Big papers’ lists of significant deaths in 2012 overwhelmingly feature men. The Washington Post put 18 women and 48 men on its list. On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Times listed 36 women and 114 men. And lest you think this is some kind of freak 2012 phenomenon, the New York Times has consistently listed many more men than women over the last five years.
So is the issue that notable women aren’t dying—or that newspapers aren’t reporting it? “We simply choose the most prominent, the most well-known, the most influential, without regard to race, color, sex, creed,” says Bill McDonald, the editor of obituaries at the Times. “It’s a rearview mirror. The people we write about largely shaped the world of the 1950s, ’60s and, increasingly, the ’70s, and those movers and shakers were—no surprise—predominantly white men.”
As the article goes on to point out, that kind of thinking merely shifts the blame to our culture at large—indicating that we have either undervalued the accomplishments of women or prevented them from accomplishing noteworthy things.