to accommodate Joel Fitzgibbon's pole dancing routine.

      report
    2. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to jennifer larkin

      Obviously your not teaching marketing if you don't think sex sells. For goodness sake, getting elected is about appealing to the voter - to consider yourself in the same category would be like saying Angela Jolie shoudn't be described as sexy because she's an actress. You're a teacher - what possible relevance is that to this job? Bizarre!

      report
    3. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to jennifer larkin

      My point was you'r attempt to personalise the requirements of marketing a public figure to a teacher in their job was ridiculous. Let me suggest you probably wear make-up when you go to school? Why? What possible context is there for that, if not marketing! You sell a politician the same way any other commodity because, as this very discusson shows, everyone talks about the person and not about the policies. So having an attractive candidate is an advantage, just as the physical attributes of an athlete, or even a teacher. I can assure you that a young french visiting student teacher can achieve a much higher standard of attention and success in the classroom than a crusty gentleman any day of the week. Motivation is the name of the game.

      report
    4. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to jennifer larkin

      Er, Jennifer, neither Abbott nor Fiona Scott are school teachers, working with children all day. Perhaps your narrow perspective makes you not the most astute observer of these issues.

      report
  17. Guy Curtis

    Senior Lecturer at School of Psychology and Exercise Science, Murdoch University

    Abbott is stuck in a very backward sexist mindset. The sex appeal comment illustrates this nicely. Similarly, in his interview on the 7:30 Report last night he was talking about school principals and generically refereed to school principals are "he" - I guess he can't imagine a woman being in charge even after being beaten by one for the Prime Ministership 3 years ago. You just have to shake your head when you hear him talk and wait for the next gaffe.

    report
    1. Brett Bailey

      Self Employed

      In reply to Guy Curtis

      Perhpas we should shake our heads when we read that Mark Latham apparently thought Abbotts comment as incorrect - quite the reverse - I would think that was sexist.
      Check out Mamamia website - of Cleo's "sexy" politicians - I didn't think Cleo is in the 1950's, but apparently they are because they have a list? Then of course they had their least sexy list? Also sexist I would have thought?
      How about PM GIllard - wasn't she the sexiest woman in Australia after Jennifer Hawkins? Was that sexist…

      Read more
  18. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    I agree with the article that Abbott's comment probably signifies a lot.

    The problem is the comment 'but beyond their immediate use for point-scoring in the election campaign' - because the article is about point-scoring in the election campaign. It's selective. It only looks at Abbott and 'senior members of the Liberal Party'.

    If it examined Rudd's going to a strip club, promoting Yat-sen Li, his response to Latiks Bourke, or knifing a female PM, we might think it was more objective and powerful.

    report
  19. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    Fellow suppositories! I fear we are being used.

    I just received my first parcel of electroral bumf ... wasn't personal - everyone in Woolibuddha today received a DVD from Clive Palmer's lot via Australia Post ... plastic envelope, nice simple messages - all good news ... he'll do well I suspect.

    So the DVD contains Great Moments - Clive speaking in Canberra, Clive at the Airport (who could forget) the entire opus of Clive's TV ads and a "bonus" TITANIC II video.

    Now it's this last policy…

    Read more
  20. john tons

    retired redundant

    The one point not picked up here is the well documented research that people's appearances do count. We tend to make assumptions about people's intelligence and abilities based on the way they look. I recall when I visited my mother in hospital. One day I was in hurry and parked in the doctor's car park - nothing was said; I had just come from a board meeting and looked the way doctors are 'supposed' supposed to look. We judge people's intelligence by their appearance, and their capabilities by the way they dress. Attractive people are presumed to be more electable than unattractive people. So the reality is that we are rather shallow when it comes to judging people.

    report
  21. Chris Saunders

    retired

    Comments on this thread would have us believe that the Opposition Leader, Abbott, was marketing his team and that is why it was perfectly OK to describe Fiona Scott as young, feisty, and having sex appeal. So if we accept that salesman Abbott was only attempting to sell Scott to the electorate then we have to assume his targeted audience was some proportion of the Lindsay heterosexual male, eligible voters; possibly young, aggro, males and dirty old men. What about the majority of the Lindsay electorate…

    Read more