Years ago I heard someone who claimed to have been a test tube baby talking on the radio. She said the best thing about being such a person - apart from actually being alive, of course - was that you never had to accept that your parents might actually have had sex. I think most people would agree that acknowledging to yourself that your relatives have been involved in Ugandan activities (a Private Eye phrase that Wikipedia claims was invented by James Fenton) is something most of us would rather not do.
Similarly, the majority of people would very much like never to have to think about their politicians in any state but fully dressed and working hard at dull, government affairs. As far as I am concerned, it was this - the introduction of the subject of sex into the arena - rather than the issue of whether or not he was showing respect to a woman that bothered me about Australia's Leader of the Opposition's idiotic decision to mention a candidate's supposed 'sex appeal'.
Of course, the possession of sex appeal is not something that has any bearing on whether someone will be competent as a politician. On the other hand, it is dishonest to pretend that a woman's good looks are not noticed by those around her. I don't believe anyone in Australia who's seen her has not immediately thought that Kate Ellis is far and away the prettiest woman in the House of Reps. What is more, I bet her life is a great deal easier than it would be if she was short and fat.
In fact, I believe the worst sexism in political life is not to be found in the utterances of well-meaning but nittish men in their fifties who haven't yet understood that they are supposed to pretend they don't notice when a woman looks attractive. I believe the worst sexism in political life actually resides in the scorn that people - particularly those on the left - feel free to heap on unattractive female politicians, especially if those female politicians commit the sin not just of being unattractive but also of being on the right.
For example, when I lived in Britain, I was astonished to realise that, of all the ludicrous politicians on offer, Anne Widdecombe - (I was going to put a link under her name, but all the ones I found were so unbelievably foul about her, using combinations of 'fat' and the c*** word lavishly, that I didn't want to give them space) - was singled out as someone who could be routinely scoffed at with utter impunity. She was the regular butt of jokes, involving little more than the mention of her name and a sneering tone, by such 'comedians' as David Mitchell and Marcus Brigstocke. She was an absolutely routine object of mockery on programmes like the News Quiz and the Now Show on Radio 4. There seemed no limit to the verbal cruelty she was subjected to, and it seemed to me that this was, ultimately, because she committed the sin of making no attempt to be a woman interested in attracting the opposite sex. She enraged people by being a dumpy virgin and not having the decency to be ashamed of it.
Here in Australia, Sophie Mirabella is another rather rotund, not enormously attractive woman. I am not suggesting that she is particularly charming. However, I bet she is no less charming than many of her colleagues on both sides of the House. Somehow though, she gets pilloried far more than any other member of the federal parliament. I believe the intensity of venom she attracts is due to the fact that she is a conservative woman who doesn't have a pretty face or a good figure - and yet still has the audacity to assume she has a right to be heard. Were she a man, or a woman who had 'sex appeal', I don't believe her political opponents would dare to be so rude.
Mark Latham's hilariously point missing response to Tony Abbott's 'sex appeal' comments seems to support my theory about the expectations of those on the left. His objection to Abbott's remarks was not that he shouldn't have made them but that the person in question wasn't good looking enough. 'I had a good look at Fiona Scott [the candidate in question]', he told the nation, 'and she doesn't have sex appeal at all.'
Ideally, discrimination based on looks would disappear forever, but humanity is irrationally attracted to beauty. To my mind, the sin of expressing admiration for someone's appearance is a great deal more forgiveable than the sin of dismissing someone because, to quote Latham, they're 'not that good of a sort'.