If you read The New York Times obituary page — which I do daily as it’s my hometown paper — you’ll soon notice (maybe) an odd detail.
Women never die!
Here’s a post from nytpick.com, which delights in poking at the Gray Lady:
And for the year 2010 to date, the NYT has chronicled the deaths of 606 men, and only 92 women.
Bear in mind that the population of women in the U.S. exceeds that of men, and is nearly neck and neck worldwide.
This disparity in coverage has gone on for years, virtually unnoticed in a society that decades ago granted full equality to women, and has seen huge strides in the prominence of women in virtually all fields of endeavor.
And not only does it show no signs of getting better — it’s actually getting worse.
In a September 2006 “Talk To The Newsroom” interview, NYT obituaries editor Bill McDonald (pictured above) was asked about the lack of what a concerned reader referred to as “gender parity” in the section. His stunning response somehow slipped by unnoticed.
“Ask me in another generation,” McDonald replied. “Really. The people whose obits are appearing in our pages now largely shaped the world of the 1940′s, 50′s and 60′s, and the movers and shakers in those eras were predominantly white men.”
If you’re a Lithuanian lute-maker (no offense meant, specifically, to either category) — and male — hang in there. Your time for posthumous glory will come. Men doing the most unlikely and obscure things end up in the Times obit pages every day.
I know for a fact that women do die, women who have achieved extraordinary success and influence in business, the arts, science, medicine, public service, education. But you’ll never hear about them in the Times. (Or The Wall Street Journal or USA Today or The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. You know the “papers of record.”)
I think it’s a toxic combination of two issues: male editors who don’t see women’s achievements as worth this level of honor — and women, and their families, colleagues and employers who don’t make a (big enough) fuss about them and their value to the larger world, either when they’re alive or after they have died.
Women who vaunt themselves and seek public attention are often derided for their egos and glory-seeking, while men who do so are considered…normal.
Every single obits column that ignores women ignores half the nation’s population.
And newspapers wonder why they’re dying?