Sunday, December 28, 2008

A big day in Obituary Land

The last Sunday of the year is always a good one if you're an obituary watcher. There are always these reviews of who died during the year. The Times today not only has the Notable Deaths of 2008 but also "The Lives They Lived," a great thing in the magazine with kind of special bonus obituaries of people who've already had obituaries. Great stuff.

I noticed something that disturbed me, however. I've noticed it for a while, but it came into sharp relief today with the overview of notable deaths: namely, how few women's deaths are notable. Those that are, are primarily of a performing persuasion.

Here's the breakdown:
Notable deaths of 2008: 43
Men: 36
Women: 7
Of these, those women whose claim to fame was the performing arts: 5
The others were Bettie Page, the famous pin-up model, and Margaret Truman Daniel, "the president's daughter who achieved renown in her own right as a concert singer, radio and television host, and author of best-selling biographies and mysteries."

Remarkably, three of the women were African or African-American singers: Miriam Makeba, Odetta, and Eartha Kitt. Among the men, African-Americans were also represented exclusively by musicians: Bo Diddley and Isaac Hayes. Asians had a far wider range with Dith Pran, the photojournalist who was the subject of the movie "The Killing Fields," Suharto, the former dictator of Indonesia, and Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles' spiritual guru. Hispanics were represented by Robert L. Vesco, fugitive financier.

I will be curious to see as the years go by if these proportions change: if we'll start seeing more notable women politicians, business leaders, and scientists; if African-Americans will be recognized for a greater spectrum of achievements. I expect that we will see this changing before our eyes. I look forward to it.

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