February 23, 2008
The Canberra Times

Down Ralph! Nothing sexy in belittling high-profile women

In Australian public life it’s easy to dismiss women. To belittle them with a verbal thump, and a sexist sound-bite that’s as good as an elbow shove in the guts.

However it comes, the intent is the same: to put a high-profile woman in her place. A lower place. Reminding her that she is but an object of potential ridicule and irritation and will never deserve the same level of respect afforded her male counterparts. No matter what she does, or what she achieves, she will never be allowed to forget the fact that she is female, and therefore fodder for a sexist jibe and a dismissive put-down.

Here in the nation’s capital, a woman doesn’t speak or argue in Parliament, rather she indulges in ”childish ranting”. She isn’t a successful, single woman, but ”deliberately barren”. And if she makes it to the lofty heights of Deputy Prime Minister, she isn’t a powerful and formidable force, instead she’s just plain ”sexy”.

The male deconstruction of strong and successful women seems to know no bounds. And the deconstructionists just can’t stop themselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against sexy. But I have plenty of objection to the relentless reductionism of women that serves to trivialise and infantilise female achievement.

Why is it that a senior federal politician, who should know better, thinks it’s okay to openly discuss a female journalist’s ”best assets” with male colleagues? Why does he think it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder aloud about the said female’s clothing, and even suggest she’d be better off in something a little more feminine that would highlight her legs and womanly bust? Why is this conversation happening at all? What happened to liberty, equality and all of that?

The editor of Ralph magazine – a sort of soft porn comic for big boys – is all for liberty, and lots of it. In fact, women’s liberation keeps him in business. The more ”liberated” the women, the more flesh they expose, the more his readers drool. And more drooling means more magazine sales. It’s pretty simple really.

Santi Pintado kind of gurgles when he describes his magazine’s winner of the ”Sexiest Woman of the Year” award, announced at a gala dinner this week. There is no doubting Jennifer Hawkins’ beauty and shapely curves. But Pintado is a little stumped on the reasons why he and his editorial staff chose Julia Gillard as ”runner-up” to Hawkins as their sexiest woman.

When asked if he actually thinks Gillard really is sexy, Pintado is blunt: ”Not overly.” But in Gillard’s case Pintado reckons they’ve struck something else.

It’s not an ”I-want-to-sleep-with- you” kind of sexy, which is what all the other pneumatic, micro-bikini clad women in his magazine are touting. The Gillard ”sexiness” is apparently all about the scent of power.

”We think power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” says Pintado, with not a drop of drool to be seen. ”And is there any more powerful woman than Julia at the moment in Australia, now that she is Deputy PM?”

It’s a fair point. But when pressed, what seems to really impress the boys at Ralph magazine – who by their editor’s own admission carried out their judging duties over a very long liquid lunch – is not so much Gillard’s power, as her daily presence in their lives. ”Well, she’s on the box every day, isn’t she?” says Pintado, ”you can’t get away from her really.” Another fair point.

So why does the neatly turned out Julie Bishop not rate a mention in the boys’ ”sexiest women” list?

Pintado reckons it’s got something to do with Gillard having ”better PR”. And besides, ”most of the blokes wouldn’t know who Julie Bishop is”.

But let’s be frank about this. Pintado knows a good publicity pitch when he smells one. Anointing Gillard as runner-up ”sexiest woman” behind former beauty queen Jennifer Hawkins was bound to get the shock-jocks talking. And it did. Pintado can hardly believe his luck: ”We’ve had the most publicity the magazine has received in the last five years.”

So one can only imagine the publicity if Gillard had taken up the magazine’s offer of $50,000 to do a bikini photo-shoot.

But why stop at a bikini? Why not nude?

Pintado is shocked that I would ask, as if the answer is embarrassingly obvious. ”Oh, Ralph doesn’t do nude. It’s all implied. We don’t show any nipple or genitalia. We have to sell in supermarkets, so we have to be consumer-friendly.”

Well, that explains that, then. But since when did ”consumer-friendly” include raunchy displays of massive breasts with teeny G-strings drawn over bulging buttocks? At what point did such a celebration of sluttiness become merely ”consumer choice” at the check-out?

Are these magazine images of young women crawling, kneeling, pouting and posing in various stages of pretended orgasm, so normal and prevalent that we don’t even notice anymore?

Have we become blind to the wholesale reduction of women to little more than body bits, displayed for male critique?

When we choose to ignore the extent of sexist objectification entrenched in Australian culture, is it any wonder that it’s so easy for men to be dismissive of women?

Funny thing is, Ralph magazine also votes a ”Woman of the Year”. So who won that accolade last year, or the year before? The editor can’t remember. But the ”sexiest” well, he can name ’em all.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

Related Media

May 1, 2024
Future Woman podcast
Hear Virginia on Future Woman with Helen McCabe
March 31, 2024
Our Radicals and Revolutionaries: Women’s Liberation
The chaps from ASIO were hiding across the road from the Canning Street house in Ainslie. None of the eight...
March 9, 2024
Meta may not care about Australian news but it’s the soul of our communities
I once rang a convent of catholic nuns in Melbourne, to ask if the Sister in charge might have a...
February 17, 2024
Joining the ‘first lady’ club: oh Jodie, what have you done?
So Jodie Haydon said ‘yes’, right at a time when women around the globe are increasingly saying ‘no’ to marriage....
August 14, 2023
Radicals, Rebels and Reformers: a clarion call from the Sisterhood
Oh, they were mad! Furious. Those wild ‘women’s libbers’. Noisy as hell and heading for the Canberra Times, driven by...
July 24, 2023
Barbie lands an unresolved feminist rant, but the joke is on us!
There is a fabulous moment in the history of the Canberra Women’s Movement when over a hundred furious feminists barged...