theguardian: by Rebecca Shaw —
The Australian’s obituary of Colleen McCullough is a sad reflection of how women’s lives are valued
‘The fact that Colleen McCullough was a best-selling author is quickly tossed aside in order to discuss her looks and her success with men
bituaries are a funny thing. How do you sum up a person’s entire life in just a few words? How do you put their essence on a page, touching on their achievements, and their greatest moments, while also keeping it personal? The first paragraph seems to be crucial. When Bryce Courtenay, one of Australia’s most beloved and successful authors died in 2012, the Australian newspaper started out with:
BRYCE Courtenay was one of Australia’s greatest storytellers, touching the hearts of millions of people around the world with 21 bestselling books including The Power of One.
Lovely. In this introduction you understand immediately that he was a best-selling author, a great storyteller, and someone who touched the lives of many people through his work. Seems easy enough. Yesterday, the Australian published an obituary for another beloved and best-selling Australian author, Colleen McCullough. Her obituary opened with:
COLLEEN McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”
Now, what do we learn from this introduction? The fact that she was a best-selling author is quickly tossed aside in order to discuss her looks and her success with men. In the first paragraph. Of her obituary. Which is meant to sum up her entire life. McCullough was a woman who penned The Thorn Birds, still the highest-selling Australian book of all time. After working as a neuroscientist in Sydney, she went on to write that particular book during her time in the neurology department at Yale. This is a woman who also wrote an acclaimed seven-book, methodically researched, historical series called Masters of Rome, which won her diverse fans like Newt Gingrich and Bob Carr. She is someone who accomplished an astonishing amount during her life, and here she is reduced, in a moment, to her looks and her ability to attract men.
Sadly, this is not an issue that is restricted to this particular newspaper (although it is a clear and awful example of it), or to McCullough herself. When the accomplished and brilliant rocket scientist Yvonne Brill passed away in 2013, the New York Times came under fire for their obituary, which began with:
She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.
But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist, who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.
Once again, a woman’s life full of incredible accomplishments. Once again, a woman reduced to her position in relation to men, and this time, how good her cooking is.
That these outrageous obituaries still being published demonstrates how little has changed, and how women’s lives are still too often abridged and disrespected. It shows us where the emphasis remains; a woman’s physical attractiveness and relationships with men are given more weight than her personal accomplishments.
“BUT” Brill was also a brilliant rocket scientist, even though she was a woman and a mother. As if the two are mutually exclusive. Yes Colleen McCullough was plain and overweight, “NEVERTHELESS” she was warm and had wit and could attract men. As if those attributes are mutually exclusive. As if that is an important thing to note at all, let alone in the first paragraph of her obituary. The summation of their lives; centred around men.
Personal relationships, husbands, wives and children are no doubt vitally important in many people’s lives and should be discussed when looking back. But all too often women are firstly classed and summed up by their roles as wives and mothers, rather than by their other accomplishments. The life of a brilliant male scientist would never immediately be reduced to his looks, or how many wives he had. He would be remembered first for his accomplishments. In the pages of these major publications, women deserve the same.
Origional Post here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/30/colleen-mcculloch-well-celebrate-a-woman-for-anything-as-long-as-its-not-her-talent?CMP=share_btn_fb