As many of you know, I have long been interested in gender issues. I often feel sorry I ever got into this field because it is one without solutions, and no matter what you say you are sure to offend someone, and to be a man in this field can be problematic because women clearly dominate it. I have occasionally considered a sex change operation, but my wife immediately vetoes the idea, and besides, until I began the extensive reading of feminist literature I thought that being a man was okay.
But the problem I have as a man who notices all the gender-related stuff out there is that I’m constantly seeing things where my gender comes off looking bad, and, as a man -- and one with three sons and four grandsons, I might add -- this saddens me. But the latest thing I saw kind of put me over the top, or under the bottom, however you want to say it. I was at my local college’s library recently and just happened to come across a periodical called Media Report to Women, and there, on the front page, was this: “Newspaper Obits Still Favor Men, New Analyses Show.”
My first thought was, OMG (I now think in Internet slang), they’re angry at us even after we die! But then, curious to discover what this was all about, I looked further and found that the article cited two recent studies which showed that in major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the New York Times, there were far more featured (non-paid) obituaries about men than women.
I don’t want to get into the possible reasons for this, but here’s one: Say the average person in a New York Times obituary lived to 82. These are people who were born in 1930 or ’31, and may have done some big things starting in their twenties or thirties, which would be in the 1950s or ’60s. But the modern women’s movement didn’t even begin until the mid-1960s. So the real test will be about people born, say, in the 1940s and ’50s, and they won’t be dropping like flies until 2025 or so. So couldn’t we at least wait until then to get upset about the dead gender gap?
Anyhow, I decided to check this stuff out myself by going to the New York Times “Notable Deaths” for 2007 and 2012 – to see if there had been any positive trend (so to speak) for dead women in that period. It was then that I got really depressed. Part of it was because there had been virtually no change in the percentage of women – about 20 percent -- in those five years, which is unsurprising given my brief discussion above. But more distressing, looking at the photos and names of those gone people I realized that there were several of them who I didn’t know had died. What happens is that you look at the list, and there’s the name of someone that you haven’t heard anything about for a while and haven’t seen on television recently, and now you know why. They’re dead. And there were others where I hadn’t been thinking about the fact that they were gone, and being reminded of it made me feel sad. All in all, it made me feel that perhaps feminists should stick to talking about issues like women’s rights and the pay gap. Their trying to make their case by means of a body count just seems a bit too depressing to me.
For example, on the 2007 list there was Denny Doherty of the Mamas and the Papas. I mean, I knew that Mama Cass was gone, and John Phillips. But Denny? Tell me it isn’t so. Is Michelle Phillips still with us? OMG, I better check that out on that wonderful website, deadoraliveinfo.com…I just did, and thank God, she is alive (even younger than me, actually). And I’ll bet that when she goes -- may it not be for many, many years -- she does get a New York Times obituary, and definitely one in the L.A. Times (I mean, after all, “California Dreamin’” and all that).
And Kurt Vonnegut was on that 2007 list too. Now I understand why he hasn’t written any new books for a while!
The 2012 list didn’t do much for my day either. First of all, one name on it is George A. Miller, my thesis advisor. I knew he was gone – and he did reach the age of 92 – but did I have to be reminded of it? And Jane Wyman. I don’t have to tell you who she is.
As long as I’m going in this wonderful direction, I think I’ll check 2011.
David Nelson is on there. He was the older brother in “Ozzie and Harriet.” That he’s gone is not as shocking as the fact that he was 74 when he died. How could David Nelson, who was just a kid, get to be 74?
Betty Ford was also on that 2011 list. Hmm. Hadn’t heard much about her recently. Shoulda known.
So thank you, Media Report to Women. Yes, maybe it’s important to alert us to the fact that women haven’t yet reached “notable death” equity with men, but getting me to look this stuff up reminded me that the reason I haven’t heard much about Leo Steinberg for a while is that he passed away in 2011. Who knew?