MIA: No Cleo, this isn't equality. This is cruel.

from Cleo’s website


Following all the debate last week after Tony Abbott described liberal MP Fiona Scott as having “a bit of sex appeal” and Mark Latham’s follow-up comments describing her as ugly and the brou-ha-ha that resulted I thought we determined it wasn’t a good idea to have a running commentary of the appearance of politicians. No?


Because Cleo magazine immediately decided to run a poll to choose Australian’s Most Sexy and Least Sexy male politicians. Or, the way it’s being promoted by media: “Which pollies are Hot and Not”.

Wait. What?

According to the magazine for girls and young women: “We  thought we’d flip this one around and get your opinion on which MALE pollie has the most sex-appeal.  ”

And here is their list [screenshot]:

[screenshot from Cleo’s website]

I’m a feminist. I believe in equality. But does that mean treating men and women in an equally demeaning way? Admittedly, none of the men in the list above would probably object to being rated for their hotness. This is because men are rarely rated on their appearance. It’s not how society values them. With a few rare exceptions, men are valued for what they do not how they look.

So perhaps the idea of  ‘flipping this one around’ could be seen as cute or amusing. A joke. Ironic.

But what about the other list? The one where Cleo names and shames the male politicians on their list of “Australia’s Least Sexy” male politicians? Or, as they put it: “these are the ones we’d avoid EVEN if we were stranded on a desert island.”


Underneath the most unflattering images of these men they could find, Cleo had to this say [screenshot below]:

[from Cleo’s website]

Imagine – again – that a men’s magazine or a newspaper had published a list of the ‘Australia’s Least Sexy Female Politicians” with that kind of nasty commentary? Imagine if they’d rated Kate Ellis, Penny Wong, Julia Bishop, Sophie Mirabella, Tanya Plibersek, Christine Milne and Sarah Hanson Young according to how ‘sexy or unsexy’ they were along with demeaning descriptions of their faces, bodies and weight?

Imagine it. Any mainstream publication or website who did that would’ve been slammed. There would have been calls for advertiser boycotts. Social media – and traditional media – would have erupted. Political leaders from all sides would have united to condemn it. Society would have pushed back. Because we’ve evolved to the point where we’ve realised this kind of demeaning commentary is unacceptable.

But as I watched the media coverage of Cleo’s list, most commentators seemed to think it was hilarious. A bit of fun. “A great idea” as one female reporter put it.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s appalling? Because I do and I’m calling it out.

This afternoon, I asked to Cleo editor Sharri Markson about her decision to publish the list:

CLEO editor, Sharri Markson.

Mamamia: What did you think of Tony Abbott – and then Mark Latham – discussing the looks of liberal candidate Fiona Scott?

Sharri Markson: Mark Latham’s comments were clearly unkind and uncalled for. I don’t know why anyone gives him column space or airplay anymore. It’s enough. We never need to hear from him again.

Before talking about her sex appeal, Tony Abbott should have highlighted Fiona Scott’s competence, intelligence and explained what she has to offer the local community. That’s far more important to voters. However, I  don’t find his comment offensive and, unlike Latham, Tony wasn’t being nasty. There’s nothing wrong with saying someone has sex appeal.

MM: If you object to women being rated in terms of their looks, do you think it’s constructive to do the same thing to men?

SM: Again, I don’t think it’s offensive to say someone has sex appeal, whether they’re a man or a woman. For many political addicts, like me, a super-smart and attractive politician is far sexier than a good-looking actor like Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling. Sex appeal isn’t based on looks. We didn’t judge the politicians in terms of their looks – Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper made the list of pollies with the least sex-appeal because of their alleged conduct in Parliament.

MM: So why publish a ‘least sexy’ list? Do you think it’s ok to ridicule people for their looks?

SM:  It’s never ok to ridicule people for their looks. After Abbott’s comment, we turned the tables and had a list of the pollies with the most and least sex appeal to our readers in their 20’s.

Having spent two years in Canberra, I know all of the MPs we put on the unsexy list. I doubt any of them would be offended by us saying they don’t have sex appeal to girls in their 20’s. Even Chris Pyne said in jest yesterday arvo: “I wish people would describe me as having sex appeal, but they don’t.”

MM: What would your reaction have been if a men’s mag had done a list of the least-attractive female politicians?

SM: Women in politics are constantly scrutinised on their hair, clothes, figure, looks.. Gillard was endlessly criticised for her appearance – even by women. It was totally unnecessary.

We did nothing of the sort. We listed the men with the most and least sex appeal. Knowing K Rudd, Abbott, Pyne and Hockey, I made a judgement call that they wouldn’t be offended. But for once, we have turned the tables on men, without being nasty – and that was the whole point of the article.

Seirously? How could Joe Hockey NOT be offended by being listed – and publicised – as Australia’s Least Sexy Politician and having his weight and appearance mocked? Like the other men on that list, Joe is a husband and a father and a human being. How could they not be offended by being described in such mocking, demeaning terms?


But it’s not just about Joe and the other men on this list. This is about all men – and women.

How can it be wrong for Mark Latham to make insulting comments about a female politician but when Cleo does it to men it’s just a harmless bit of irony? A joke?

I tell you what I think is a joke: the idea that the answer to cruelty and sexism against women is to be cruel and sexist towards men.


By rating the sexiness of male politicians and ridiculing those considered ‘unsexy’, Cleo dilutes the ability of women to call it out as inappropriate next time a man like Mark Latham thinks it’s OK to discuss a female candidate’s weight or appearance. “But Cleo did it to men and nobody was offended” is the perfect retort from the Mark Lathams of this world.

And frankly Cleo, that sucks.

UPDATE: For those commenters below who seem to think I thought Tony Abbott’s comments about a female candidate having ‘sex appeal’ were ‘fine’, maybe read my post again:

No, I never said it was fine. I said it wasn’t. I said I thought his daughter Frances would have given him an earful in private – and rightly so. But I didn’t believe it was proof that ‘Tony Abbott hates women’ as some were suggesting. Instead, I thought it was a good teaching moment to help educate a generation of men who still thought it WAS an OK way to talk about women they work with. Mark Latham took it a step further, from inappropriate compliment to nasty and personal denegration. Cleo has done both.