By MIA FREEDMAN

Would you be offended if someone described you as having sex appeal? That’s what everyone seems to be talking about today.

I knew something was up yesterday arvo when my phone started ringing with a bunch of numbers I didn’t recognise. Media. All of them requesting comment on Tony Abbott’s latest ‘gaffe’. Unusually, I’d been offline for a few hours because it was my son’s 5th birthday and I was wrangling 11 kids and a stormtrooper (long story). So I had no idea that Tony Abbott had described a female liberal candidate as having ‘sex appeal’ – among other things.

Here it is:

Well, it’s not ideal. They’re political candidates not beauty queens. We can  all agree on that. But I’m not going to pile onto the media frenzy over two words or try to use them to label Tony Abbott a neanderthal.

So I didn’t give any comments. But I will say this here:

My view is that Tony Abbott is a man typical of his generation. He respects women. He likes women. He appreciates women – and that includes visually – as most heterosexual men do. And that’s OK. Like many men of all ages, Tony Abbott hasn’t yet entirely caught up with the changed vernacular and what’s considered appropriate and inappropriate to say publicly.

Just look at the expression on his daughter’s face when he says it:

tony abbott sex appeal Not everyone is ready to condemn Tony Abbott for his sex appeal comment...

What daughter hasn’t rolled her eyes like that when her Dad says something awkward? Oh you can bet she shared a few choice words with him afterwards – as she should. Adult daughters are a wonderful influence on their fathers – look how Jess Rudd managed to turn around her father’s attitude to same-sex marriage.

By all means let’s use it as a teaching moment: a boss probably shouldn’t comment on the way a female employee looks.

But I don’t believe this speaks to Tony Abbott’s overall character or his attitude towards women. Just like the fact he used the word “suppository” when he meant “repository” earlier this week is not an indication that he’s stupid. When you’re working around the clock and having every word, gesture and facial expression scrutinised, stuff happens. Words fall out in the wrong way.

I’m not a fan of GOTCHA moments. And I am a fan of politicians going off script.

So how come whenever a politican does something vaguely human, people lose their minds?

Barack Obama made an almost identical remark to Tony Abbott in April 2013.

As I wrote recently, these predictably gleeful Gotcha! moments have become the toxic albatross of politics, sapping it of all authenticity and turning it into stultifyingly boring rhetoric. Wall-to-wall blah-blah-blah.

The most common complaint about politicians? They sound like robots. They’re wooden and rehearsed and they speak in cheesy, cringe-worthy, on-message slogans like ‘stop the boats’ and ‘moving forward’.

They’ve had too much media training and they all sound the same. Their lips move but what comes out of their mouth is white noise.

We all agree we hate that, right?

The alternative, is politicians speaking a little more freely. Tossing out the predictable script of mind-numbingly dull market-researched phrases that have been ticked off by a phalanx of spinners.

But every time they cautiously try to do that, we jump all over them. We fashion their words into sticks and then whack them half to death. We deliberately twist their intentions and willfully misrepresent the point they’re trying to make.

And for what? Who does this benefit exactly? I am all in favour of debate obviously. And I understand that people have different thresholds for what they find outrageous, offensive or worthy of criticism.

But on social media and in politics, this obsession with pettiness and the constant searching for a ‘gotcha’ moment is so stifling and smug as to be simply maddening. By all means, let’s hold politicians to account. If you don’t agree with Tony Abbott’s policies then argue your point.

But unless we want a bunch of uninspiring, robotic drones, sprouting inane rhetoric, it’s time to start looking at the substance of what our public figures are saying, rather than expecting them to be word perfect every time.

What do you think of the Gotcha moment?



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