Punch them in the face (not literally); or, why I wish Fiona Scott had said something …

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

Tony Abbott

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.

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An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

Please do not step down.

I’m not sure if you read the newspapers any more; I wouldn’t if I were in your position. Recently I stopped reading The Age on-line because they seemed more interested in Kim Kardashian and My Kitchen Rules than, well, news. Today, however, I had the displeasure of reading The Age’s editorial. This piece along with other editorials and opinion pieces from the Australian media might have you feeling as if the whole nation is against you. They are not.

I’m not.

I know many, many people who are not.

I don’t know who they actually poll in the Nielsen Poll but it is never me.

I don’t know who Andrew Holden thinks he is writing for in today’s editorial but it is not me.

So, please do not step down.

I am no political expert. I merely have an interest in politics; I was overly excited to enrol to vote, I read widely about Australian politics, I often write to my local member of parliament and I like to be up to date on policy. That’s it though. I am no expert, nor do I pretend to be, so who am I to tell you what to do?  But then again, what right has Andrew Holden or Mike Carlton or Alan Stokes to tell you what to do either?

As someone who takes her right to vote very seriously I am asking you to please not step down or aside or out. As childish as this may sound (and I sincerely hope it does not) if you step down it means they have won. Who are they? The shock-jocks and misogynists and the right-wingers and even the mainstream media. They have all won. From where I am if you step down it looks as if you have been bullied and harassed until there is no other option but to stand aside for a patronising, condescending man whom we had all lost faith in long ago. The bullies should not win. We all know that you, Ms Gillard, are stronger than that.

There are not enough role-models in Australian politics. Now, I am not saying that I agree with you or support you on everything. I do not agree with your stance on asylum seekers or gay marriage rights to name but two areas. I do agree with your Carbon Tax but wish it had been handled better. I don’t usually even vote ALP and I certainly do not vote for the Liberal Party. Those points aside, you are a role-model to so many women, including myself. Your role as Prime Minister means more than you could ever imagine. For young women to see a woman leading a nation means we can, indeed, do anything and that we are, indeed, equal; for young men it helps instil a respect for women, and highlights the fact that we are all equal and should be treated as such.

I spoke with my 11-year-old niece the other day. She is very bright and has just won a scholarship to a great school. When I asked her about the way you have been treated she said; “Yeah, well, it’s like that for girls”. She went on to say she’d like to be Prime Minister one day but she believed that you, Ms Gillard, were getting treated poorly because “girls have to put up with more of that stuff”. What a terrible indictment on our society. We have girls believing they just have to put up with poor treatment, with misogyny, with disrespect, with bullying because that’s the way it is – deal with it.

In my eyes, stepping down is a way of “dealing with it”.

It is the way women are supposed to “deal with it”: don’t make a scene, be graceful, be humble …

Ms Gillard, you nor any human being should have to “deal with it”. If only the media, the Liberal Party, some of your own backbenchers and all those others who hound you, if only they knew the damage they were causing in the hearts and minds of young women across the nation; young women who could potentially be incredible leaders for this country. But maybe that’s their goal – to humiliate, embarrass and scare women away from important leadership roles and keep us in our traditional places.

I do not believe these wild exclamations that this has nothing to do with gender; it has a lot to do with gender. I have never witnessed the same level of disrespect for a Prime Minister as I have seen thrown at you. Your leadership of this nation has been treated like the scandals that fill gossip magazines – the leadership “battle”, your glasses, your empty fruit-bowl, menu-gate, your martial status

Prime Minister, you are not the reason for a lack of, as Holden writes, “policy-driven democratic debate”. Of course that debate occurs. The mainstream media just chooses to write, talk and focus about this so-called “leadership battle” as if it were the latest Hollywood break-up. We are not being given the news we want or the news we deserve. We are being fed rubbish to distract us from what is really happening in this country.

Please do not step down; please show my niece, her friends, young people across the country and future generations that bullies cannot win. You have already shown us that women need not “put up” with the outdated, misogynistic attitudes you face daily.  Please show us that Australian politics can be decent, can lead the way, can be full of good policy and without character-assassination, especially that which is based on gender. Please do not step down– for if you do I fear my niece, her friends, young women of future generations may never feel they have the opportunity to be a leader.

Yours truly,

Katy Warner