Here's the Difference Between a Man's Obituary and a Woman's

January 30th 2015

Ashley Nicole Black

The Thorn Birds Cover

Colleen McCullough was a writer. She died at 77 after an amazing life, accomplishing more in one lifetime than most could accomplish in two. She wrote "The Thorn Birds," which sold 30 million copies and was made into the second highest rated miniseries ever (after "Roots"). Her first novel, "Tim," was an instant success and was also turned into a popular film. She wrote 25 books, the last after having lost sight in one eye.

But writing was her second career. She was originally trained in neurophysiology and had a very successful career in academics. It is a rare brain that is able to find success both in neuroscience and in writing popular novels. McCullough was a singularly talented woman.

So imagine everyone's surprise when The Australian, a major Australian news paper, started McCollough's obituary with this line:

"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."

Um, WHAT?! The most popular Australian writer, and the first line in her obituary includes one reference to her being a writer and five to her looks and ability to attract dates?

Let's try it with the obituaries of some other famous dead authors

ERNEST Hemingway, well known American author and journalist, sure got married a lot. With a weird mustache, and certainly a drunk, he was, nevertheless, a man with a sense of adventure and paranoia.

LEO Tolstoy, male Russian novelist, was kind of a jerk. Looking like a homeless Santa, and certainly having a ton of eyebrows, he was, nevertheless, a man with some political ideas.

WILLIAM Faulkner, writer of Southern stories, made me cry tears of frustration when I was assigned one of his books in the sixth grade. He kind of looked like my grandpa, and certainly had a great sense of fashion, he was, nevertheless, a man.

EDGAR Allen Poe, noted Bostonian scary man, was very sad. Super weird looking and, certainly in need of a haircut, he was, nevertheless, suffering from a gambling addiction.

TRUMAN Capote, wrote some stuff sometimes but more importantly, was an asshole. Classically hideous, and certainly possessing mass, he was, nevertheless, a man with the face of a baby.

Huh. It seems really weird to emphasize a man's appearance over his writing abilities. Maybe its super sexist and we shouldn't do it to women either.

And before you draw in a quick, mansplainy, breath to say "This isn't sexism. This is someone being mean to this particular woman," think about it:would the obituary of a celebrated male author ever start with a reference to his weight and appearance? It might be mentioned, but certainly not 12 times like& it was mentioned in McCullough's obit. And it would never be in the very first line. It's not like Colleen McCullough didn't accomplish more than enough to give us something other than her appearance to write about.