For International Women's Day, the New York Times Seeks to Right the Wrongs of the Past

Happy International Women’s Day, proF hive! If you’ve been on social media at all today, it’s likely you’ve heard a little about this holiday – perhaps the trending story that McDonald’s restaurants across the country have flipped their famous golden “M” into a “W.” (My cranky feelings on this are best summed up by Katie Herzog’s blog for Seattle paper The Stranger, “McDonald’s Celebrates Women with Empty Gesture.”) But there’s a far more interesting International Women’s Day celebration happening over at the New York Times.

Amisha Padnani and Jessica Bennett have written an interactive article entitled “Overlooked,” which targets a very specific way that women have been marginalized by the Times and other newspapers over the years: obituaries. They write,

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 on in five of our subjects were female.

Though we may not think of them often, obituaries are important. In their own way, they tell us who is worth remembering, whose achievements are worth recognizing. This issue reminds me of an interview I did for proF last year with my friend Alicia from the website Quotabelle, which compiles and archives quotes by women. She spoke about the problem of women being underrepresented in quotations that are shared and cited. This may not seem like a big deal until you realize that we tend to associate “famous quotes” with prestige, brilliance, wisdom – and men. Much the same way, we associate obituaries with prominence and legacy. Posthumous equality – treating women’s legacies and impact with the attention they deserve – is a vital piece of the puzzle.

So while it’s impossible to go back and right the wrongs of the past, Padnani and Bennett are doing what they can in the present: here they offer obituaries for 15 notable women who were ignored by the Times on the occasion of their deaths. There’s a wide range here of names from literature, politics and activism, athletics, and the arts, and a good number of them are shockingly well known. Reading their stories shines a spotlight on the incredible achievements of women over the years. It’s an inspiring read, but one that stings, too – with the reminder of how much progress we still have to make in offering equal recognition across gender lines.

Check out the full interactive article in the New York Times.