I wrote about my discomfort with women being treated as window dressing before I had watched Tony Abbott ask the contestants in Channel Nine’s Big Brother to remember him as the one with the “not bad looking daughters”. He made this suggestion whilst he was, of course, flanked by two of his three “not bad looking” daughters.
Tremendous. Yesterday I stopped short of saying the physical appearance of Abbott’s daughters played a role in the decision to use them as visual aids throughout this campaign. It seemed unnecessary and inappropriate to reference their appearance. Unfortunately Abbott has different standards. Apparently appearance is so vital that he deserves a vote on the basis that his daughters are attractive. Tremendous.
Some readers commented that my piece yesterday was speculative and made too many assumptions. What if they chose to say nothing?
There are a few alternatives. Maybe they have been told to say nothing and just smile for photographers and if that’s the case it’s a poor indictment on whoever made that decision. That decision is selling the girls short.
Again if they had just posed for the odd obligatory magazine shoot but were otherwise uninvolved in the campaign then saying nothing would be completely reasonable. But they haven’t just posed for the odd shot: they have barely left his side.
What if the girls themselves chose to say nothing but also decided they would be visible at all times? If that’s the case they’re selling themselves short. It is disheartening if they believe their real value in this campaign is simply providing constant photo opportunities for their father.
It is difficult to imagine that Tony and Margie Abbott raised these girls in the 21st century with the belief that the most valuable contribution their educated adult daughters could make to an election campaign is as unspoken “not bad looking” female ambassadors. It is difficult to imagine that’s the case but what other conclusion is there?
It’s either been their decision or someone else’s but either way they have accepted it. They haven’t stopped and said “Actually if our daughters are integral in this election then let’s use them for more than their looks. Let’s use them for their brains and their abilities and all of their substantive qualities.”
Unfortunately they haven’t said that and Tony Abbott’s Big Brother appearance clarifies why. As far as he’s concerned their attractiveness is their value. And why is that surprising? It’s precisely the same sentiment he expressed about the Liberal candidate for Lindsay Fiona Scott: she has sex appeal and subsequently deserves a vote.
A scene from Monday night’s episode of 4Corners on ABC illustrated how insidious that sentiment is, particularly coming from someone with power. As Scott wandered through some markets a male stallholder stopped her to say he agreed with Tony Abbott – she is attractive and she’d get his vote. Scott’s embarrassment was palpable but she was forced to giggle and move on. Tremendous.
How can Scott expect to be judged on her merits when her boss, our potential prime minister, has made her physical appearance fair game? They can’t, which is the travesty.
In the Big Brother video, once again, Abbott explicitly ties the value of a woman to her appearance and not just any woman. His own daughters. If we can’t expect a father to value his daughters for more than the way they look what can we expect?
Suddenly Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme looks mightily expensive if the best outcome we can hope for in a woman is for her to be attractive.