Don’t you love when Twitter switches into tsunami mode? Hashtags sprout, and a barrage of tweets mock all things offensive. Remember Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment? Look how that lit up the Internet. Women took their outrage and funneled it into creating a network of power. Now there are #binders networking worldwide.
The latest Twitter eruption happened last week, launched by a sexist obituary in The Australian for Colleen McCullough, an accomplished Australian author who wrote 25 novels including “The Thorn Birds,” which sold 30 million copies. McCullough also studied neurophysiology at Sydney University and established the neurophysiology department at the nearby Royal North Shore Hospital. And, as if that wasn’t enough to earn respect, she also spent 10 years as a researcher at Yale Medical School here in the U.S.
Yet her atrocious obit began:
“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.”
So, after insulting her weight and calling her face plain, the obit included a McCullough quote that also had nothing to do with her work: “I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.”
Now substitute the name Colin. Can you imagine a male obituary would ever be worded with this type of opener? I think not, and it was reassuring to know that I was not the only one left aghast. That McCullough obituary gave birth to an explosion of snarky mockery all over the web, including Twitter’s new hashtags #MyOzObituary and #FatLadyObit.
Feast your eyes on a snippet of the offensive obit:
Here are my favorite #myozobituary tweets:
My favorite #FatLadyObit tweets:
The Australian hasn’t had the sense to admit to the sexist obit and has not yet updated it. In 2013, at least The New York Times had the sense to correct its gaffe when rocket scientist Yvonne Brill was originally eulogized with this offensive opener:
“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.”
In the second paragraph, an oh-by-the-way mention of her high level of intelligence:
“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 keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.”
Now imagine this was an obit for a man; let’s call him Ivan:
“He made a mean beef stroganoff, and followed his wife from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children.
‘The world’s best dad,’ his son Matthew said.”
Sounds really weird, right? But does venting on social media make women feel better or worse about living in a patriarchal society?
One week ago, the British Journal of Social Psychology published a study called “Tweeting about sexism: The well-being benefits of a social media collective.” The study says research shows “experiences of sexism are associated with reduced mental (e.g., depression, lower self-esteem, and well-being) and physical health (e.g., pain, addiction, stress-reactive hormones).” No surprise there. The researchers’ hypothesis is that by comparing controlled tests among tweeters, evidence may suggest that tweeting about sexism serves “as a collective action that can enhance women’s well-being.” Hey, makes sense to me.
Any community with likeminded opinions can provide a feeling of solidarity, which, according to the study, enhances “components of well-being” such as efficacy, empowerment, mood, and life satisfaction, which can improve both psychological and physical symptoms caused by experiencing sexism. The argument is that “by acting in solidarity with other group members, individuals view their actions as effective and therefore feel empowered.”
Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.