Spin Cycle

03.31.13

New York Times Changes Sexist Obit

Award-winning scientist lauded as a great mom.

Writing a fair-minded obituary isn’t rocket science, but the New York Times botched it anyway.

Yvonne Brill died the other day at 88. She was, in fact, a world-class rocket scientist.

So what did the newspaper lead with?

“She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. ‘The world’s best mom,’ her son Matthew said.”

Would a male scientist have drawn such an obit opening about his great fatherhood skills? Obviously not. This is subconscious sexism, pure and simple. And Brill is a woman who was awarded the presidential National Medal of Technology and Innovation two years ago.

Even Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tweeted her agreement with the mounting media criticism.

To the paper's credit, it has now at least tinkered with the obituary online. The new lead:

“She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. 'The world’s best mom,' her son Matthew said.”

Well, at least the beef stroganoff has been jettisoned into outer space.