By Liz Valliyil, CBS2
CHICAGO (CBS) — Brilliant, beloved, talented, and successful: these adjectives paint the picture of acclaimed neuroscientist and author Colleen McCullough, who was laid to rest this week in her native Australia. Most people will remember her for her international bestseller, “The Thorn Birds,” which became a popular miniseries.READ MORE: Jubilant And Inspired Fans, Booming Businesses Near Wintrust Arena As Chicago Sky Win WNBA Championship
But the biggest-selling newspaper in her home country chose not to eulogize her by highlighting her vast and diverse accomplishments. Instead, The Australian topped its obituary with this sentence: “Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.”
This depiction sparked backlash from fans, fellow authors, journalists and celebrities across the globe, all completely baffled that in 2015, no one in an editorial role objected to the blatant sexist way the obituary treated one Australia’s favorite daughters.
The obituary insults McCullough’s legacy on two levels. First, it chooses to highlight her physical appearance over her lasting legacy in both the fields of arts and sciences. Before becoming a novelist, McCullough spent ten years working as a neuroscientist at Yale Medical School.
When she returned to Australia, she was a leader in her field, establishing the neurophysiology department at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital. McCullough then turned her considerable talents toward writing. She authored 25 novels, the most famous being “The Thorn Birds,” which sold 30 million copies world-wide. It became a Golden Globe-winning 10-hour miniseries featuring Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Christopher Plummer.READ MORE: CBS 2's Ryan Baker Celebrates Chicago Sky Win With His Family At Wintrust Arena
Secondly, the obituary says McCullough “was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.” The phrasing insinuates that McCullough had to overcome her appearance to become a success.
Following the release of The Australian’s obituary, the twitterverse exploded with backlash and the hashtag #everydaysexism.
Following initial reaction to The Australian, another hashtag #myozobituary started trending, where people tweeted unflattering obituaries about themselves.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Sheela Raja says the obituary is a sad commentary on what society values in women. “We try to teach our girls that what matters is how you treat others, and if you create a life of purpose and meaning,“ Raja said. “This kind of message just reinforces that if you weren’t born looking a certain way, then your other accomplishments are somehow smaller and less valuable.”MORE NEWS: Robberies On Magnificent Mile Prompt Warning For Businesses
To date, there has been no official statement from The Australian. However, according to Australian independent media site Crikey, insiders at the newspaper blame an unnamed male obituary writer who wrote the piece years ago. That writer is now deceased himself.