“You just have to be cheerful about it and not get upset when you get insulted,” said rocket scientist Yvonne Brill.

She must be chuckling in heaven, because her obituary at the New York Times made the common mistake of making her femaleness and femininity a central part of their retrospective.  After objections, NYT corrected the obit.  Here are the tracked changes, courtesy of NewsDiffs:


At Feministe, Caperton offers a nice discussion of this phenomenon and draws our attention to the Finkbeiner Test, named after journalist Ann Finkbeiner.  Inspired by the Bechdel Test for movies, the Finkbeiner Test is used to judge whether stories about women focus excessively on the fact that they are women.  To pass the test, the story cannot mention:

  • The fact that she’s a woman
  • Her husband’s job
  • Her child care arrangements
  • How she nurtures her underlings
  • How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
  • How she’s such a role model for other women
  • How she’s the “first woman to…”


We’ve documented lots of instances of the men-are-people and women-are-women phenomenon.  It’s no wonder it shows up in obituaries too.  I’m glad that we’re becoming sensitive enough to the issue to notice it and that institutions like the NYT are responsive enough to change the most egregious examples of it.  Next step: prevention.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.