I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons
I watched Fiona Scott laugh, the broad smile firmly plastered to her face, as Tony Abbott, the man who wants to be the next Prime Minister of Australia, spoke of her “sex appeal”. I watched as her office fended off questions about the sex appeal comment with “No Comment.” I watched as others loudly provided their own opinion on her level of sex appeal. I watched as Abbott didn’t apologise for his comment (it was a “dad moment”) but provided instead this supposed compliment wrapped in a cliché – “…she ain’t just a pretty face.”
I wondered why she didn’t speak up. I wondered why she didn’t punch Abbott in the face. I wondered why she didn’t come back with some witty remark to render Mark Latham speechless (now that would be something). I wondered why she didn’t stand up and make an eloquent speech about the misogyny that is so embedded in Australian politics. I wondered and wondered until I remembered …
I have been Fiona Scott; minus the conservative political beliefs and MBA and opposition to marriage equality. I am sure many of us have been her – laughing half-heartedly at the sexist, inappropriate comments of our male colleagues and bosses because … Why? So as not to make a scene? So as not to look like you can’t take a joke? So as to keep the job? So, so, so ….
I had done it.
I smiled and laughed politely at the grossly inappropriate comments from male customers when I worked on checkouts at Kmart (my first job whilst studying at university). After-all, they were the customer, right? And they were always right, right? And “you do smile a lot so you’re kinda asking for that sort of thing,” said the supervisor. “Plus, you wear make-up.” Right?
I didn’t tell anyone about the so-called compliments my manager at the local video store (another job through university) would give me even though they made me feel very uncomfortable and unsafe. He went on to create a fake entry for the in-store video search computer; he made up this pornographic film with my name in the title, starring me including an explicit blurb as to what I would do and with whom in this “film”. It was just a joke. It was just hilarious. He brought his friends in to read his literary genius when I was working. When I didn’t laugh I was a stuck up bitch. When I complained I was too sensitive – “he just likes you, that’s all” the owner said.
I smiled politely when my head of department told me he had given me the job because I was blonde. I smiled politely when I was told I only got a job because I was attractive. I laughed off the groping hands and sloppy kisses and lurid stares of older men who should have known better.
I wish I hadn’t.
I wish I had said something.
But back then I didn’t feel I had the words. I didn’t punch anyone in the face or snap back with biting repartee or make an eloquent speech. Then, as I saw Fiona Scott’s reaction to Tony Abbott’s completely unacceptable comment, I was taken back to those moments when I too I just smiled and laughed and made “no comment”; when I should have said something but, instead, felt utterly foolish and silly and uncomfortable and overly sensitive.
As in my situation, it is not her fault. Here she is trying to deal with a sexist boss – in many ways just like that awful manager at the local video store. Describing your candidate as having “sex appeal” or telling your employee she looks like she would “give good head” – these are not compliments, not in these scenarios (I don’t know where the would be … but maybe for some). No. A compliment would be, in Scott’s case, something to do with her ability in politics and, in my case circa 1999, something to do with my excellent shelving of the videos both alphabetically AND by genre. Instead these are belittling statements that reduce women to nothing. I should have said something. Scott should have said something.
And then she did. She finally spoke up. Scott called Abbott’s “sex appeal” comment “a charming complaint” and I realised, in that moment, no, I have actually never, ever been Fiona Scott.
But I cannot blame her.
We had a political leader who stood up and said something and look where that got her. Australian politics prefer the women who laugh and smile and make “no comment”. Sadly it looks like the voters do too.