March 13, 2018
While millions of women and their male allies around the world were out in the streets commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8, The New York Times was trying to catch up… with the times.
On International Women’s Day, the so-called ‘paper of record’ unveiled a new section whose mission is to compensate (or make up) for all these years it did not pay attention to what the Times calls “remarkable” women. (The Times did not feature any special coverage of the International Women’s Day women’s strike).
Overlooked is a New York Times obituary section that will highlight women whose creativity, courageousness and civic engagement contributed to create and foster the most positive aspects of the world we live in. The Times explains it better: “Since 1851, obituaries in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now we’re adding the stories of 15 remarkable women.”
In short, the new obit section at The Times will highlight the lives of great women that The Times chose to ignore for many decades. Some of these women are the African American suffragist Ida. B.Wells; the Indian film actress Madhubala, the American poet Sylvia Plath.
According to its own admission, the New York Times wrote mostly about dead white men and to this day, the majority of its obit content chronicles the lives and legacies of European-descended people.
“Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.”
The launching of Overlooked is a sign that times are changing especially after the emergence of the revival of feminist ideas and the launching of the #Me Too movement that fights sexual harassment and sexism at work and society. However, it is important to note that it took The New York Times 167 years to acknowledge this gross erasure of women’s history.
Some reactions from NY Times readers:
launching of the new obit section that will focus on women. For the most
part, readers commended the Times for taking such a step forward and
expressed gratitude that the new Overlooked section now exists. A reader by the name of Binkomagoo wrote:
“I admire the NYTimes for taking a retroactive stab at this sad, historic,
injustice and hope that individuals will place obituaries for the women important to their lives.”
Virginia G. Drachman, an Arthur Stern Jr. Prof. of American History Tufts University wrote:
“For over three decades I have asked the students in my US Women’s History
class at Tufts University to collect all the obituary essays of women in the
NYT for the entire semester of our class. When I launched this project in the 1980s, I assigned it in my class on women since the late 19th century. In recent years I have moved it to my class on women since World War II.”
“You have a lot of catching up to do and these young adults, all born since 2000, will be watching.”
A reader from California by under the name of Martinez pointed out briefly the lack of Latinas in the Overlooked section:
Another reader named Mikki from Long Beach, California challenged NYTimes lack of recent coverage on women:
While this is a great way to rectify and recognize the influence of women long since gone, how about a NY Times section covering the current and continuing influence of women still alive?
Shawna Paulson writing from Washington commended the NYT but wondered why there was no apology to women:
“I am so glad you are doing this. It is a great idea, and much appreciated. But why didn't you add an apology? A simple, "We're sorry we were part of the machine to ignore women and their accomplishments. We realize it now and will do better going forward.”
NYT reader Kent from Columbus wrote:
“What a fantastic and long overdue idea.”
Kent also made the following suggestions:
“1) Revisiting the life of actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr. Her pioneering work in spread spectrum technology was under appreciated at the time of her death and has a profound impact on our daily lives today; and 2) Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock, the first woman to successfully fly solo around the world.”