Target: The Australian Editor-In-Chief Chris Mitchell
Goal: Apologize for newspaper’s sexist and offensive obituary for writer Colleen McCullough.
Beloved author and neuroscientist Colleen McCullough passed away recently, but rather than remembering her literary achievements and status as a scientist, The Australian made derogatory statements about the author’s physical appearance. The newspaper said she was “plain of feature and certainly overweight … nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.” Throughout the rest of the obituary, The Australian makes continuous remarks about McCullough’s lack of desire for marriage and another comment about her weight by discussing her 8,000-square-meter house with the accompanying quote from McCullough, “Yes, I know that is big, but then so am I.” This information is irrelevant to the obituary and, despite them being McCullough’s words, their use in conjunction with the criticism of her appearance earlier in the article is troubling.
McCullough’s contributions to art and science should be her legacy, not comments about her weight. Emphasizing these comments in her obituary over her work is disrespectful, and the insinuation that being plain and witty are mutually exclusive characteristics is incredibly offensive. The newspaper claims that the obituary was written several years ago by a now-deceased obituary writer and that it was not subject to sufficient editing in the rush to get the obituary in the newspaper on time.
Women writers are frequently treated poorly in comparison to their male counterparts, often resorting to writing under gender-neutral pen names to compete in sales. McCullough’s contributions to the literary world are substantial, and reducing her to her size and appearance in her obituary, intended to sum up her legacy and life’s work, is offensive. The Australian needs to issue a formal apology examining why it found it acceptable to run this obituary without editing and how this choice enforces the already rampant sexism against women writers. Tell The Australian that this behavior is unacceptable by signing this petition.
Dear Mr. Mitchell,
Colleen McCullough was a beloved writer whose contributions to literature will never be forgotten, but your newspaper’s obituary began with a snide comment about her weight and physical appearance. The obituary went on to say that, in spite of her plain appearance, she was “a woman of wit and warmth.” The remarks about her physical appearance are offensive enough, but the wording of the sentence implies that her positive traits are in spite of her appearance. This is incredibly offensive to anyone, but especially to a woman known for her writing and scientific background, not her physical appearance.
The Australian has claimed that the obituary was written by a now-deceased man and not proofread carefully enough. However, the offensive statements are in only the second sentence of the obituary, which leaves readers to wonder whether the obituary was edited at all, or whether the newspaper didn’t find the remarks offensive until they were called out on it.
Please take this opportunity to apologize for running this version of the obituary. Women writers are frequently faced with comments about their physical appearance that men are not subjected to, and many resort to writing under gender-neutral pen names to achieve the same sales levels as male writers. This obituary contributes to the discrimination that women writers face by leading with McCullough’s physical appearance rather that her literary achievement. Please apologize for this offensive obituary and pledge to do better by women writers in the future.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: GrahamHardy via Wikimedia Commons