'Women are no longer content to accept 'exuberance' as an excuse for the kind of antique humour that finds itself as home in 1973.' Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Less than 24 hours after making international headlines for confusing his suppository with his elbow, Coalition Leader Tony Abbott burbled his way into yet more press-witnessed controversy. When asked how Liberal candidate for Lindsay Fiona Scott compared to her predecessor Jackie Kelly, the Man Who Would Be Prime Minister replied, ''They're young, feisty, I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal and they're just very connected with the local area.''
Why Abbott is spending time thinking about Scott and Kelly's sex appeal is beyond me - but this is, after all, a man who thinks repeating the phrase ''stop the boats'' ad nauseam amounts to comprehensive policy. He later attributed the comments to ''exuberance'', reassuring everyone concerned about sexism being offered begrudgingly rather than enthusiastically.
Some people have leapt on the comments as evidence of Abbott's inherent misogyny, but that's being a little opportunistic. Abbott isn't a misogynist (he owns four women, remember?) any more than he is a worthy candidate to run the country. What he is, is a bumbling mess of ill-conceived ''jokes'' and misjudged rhetoric, a political entity who favours sloganeering over policy yet can't master even that due to the foot permanently grafted to the inside of his mouth. He is, simply, the gaffe that keeps on gaffing.
But while it would be easy to characterise Abbott's latest attempts to objectify women as yet more evidence of the chauvinism that exists within him, focusing solely on his retrosexist ideology ignores a more pertinent fact, and one that his supporters should take heed of. For all the scorn levelled at the so-called ''gender card'' by political players (as if the sexism experienced during her political career was something Julia Gillard made up to muddy her opponent's good name), Gillard's prime ministership and that speech unleashed a torrent of rage in Australian women that shows no signs of being quelled.
Women are no longer content to accept ''exuberance'' as an excuse for the kind of antique humour that finds itself at home in 1973. They don't want to be used as glittering props, their talents reduced to their sexy youth and how tingly they make constituents feel downstairs. Most importantly, they don't want to feel like their protestations are being minimised or ignored as the hysterical whining of a niche group belligerently refusing to get the joke. Abbott claims to be able to deliver better ''leadership'' to Australia. But what does it say about him that he thinks sex appeal and ''feistiness'' are relevant qualifications for a young woman to be able to fill a position of leadership? Abbott hasn't just committed another gaffe; he's reinforced the view that women must offer something in exchange for being given a place at the table.
As a political aspirant to the highest office of governance in the country, Abbott needs to respect the fact that it impacts on his leadership prospects. That he refuses to or simply can't isn't just a sign that he's unwilling to listen to the voices of Australian women, it means he lacks the pragmatism to be a prime minister.
And when you pair such obtuseness with a demonstrated track record of foolish errors and verbal mishaps, you have all the makings of a political farce … but none of the laughs.