Overlooked and Underrated
March 8, 2018 11:56 AM   Subscribe

"Since 1851, obituaries in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we're adding the stories of 15 remarkable women." For International Women's Day, in an attempt to redress its history of sexism, the New York Times is running a set of belated obituaries of women they failed to memorialize when they died. They plan to write more, and ask for suggestions.
posted by larrybob (20 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I just came to see if anyone had posted this yet. These were so powerful to read! It's hard to believe people I consider to be so important were so unappreciated in their time.
posted by potrzebie at 12:44 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

FFS, some Times photo dude just couldn’t resist writing Arbus’ obit in the first person.
posted by not_the_water at 12:46 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]

I’m glad they are doing this but I hope it is paired with stepping up the reporting on contemporary women as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:12 PM on March 8 [9 favorites]

This short thread from NYT's Jessica Bennett points out that women who did get obits often got crummy ones, like the Susan B. Anthony obituary that made sure to describe her appearance.

I read the Ida B. Wells and Qiu Jin stories this morning. They were really interesting -- I'd never heard of Qiu Jin before -- and I can't wait to read the rest.
posted by grandiloquiet at 1:23 PM on March 8

I thought International Women’s Day was meaningless until I saw a pink hat on the Washington Monument (Alexandra Petri, WaPo)
I’ve gotten this email six times. Apologies to the corporations whose cynical pink things are at least sending their proceeds to benefit actual feminist causes.

Dear [Lady Name],

Happy International Women’s Day, ladies! ROAR! (That was a female lion, by the way!)

We at Corporation are so pleased to honor women and their accomplishments, which is why today with every purchase of $78 or more (get it? You get it! Women are just as smart as men, probably WAY smarter) we will send you a limited edition pink make-up tote bag that says SHEMART, a lip-stain called Nasty, a bottle of Jane Walker (like Johnny, but for her!) and a Barbie doll that doubles the number of distinct eyebrows that Frida Kahlo had and makes her feet much, much smaller than they were. Don’t worry — significant historical women from the past can be made to conform to impossible beauty standards, too.

But that’s not all. Today, you will notice that our mascot, an oil well stabbing three charismatic megafauna to death, is now very clearly female. You can tell because SHE is wearing lipstick. Could it be Nasty [Female Winking Emoji]? I don’t know! She’ll never tell [Female Winking Emoji].

[That Emoji of Two Women in Black I Guess In-Line Skating Together, I’ve Never Been Clear on What They’re Supposed To Be Doing]

[That Emoji of the Girl in the Red Dress Dancing] [Some Fingernails Being Painted] [Some Queens]
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:38 PM on March 8 [11 favorites]

The magnificent Rebecca Traister has given this story what should probably be called the MeFi treatment at this point:

I have read
The obituary
Of Ida B. Wells
That it turns out you failed to publish when she died

And which
You probably
Would never have remembered
If there weren’t
Women working at your paper now

Forgive me
It was so late and I am
so mad
And so tired

-Rebecca Traister
posted by The Bellman at 1:55 PM on March 8 [16 favorites]

I found this part really interesting: From the Death Desk: Why Most Obituaries Are Still of White Men

Many readers legitimately ask: Why are the vast majority of our obituary subjects white men? The answer lies in our not-so-distant history. Unlike the rest of the newsroom, the obituaries desk covers the past, not the present. Our pages mirror the world of 1975 or 1965 or 1955, or even earlier: They’re a rearview mirror, reflecting the world as it was, not as it is, and not as we might wish it to have been.

And so we are, inevitably, a generation or three behind in tracking the evolution of gender and racial dynamics, among other things. The prominent shapers of society back then, those who held (and didn’t easily give up) the levers of power, were disproportionately white and male, be they former United States senators or business titans or Hollywood directors.

With Overlooked, our new collection of obituaries for women and others who never got them, The Times is acknowledging that many worthy subjects were skipped for generations, for whatever reasons.

Conscious or unconscious bias? Could be. Perhaps my predecessors and I were never informed of the deaths. Maybe those who knew the deceased did not think we’d be interested. Maybe an editor passed for lack of interest, or maybe considered an obit but did not have a reporter available to write it. (A practical reality that bedevils us today.)

Perhaps the significance of an individual portrayed in Overlooked was not fully recognized until decades after her death. Or perhaps the paper’s selection standards in eras past unfairly valued the achievements of the white, male mainstream over those of minorities and women who may have been more on the margins.

I'm really glad they're acknowledging the greater societal role in these missed obits AND the paper's role in it. I wish they would have gotten deeper into examining their own biases, but hopefully this project has more than just a lip service-y impact on how they approach current and future obits.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 2:07 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]

On the flip side: My mother's obit (a whole one paragraph long) ran in the Times in 1974, mainly by virtue of being married to my father, a business person. In 1986, when my father died, they didn't run his obit because by that time they had narrowed their focus to more prominent people. We had to run a paid obit for him.
posted by beagle at 2:13 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

I am torn between being angry and pleased and annoyed. Angry because fifteen? FIFTEEN? SERIOUSLY?!?!?! That's all you could manage? But pleased because there are some great women there - I haven't dug into the individuals, just read the first snapshot - and I am looking forward to finding out more about the ones I didn't know about. But annoyed because how could they honestly never have acknowledged these women and their contributions before? (Or is that angry again?)

And also annoyed because - surely this was a deliberate choice but it sets my brain on edge - all the images are skewed slightly, most to the right but some to the left. I mean, my towels do not have to be parallel to the floor or anything but on a webpage it really sticks out and makes me wonder wtf.

Also - I hope that they do not follow the example of their 2013 obituary for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill when writing these obituaries of women.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:20 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]

(So as not to abuse the edit window): the Brill obituary initially referred to her "mean beef stroganoff" in the first paragraph. Apparently it has subsequently been edited.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:23 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]

Threads magazine has three short biographies for International Women's Day. All US women, but interestingly intersectional.
posted by clew at 3:39 PM on March 8

If this is the default Women's History thread, I would like to submit the image on the front page of the DHS website. It's certainly a collage of photos of women.
posted by suelac at 4:53 PM on March 8

It's upsetting so many of the deaths are suicides; yet another price exacted by Patriarchy, I can't help but think.
posted by honey badger at 5:22 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]

I think it's great to recognize the bias but 15? 15??? That's sufficient in their estimation? I do not agree with the plaudits I've read (mostly elsewhere).
posted by billsaysthis at 5:30 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

They started with 15; they said they would continue adding others, and have a form inviting names.
posted by etaoin at 5:31 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]

one needs to sub to NYT to read this?
What a shame.
posted by kryptos at 7:19 PM on March 8

Incognito mode will get you in, kryptos.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:39 AM on March 9

It's upsetting so many of the deaths are suicides; yet another price exacted by Patriarchy, I can't help but think.

Not to mention a state sanctioned homicide for good measure
posted by BeHereNow at 8:01 AM on March 9

These are not obituaries, though. I mean, they are written in the style or tone of NYT obituaries at all. They are short articles about women who were not originally selected for obituaries. That's not the same thing.
posted by desuetude at 8:11 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]

I found these to be fascinating capsules of women's lives and a jumping-off point to find out more about them. I really liked reading these and will look forward to reading more.
posted by cass at 9:34 AM on March 9

« Older "House-positivity is seen as bizarre."   |   A sound public health approach can reduce this... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments