By GRACE COX
A headline on Mamamia recently invited me to “Meet Australia’s answer to Jodi Picoult” and so I did, finding myself virtually shaking hands and having a small sip of internet wine with Caroline Overington She was lovely.
As a non-Australian I’m afraid to say I’d never heard of Overington but part of me still felt similar sentiments to those expressed by one commenter at the bottom of the piece that “comparing Caroline Overington to Jodi Picoult is doing Caroline a massive disservice”.
I’m conflicted over this. Comparing Overington to Picoult serves a purpose. As a foreigner I wouldn’t have known who Overington was or what she did if it was just her name in the headline and mentioning Picoult helped me to place Overington. Also, other places have made the comparison. Media only has a few seconds to grab people’s attention and relay as much information as possible, the headline did just that and I can’t write headlines for toffee so what do I know? But part of me can’t help but think – do we constantly need to be comparing people? Can’t we just be people in our own right without standing us next to someone else?
During the London Olympics Missy Franklin was described as the female Michael Phelps in the Sydney Morning Herald. She isn’t. Of course Phelps is a talented and decorated male swimmer and Franklin is a talented and decorated female swimmer but there’s so much more of a difference between them. Whilst Phelps didn’t receive any medals at his first Olympics and won 6 golds at his second when he was 19, Missy got her 4 gold medals at her first Olympics when she was 17.
Two years isn’t usually a big age gap but the difference between a 17 year old and a 19 year old can be huge. When Phelps made his big impression at Athens he was a year out of high school and all his educational requirements were fulfilled, he didn’t have to go to university and could spend every non-eating and sleeping moment in the pool if he wished. Franklin, however, got her haul of golds (which, if she was a country, would have placed her 21st in the medal table) with a year of compulsory education to go. When I was 17 I was worrying my bottom off about choosing a degree course and university and thinking about all the exams I still had to sit. All of that felt like enough of a problem and I didn’t even have to think about improving my world record time in the 200m backstroke.
Calling Franklin the female Phelps isn’t fair on her. Even if the intention is a compliment rather than an insult she should have been applauded for her own efforts.
There was another male/female comparison when Bridesmaids came out. Rather than just describing it as a great new comedy and maybe analysing it by comparing elements of it to various other films, it instead got the blanket comparison that it was “…a ‘Hangover’ for girls“. Or, people were so aware that it was being slated as the female Hangover that they wrote about how it definitely was not a Hangover for women, no siree. Either way it seemed like Bridesmaids couldn’t be mentioned without some talk of how it was or wasn’t like The Hangover, it was as if it couldn’t exist in its own right.