They blinked

Recently, I attended a large fund-raiser, diligently organised by wonderful people to raise money for a fantastic cause.

The guests of honour included two female Olympic medallists, who turned many heads with their towering, athletic beauty in the almost completely male crowd.

Both women acquitted themselves admirably on stage, giving insight into the life of an elite sportsperson. It then came time for a portly comedian/MC to take over, who complimented the women on how attractive they were, telling one she was an "inspiration" to him ... to lose weight and "grow a massive appendage".

Other gags followed about how he wished the day was a swinger's party, so he could drop eight bunches of keys in one of the athlete's raffle ticket bowls.

By and large the jokes were met with laughter from the 200 plus men present but as I watched one of the women, a multiple Olympic gold medallist, she simply stared down at her plate.

No stranger to headlines, she told me afterwards the comments were "no big deal", but every other female I spoke to voiced disappointment that the athletes had been reduced to sex objects.

Tellingly, one woman who'd denounced the comments in private, said she felt "really uncomfortable" talking to me, a journalist, because she worried how it would reflect on the charity involved.

The thing that surprised me, though, is just how many men in the room also blinked at the comments.

An acquaintance of mine, "Bucket", quite possibly the most politically incorrect man on earth, said to me: "It was a bit much."

Another acknowledged the men at his table had shaken their heads in "good natured dismay", while another said the MC "had gone over the line, but that's his thing."

I guess the question a lot of people are asking since Julia Gillard's now famous misogyny speech is "where is the line"?

A comedian apparently crossed it with a joke about Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, at a union function last month. Alan Jones also burst through it like a Panzer division with his "died of shame" remarks about the PM's father at a Young Liberals dinner.

However, on both occasions, no one walked out of the functions to show their disapproval and I'd have been staggered if anyone had done the same at the fund-raiser I attended.

As a friend of mine said to me that day: "Who's going to be that guy [to stand up and declare themselves the wowser, to draw the line and possibly alienate friends and colleagues]?"

Australia's Chief Justice of the High Court, Robert French, was "that guy" a few weeks ago when he left a banquet in Hobart after being offended by a sexually explicit comedy routine.

I wonder if he'd have done the same before the PM's speech?

Like it or not, Gillard has focused a sometimes uncomfortable spotlight on to the way we talk to and about women in this country and it's sparked a dialogue that's reached deep into our culture, even to my mate Bucket.

I dare say any real change in attitudes will occur only when being seen as sexist dinosaur is less socially acceptable than being deemed a PC wowser.

I attended a second charity dinner recently, the guest of honour this time was one of Australia's most handsome international male actors.

When a walk on the red carpet with the star was auctioned, one table of women jokingly offered $50,000 if the date went until the next morning (wink, wink).

Thus wiggles the line.

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