But the real issue, I’d submit, goes beyond a “gender gap” in the editorial offices of one newspaper. It speaks to basic questions of life, work, success, and how society (and all of us) measure those attributes.
For example, Who really matters? So much of how we continue to define impact (one reason to deserve a prominent obituary) involves people with high-profile positions in established organizations — big-time lawyers, Fortune 500 executives, investment bankers and money managers.
Yet in an age of huge problems and great flux, many of the people who have a real, game-changing impact are startup founders, social entrepreneurs, community activists, nonprofit leaders — the sorts of innovators to whom we pay plenty of attention today, but who have been flying under the radar for decades. I’d much rather read about the passing of a gifted educator, or a committed neighborhood leader, or a beloved nun, than yet another starched-shirt banker or lawyer. These unsung heroes and grassroots innovators don’t live forever — even if their ideas and impact do.
A related question is, What really matters? As a society and business culture, we still tend to equate money with success. If someone is rich, the thinking goes, he or she may or may not be a no-good SOB, but a fortune is evidence that someone is smart, or at least shrewd, and no doubt a success. Which helps to explain why so many wealthy males get New York Times obituaries, while women who died with smaller bank accounts, but who may have led richer lives, don’t get the attention they deserve.