The More Things Change, or don’t, in Second Life

R2 City (moderate)

You know that whole genre of fiction called, I believe, Alternate History? It’s the one that speculates on what today might be like if some events had not happened or if they had happened differently (and, yes, that’s an oversimplification). One of the things I enjoy with this type of story is the interesting mix of what we know and expect with odd elements from, sometimes, different time periods.

I decided this weekend that this mix of eras is actually real – I mean that the entire community in which we reside doesn’t move at the same speed in lockstep. I’m not expressing this well. :)

R2 City (moderate)

R2 City↑ might help illustrate what I mean. It’s a relatively small urban area with a bullet train and a downtown cityscape. You’ll also find a Shinto Shrine underneath the elevated railway, and even a gothic castle overlooking the shopping district. Just because much of the area was paved and received electricity doesn’t mean that all of the residents felt compelled to update their world view.

I bring this up because of one of those periods of outrage that erupted in the twitter/blog/facebook realm on Friday. That bastion of journalistic excellence, The New York Times, published the obituary of a woman whose accomplishments included solving the problem of satellites drifting from their fixed positions. This is one of the reasons the internet can work. A pretty big deal, you’d think, and the reason she deserved inclusion in the NYT hall of lives worth memorializing.

R2 City (moderate)

The outrage was not over the fact that the paper felt she deserved mentioning. It was over the way in which they did it. This was the first paragraph in her obituary as it was originally published:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

After much shouting from the online community, they replaced↑ the reference to her cooking with “She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband …..”.

R2 City (moderate)

The author of the piece doesn’t understand why it might be viewed as sexist. He insists he wouldn’t do anything differently↑. You might want to believe that they were using irony, or even, as he says, that they just wanted to tell her story in an interesting way. If you have a moment, read this obituary↑ he wrote about a male scientist just two weeks earlier. Oddly enough, there’s no mention of his barbequing skills.

The Public Editor of the NYT agreed with the complaints and, in fact, tweeted a link to the Finkbeiner Test↑. I’m sure there are people reading this who don’t consider the episode particularly important or revealing. I think there’s a lesson to be learned – if you’re a woman, and manage to cure cancer, you’d better have at least one fantastic recipe the NYT can share in your obituary. If you don’t there’s a good chance your passing will go unnoticed.

Leave a comment


  1. It makes sense to me what you wrote about the entire community not moving in lockstep and alternate histories. I like it, whether in SL or first life.

    This is something I struggle with, being aware that we’re not all on the same evolutionary level and/or path, choosing when to cut people some slack yet being aware of how the media perpetuates and shapes the status quo in ways I don’t prefer and choosing when to walk my talk with that, often in the face of numbing disapproval and misunderstanding.

    I’ve just finished watching the first three seasons of Mad Men on dvd which has given me much to ponder about how far we’ve traveled and also how much needs to be done.

    As always, great photographs of another sim I’ll now want to visit.

  2. Most enlightening post. I found The More Things Change, or don’t, in Second Life extremely thought provoking prompting me to click on numerous links to delve deeper into the situation being described. Point taken. My favorite line “Oddly enough, there’s no mention of his barbequing skills.” Grill on. Lovin’ this blog!

  3. I can see how that obit is viewed as sexist. On the other hand, it seemed like an example of calling attention to a remarkable deviation from a traditional gender role. Starting with “She was a great scientist” features the work. “She was a great mother [in an era where that’s pretty much what women did] AND look at the great science she did, too” acknowledges how unusual that combination was at the time.

    • Unfortunately – it originally started with the line about her beef dish. It took internet outrage to get the “great scientist” portion added. I also don’t think it was her wifely devotion or her parenting skills that got her a NYT obituary. :p

  4. caramia Mizin

     /  April 2, 2013

    Interesting this story made front page of one Australia’s leading newspapers, no wonder, currently we have our first female Prime Minister, who is unmarried, lives with her male partner, and atheist and a red head to boot. Our media has been in over drive about mysogny on all levels, many of us are so over being treated second best, Thanks Honor for a good read.

  5. You’re such a brilliant writer!

    By the way, what’s your best recipe?


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