So a rocket scientist died, and theNew York Times, in some kind of effort to be witty and ironic, led off her obit with this:
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.
And it wasn’t that we didn’t get the joke, it’s that it wasn’t funny, so when Twitter reacted by mocking the outdated notion that it’s somehow incompatible with rocket science to know how to cook (career women being All One Thing, and housewives being All The Other), the editors changed the lede to this:
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.
WHICH IS NOT BETTER. I’m glad she was an awesome mom to her kids. That’s not nothing, so let’s get that out of the way. Of COURSE the kids are going to see her as mom, and it’s great she was a good one. But the Times made sure we ALL saw her that way, instead of as this:
Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.
The system became the industry standard, and it was the achievement President Obama mentioned in 2011 in presenting her with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
The article goes on to contrast the work she did with the family she had, as if these two things are totally incompatible and it is a wonder she was able to pull them off, and what an abberration, a lady with kids who still had a brain! I am just about done with women bearing the full brunt of having to answer for the “work-life balance.” Just once I’d like to read a story about some prominent Washington asshole who has a bunch of kids where he’s asked if being a dad is the most important job he’s ever had. Just once I’d like to read something that vaguely shames a fellow for achieving so much while there were little mouths to feed at home. Just once some famous actor clutching an Oscar should give a speech about how he’d give it right back if it meant he could have more time with his kids.
Just once I’d like us to act as if this stuff is difficult for men to pull off too, because IT IS, and as much as it’s unfair to place the entire cultural burden on women, it’s equally unfair to act like men who are involved in their families are unicorns. The more we disappear guys like that, the easier it is for everyone to just keep expecting the ladies will do all the work, because it’s not like we have examples otherwise.
Mostly, reading this, I’m just glad I learned to cook, because should I ever accomplish anything worthy of a NYT obit, it’ll surely be buried under an assessment of my peach-blueberry pie.
3 thoughts on “Beef Stroganoff is Rocket Science, Too”
Wow, the New York Times seems to be wedged in the 1950s. That’s pretty impressive.
Maybe they should start their men’s obituaries that way as well, except half of them would begin with: “Twice divorced, he was estranged from the children of both his first and second marriages. Living on canned franks and beans in a messy studio apartment, he none the less managed to revolutionize the field …”
For some nostalgia, here is an old article on Maria Mayer:
If you remember electron shells from chemistry. That was her.
When my mom died, the local paper ran a flattering bio of all of her tireless civic work (which was extensive and impressive) and at the end mentioned that she was survived by my dad and the four of us kids.
The following week, a friend of hers wrote a letter mentioning that we all turned out OK, too. It was pretty funny.
Part of the problem here is the people reading the obituary didn’t know who Ms. Brill was, which is sad in its own right.
The other problem is the Times told the story of her life EXACTLY the way she told the story of her life.
I tend to agree with the Post’s She the People that it was written far over the head of the people who read it (well, those who went past the first paragraph). It wasn’t written as a joke; it wasn’t written to be funny.
The piece dances back and forth between her two roles in order to convey what her life was like; it’s not to say one role was any more or less important than the other, not to diminish one over the other.
Personally, I’d have combined the two first paragraphs into one paragraph.
And, also, the recast version of the obituary is really a piece of crap, and that’s unfortunate, because this was a hell of a woman.
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