Even a rocket scientist can be a great mom and cook

Sometimes a controversy arises where you say…really?

The latest is the New York Times obituary for Yvonne Brill. The lede has offended people who, well, you know, get offended by things. How dare they mention the fact that she was a great cook and mom before they even mention her incredible accomplishments as a scientist?

Actually, clicking on the link above might confuse you, because it doesn’t mention that. Get this: the NYT actually changed the (perfectly good) first paragraph after people complained on Twitter. (Here’s the original, still online at The Houston Chronicle.)

The world doesn’t make sense anymore in so many ways.

Apart from the fact that the lede for this obit was more creative than most people can handle for some reason (the writer, Douglas Martin, isn’t saying that her beef stroganoff skills were more important than being a rocket scientist, just that it was a big part of who she was, and he’s setting up the reveal in the second paragraph), what is wrong with mentioning the fact that she was a great cook and mom and a well-rounded, fantastic person? What is there to be “offended” about? Isn’t she even more impressive that she had a full career and was important to this country and she was also a great mom and wife? I’m in awe of her.

A lot of people are asking if the obituary of a male rocket scientist would start this same way. I don’t know, because I don’t usually examine obits the way some people do, to make sure there’s a perfect, politically-correct mix of the professional and the personal, but I bet the obits of a lot of accomplished men have started with their love of family or their love of sports or how they were great at something besides the most famous thing they were famous for. If anything the original first paragraph was saying that Brill wasn’t best known for the non-scientific things, and it was telling us how great she was in the other ways.

People are acting as if the NYT had said “Yvonne Brill, Person Who Made Beef Stroganoff and Did Nothing Else, Dies at 88.”

You know who would have loved Yvonne Brill and this obit? My mom. She died in 1997 at the age of 75. She didn’t have what you might call a “career,” not in the modern sense of that word. But she did raise 7 kids all by herself (my dad died in 1966) while working hard for 60 plus years. I guess because she was “only” a mom and “only” worked in restaurants she wouldn’t matter to the people irritated by this perfect obituary of a woman who was impressive in so many ways.

When certain people shake their heads at how much political correctness there is, this is the type of thing they’re talking about.

What’s most bizarre about this whole controversy is how everyone is talking about how the original start of the obituary mentioned her cooking skills/her marriage/how great a mom she was before they even mentioned she was a rocket scientist. Before they even mentioned she was a scientist! How dare they skip over her achievements for some trivial factoids about being a mom!

Really? Read the headline again.

3 thoughts on “Even a rocket scientist can be a great mom and cook

  1. No matter what else I accomplish in this life, the accomplishment I’m most proud of is my son. I would want to be acknowledged for that first. Granted, I’m not a ‘career’ woman either, but most of the moms I know, even those who have careers, are the proudest of their children. I bet if Ms. Brill could tell us her opinion, she would have agreed with the first obit written.

    And yes, your mom would have loved it. She was an AMAZING woman and I know she touched my life.

  2. I must respectfully disagree with you, Bob.

    As an obituary writer, I can tell you that women very rarely get obits in the big newspapers. Unless they’re celebrities who die young, editors simply don’t consider these deaths to be big news. Perhaps it’s because in the past, the focus of most women’s lives was the home. So when you have a woman who’s a mother, a wife and a rocket scientist, you must highlight the thing that sets her apart, that made her shine.

    There are millions of women who cook, and raise kids, and move when their husbands’ jobs force them to. Their achievements are commendable, but The New York Times is not going to publish their obituaries. Hell, most small newspapers won’t either (unless you pay ’em to do so, and then they’ll only run obits written by the family or funeral home rather than assign a reporter to cover the death).

    The Yvonne Brills of the world are rare. I mean, she invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits. Very few people in the world could do this. For her obit to open with her cooking skills is both insulting and sexist. The other details of her life will surely be included later in the article, but in the lede, it is simply inappropriate.

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