Just a day after April Fool’s, a spoof obit of Albert Einstein surfaced in the blogosphere. “Family man who invented relativity and made great chili dies,” snickered the headline at The Last Word on Nothing. When he wasn’t splitting atoms, Albert was a family man who took the garbage out and hand-washed the living room’s antimacassars.
The prank parodied a real obit by the New York Times about Yvonne Brill, a rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep satellites in place. The first version of the obit began “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off work to raise three sons.” And so on.
That was March 30, at 2:21 p.m. Seven hours later, the Times changed the article significantly, no doubt in response to being raked over for its faux pas. Now, the article began by noting that Brill was a pioneering rocket scientist, over her mean beef stroganoff. Strangely, no editorial comment admitted to the revision. We can only hope the Times is not toying with other news in the same way.
Scientists, male and female, declared the obit a mega- failure of the Finkbeiner test, devised by science writer Christie Aschwanden.
Passing the Finkbeiner test – named after another science writer, Ann Finkbeiner, is easy. When writing about a female scientist, focus on her achievements, not her gender. Here’s the simple metric – just don’t ever mention:
- The fact that she’s a woman
- Her husband’s job
- Her child care arrangements
- How she nurtures her underlings
- How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
- How she’s such a role model for other women
- How she’s the “first woman to…”
Easy enough. That’s why we were heartened to receive an infographic from Ford, celebrating over 100 years of women’s leadership. It began in 1907, when Georgia Boyer joined the Ford Service Department at the Detroit Piquette Plant. The latest entry is for 2011, when Barb Samardzich was named vice president, product development, Ford Europe.
But the infographic was more notable for who it didn’t mention. Conspicuous by her absence was Dianne Craig, currently the president of Ford Canada. Curiously, Bobbie Gaunt, who was named president and CEO of Ford Canada in 1997, is very present and accounted for.
It seems that being a female president of Ford Canada just isn’t that big a deal any more. It’s been done. Why make a fuss? That milestone has been reached. There’s no reason to celebrate – or is there?
When a woman achieving a leadership position is no longer considered newsworthy, that’s a headline in itself. In a good way.
As Barbra Streisand noted at the 1993 Academy Awards, which honoured women and the movies, “I look forward to the day when tributes like this will no longer be necessary. It won’t be necessary because women will have the same opportunities as men in all fields, and will be honoured without regard for their gender, but simply for the excellence of their work.”