When New York Times staff writer Douglas Martin opened his obituary for brilliant rocket scientist Yvonne Brill, he chose to do so thusly:
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.
Naturally, people were pissed, and thankfully, Times Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, took him to task for it. He responded:
"I was totally captivated by her story," he said, and he looked for a way to tell it in as interesting a way as possible. The negative reaction is unwarranted, he said - a result of people who didn't read the obituary fully but reacted only to what they saw on Twitter about the opening paragraph.
It hasn't changed his mind about how he wrote it: "I wouldn't do anything differently."
You at least gotta admire (?) that he's at least not doing a "sorry not sorry" on this one, even after so many people let him know he's dead wrong.
It's easy for Martin to say he was simply highlighting the difference between culturally assumed women's roles and the life of a rocket scientist — but it's no longer an "interesting" choice. It's tired, it's predictable, and it's regressive. Are we still supposed to be shocked that a mother, wife, and maker of a mean beef stroganoff could also be a rocket scientist? As long as we keep perpetuating these "would you believe!?" assumptions about women, we'll be repeating this same shit into the next century.
And what does obituaries editor William McDonald have to say?
"I'm surprised," he said. "It never occurred to us that this would be read as sexist."
That's part of the problem, isn't it? The most amazing part of Yvonne's Brill existence is her brilliance and innovation, and not that she was a great cook. THAT is what got her in the obits, and that's what they should've led with. And if the Times still wanted to highlight her gender, they should've led with just how revolutionary it was for a woman of the time to even get a basic education, let alone become a rocket scientist.