"Ready for dinner"
Yvonne Brill, a NASA jet propulsion scientist who won the agency’s Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2001 and was honored with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by Barack Obama in 2011, died on March 27 at 88 years old. The New York Times honored her death and contribution to science with an obituary that read, “Yvonne Brill, a Pioneering Rocket Scientist, Dies at 88.”
However, instead of highlighting her career accomplishments in its opening, the Times opened with Brill’s cooking skills:
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.
The obituary then casually segued into her other accomplishments–you know, those non-mom activities that earned her an obituary in the New York Times at all:
But Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., was also a brilliant rocket scientist, who in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.
As Buzzfeed’s Shani O. Hilton points out, “I find it kind of hard to believe that the Times would start an obituary for a man this way.”
Readers immediately took to Twitter, noting the sexism:
Read this Yvonne Brill obit & wonder why "World's Best Mom" precedes "only woman doing rocket science in the 1940s" http://t.co/fL3KksGl4j— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) March 31, 2013
"Mahatma Gandhi made a great frittata, ironed some shirts, and took eight years off to catch up on Hardy Boys books." http://t.co/UyqHPZdM4N— Edward Champion (@drmabuse) March 30, 2013
Very strange way to begin an obituary of a pioneering rocket scientist http://t.co/9TfLsyB0Mu— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 30, 2013
Times public editor Margaret Sullivan acknowledged the criticism and said, “I sure agree”:
To the many who've tweeted at me about the Yvonne Brill obituary, I sure agree. And here's some more perspective: http://t.co/ObdRPzqYOG— Margaret Sullivan (@Sulliview) March 30, 2013
The story has since been edited to remove references of beef stroganoff, but the Times has not issued a correction for its sexist blunder:
@Sulliview Why isn't there an update to the story explaining how/why it was changed?— Adrienne LaFrance (@AdrienneLaF) March 31, 2013
Worse, the edited lede, below, still highlights her as “world’s best mom” rather than focusing on her status as a female pioneer in science:
It now reads:
She was a brilliant rocket scientist who 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.
Yvonne Brill, who died on Wednesday at 88 in Princeton, N.J., in the early 1970s invented a propulsion system to help keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.
Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.More Prachi Gupta.