The horrific double standards for women in the public eye

Women in public positions continue to be objectified, sexualised and then abused for pointing it out, writes Ali Clarke.

Feb 01, 2024, updated Feb 01, 2024
Victorian MP Georgie Purcell. Photo: AAP/Diego Fedele

Victorian MP Georgie Purcell. Photo: AAP/Diego Fedele

“Show us ya tits!”

That kind of jumps out of the page, doesn’t it?

It’s abrasive, it’s confronting, and I’m pretty sure a fair few of you are thinking it’s an utterly inappropriate way to start a column.

As a girl growing up in the ’80s, who then grew into a woman through the ’90s, that sentence was, at worst, the start to many a one-sided “conversation”, and at best an anonymous punctuation mark at school, on walks or during a night out at the pub.

As a tomboy with broad shoulders, whose only idea of a bra was, “how can I get something to tuck these things away so I can play sport”, I didn’t really understand what the fuss was about.

It was a phrase to be tolerated, to walk away from.

It was something you had to ignore for fear of inflaming the situation, because after all, back then, it was kind of accepted in my part of Australia that this was just something that happened.

But now I know better.

Now we all know better – or so I thought.

Just as we were all patting our backs on how developed (yes, I did that deliberately) we’ve become, along comes Channel 9 with the ultimate game of body shaming, involving Victorian Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell.

In case you missed it, the Victorian Government announced it would continue to allow duck hunting and, as you can imagine with her party alignment, Ms Purcell had plenty to say about it.

The problem was someone or something (more on that later), decided an alignment of a different kind was completely appropriate and, in a graphic that was broadcast on air, a photo of her was altered, turning her dress into a crop top and to her (and the layperson’s) eye, it looked her breasts had been enlarged.

Purcell quite rightly called the network out, appropriate outrage ensued, cue some typical Neanderthalic responses from chatroom brawlers like “get over it” or “she needs bigger ones anyway”, and then came the apology.

The Director of 9News Melbourne explained the error as an online image being “resized to fit their specs” and during that process, “the automation by Photoshop created an image that was not consistent with the original”.

There is no way a male radio host would be pulled aside and told that he ‘wasn’t looking as good as he should for the station’s social media posts’ as I have been.

Regular readers would be aware of my trepidation around some of the ways AI is being used, so whilst Purcell was seemingly happy with the response, at least publicly, I was busy putting a big black line through any future use of that program.

That was, until a spokesperson from Photoshop’s parent company Adobe released a statement saying: “Any changes to this image would have required human intervention and approval.”

Well, as they say in the classics, the plot thickens… or in this case, it’s lifted, enhanced and perked.

So, we either have someone sitting in a darkened graphics room getting their jollies under the commercial guise of “sex sells”, or the bots are using their algorithms based on their massively large data sets to presume what should be happening to a woman’s body to make her more attractive.

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If bras (of all sizes) weren’t so bloody expensive it should be enough for us to return to burning them in the streets.

You don’t think so?

Well as someone who has had their physical appearance picked at and commented on, as someone who has had who they are as a person criticised and pulled apart just because of the job they do, it’s bloody horrific.

The argument often goes, well you’re in the public eye, you deserve whatever you get.

But I call bullshit on that one, as does Georgie Purcell.

There is no way a male politician would get the same treatment and be sexualised for ratings whilst delivering a viable and important policy view.

There is no way a male radio host would be pulled aside and told that he “wasn’t looking as good as he should for the station’s social media posts” and he needed to do something about that, as I have been.

Purcell was all class saying: “I just hope it doesn’t happen again. There are other people who wouldn’t deal with this as well as I did.”

As more and more of what we’re presented with is massaged, moved and curated, it’s very clear that we haven’t come as far as we would have liked. We haven’t come as far as a lot of us have told ourselves we have.

You know, in some respects, I almost prefer the good old days of a lout shouting “nice fun bags”.

At least I could slap him.

Now I don’t know who to slap first.

Ali Clarke presents the breakfast show on Mix 102.3. She is a regular columnist for InDaily.

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