Monday, April 1, 2013

Rocket Scientist Obit Sends Feminists To the Moon

We all wonder what we are going to be remembered for. Family life is a big part of who we are, but it's often our accomplishments outside of the home, the things that help the greater good, that we feel most proud about having left as our mark. I think that is the root of the problem with the much criticized and hence re-edited New York Times Obituary for rocket scientist Yvonne Brill.
The controversial obit for a women who broke barriers to become an acclaimed scientist opens 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."
This is absolutely a problematic description of a woman who patented a propulsion system that would be used by communication satellites, was honored by NASA and President Obama, and is in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. And while the obituary does give all of her accomplishments outside of family life as well, it is not hard to feel that those accomplishments are downplayed by emphasizing her being a wife an mother first. Many readers questioned, would a man, with everything being equal, have been given a written send of like this? Maybe a male rocket scientist would be remembered most by his family for napping in an arm chair watching sports and enjoying a good beer. Now would that be sexist too?
Yes. This obit is sexist. I will say it. But! I also feel that maybe these domestic "woman-things" are accomplishments that this woman was equally as proud of.  She undoubtedly loved her husband and children and probably did make a mean beef stroganoff for them. And who is to say that memories of those simple pleasures, in the end, were not as important to her as being a rocket scientist.
While I manage to find offense with almost everything, there's a part of me that can't help but feel we are over-reacting a bit here. I mean, the headline does say "Pioneering Rocket Scientist" and the picture shows her beaming with pride as she is honored by the President. It's not like it was a picture of her barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and was headlined as "Mother, Wife Dies at 88." And also let's consider that those who are mourning her most are her family, to whom she was a wife, mother, and cook.
What it comes down to is this. As much as we strive to leave a legacy in the greater scheme of things, it is those whose lives we touched most frequently and most deeply with whom we will leave a true lasting legacy and maybe a taste of beef stroganoff in their mouths.

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