The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Get The Joke? Male Politicians “Love” Women

Posted by Rhiana Whitson on August 7, 2008

In yet another case of a male politician making jokes at the expense of female politicians, this week East-Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta scored funny points by telling Andrew Denton and his audience how in 2004 he unsuccessfully tried to ‘seduce’ then Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Amanda Vanstone.

The sickeningly smooth Ramos-Horta couldn’t help but score some easy laughs with his tale of political unrequited love, Denton and the audience loved it, not to mention the media, with outlets such as The Age and News.com.au reporting this ‘revelation’ under headlines like this one from News.com.au, “President fails to seduce Vanstone”:

He told ABC Television, in a tongue in cheek revelation, he had first tried other government frontbenchers and was told to write to the then Senator Vanstone.

“Invite her for dinner, she looks like Nicole Kidman,” he recalled being told.

“So I wrote to her, a diplomatic letter but with some hints of romance … meaning I was very warm towards her.”

The president’s hopes were dashed.

I thought that with the ex-Liberal front-bencher out of the country (and living the good life as Australian Ambassador to Italy) Vanstone would have been given a much needed reprieve from the barrage of ‘fat jokes’ that have plagued her career, when tellingly the BMI of male politicians rarely attracts the same scrutiny as their female colleagues.

Yes, it is obvious that Vanstone is a different sort of woman to Nicole Kidman. She is of a larger frame, not hard compared to Kidman’s pre-pregnancy skeletal presence. Call me a nit-picking feminist all you like, but what is it that makes Ramos-Horta, a renowned ‘bachelor’ trying to seduce Vanstone (actually a married woman) so funny? The answer is obvious: because Vanstone is no Nicole Kidman.

What I am so annoyed about here, and what has always annoyed me about the media’s treatment of Vanstone is its constant negative attention to her physical appearance, namely her weight. The intense focus has a message for other women, especially those considering entering the political sphere, if you’re more than a size 12 expect to be made the butt of fat jokes everywhere.

Personally, I couldn’t care less if Vanstone is overweight. What I care more about is the fact that she is having a grand old time over in Italy at our expense, and like most politicians never has to confront the hundreds of asylum seekers she has wrongly deported back to countries where they face real danger.

For an example of how Vanstone’s physicality becomes the primary focus, rather than her bad politics, check out this Sydney Morning Herald blog by ‘Rocco Bloggo’ called ‘When In Rome’

NOTE: I am certainly not suggesting here that I side with Vanstone’s previous accomplishments and failures (her involvement in the treatment of Corneila Rau and Vivian Alvarez-Solon should cause her more than a few sleepless nights) over Nobel Peace Prize Winning Ramos-Horta’s political legacy. Instead I am highlighting the age-old preoccupation that men, the media and unfortunately a lot of other people have with women in the public eyes physical appearance. I suggest that as feminists we should not laugh along with such jokes or nod accordingly in disapproval of women’s physical diversity but challenge and fight against such shockingly sexist attention.

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One Response to “Get The Joke? Male Politicians “Love” Women”

  1. […] model (as Italy’s Carfagna did), and it doesn’t just demean women who want to be treated with respect by their male colleagues. ‘Hotness’ actually demeans the political process […]

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