"Overlooked": NY Times Effort to Honor Women
A few weeks ago, the New York Times announced its new project “Overlooked,” to (finally) provide the obituaries that many honorable, historic women have deserved, but were never given. The company’s history of recognizing mostly white, upper class men in their obituary section is starkly evident. In the process, it has left out the stories on notable and accomplished women like Ida B. Wells, Emily Warren Roebling and more who have contributed to the advancement of the arts, sciences and society at large. Even the handful of women who were given obituaries were not properly recognized for their work, and their affiliation with their husbands was often cited.
NY Times editor, Amisha Padnani reveals how “Overlooked” came to be, writing how 2017 witnessed major changes in conversations around race and gender equity; “people were coming out of the shadows to share personal tales of injustice and discrimination, of disparaging and belittling encounters that made them question their sense of belonging in the world" (NY Times). This project became an endeavor to honor these conversations while bringing attention to the high number of women and people of color who deserve to be recognized for their contributions to society.
In the process of documenting the untold stories of late and recently passed women, the Times has also offered readers the opportunity to submit suggestions on who they think should be honored for upcoming obituaries. The Times has reported that a large number of readers have submitted stories about their grandmothers or other relatives.
The Times’ efforts to highlight important moments in history that were pioneered and driven by women underscores the importance of recognition, especially for groups whose experiences have normally gone uncovered by mainstream media platforms.
William McDonald, a longtime obituary editor for the Times, responded to the looming question as to why many obituary subjects have been disproportionally white men. He writes, “the prominent shapers of society back then… were disproportionately white and male, be they former United States senators or business titans or Hollywood directors… perhaps the paper’s selection standards in eras past unfairly valued the achievements of the white, male mainstream over those of minorities and women who may have been more on the margins" (NY Times).
This project is undoubtedly overdue in its efforts to align with the cultural and societal shifts currently occurring and the discussions and changes that make room for narratives driven by women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, disabled individuals, and other marginalized groups. Finally, we are witnessing a major media source engage across culture, sexuality and race to bring light to figures who deserve to be celebrated and whose very identities and successes help break the constraints we too often find ourselves in.
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