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Chapter 2 Space and Visibility in the Obituaries Don’t put the seal of silence on my lips I have untold tales to tell Take off the heavy chain from my foot I am disturbed by all of this. —Forugh Farrohzad, 1955, Asir “Captive”1 The woman used to spend her whole life within the walls of her house not going out into the street except when she was carried to her grave. —Bahithat al-Badiya [Malak Hifni Nasef], 1909, “A Lecture in the Club of the Umma Party”2 Equity within the context of the obituaries can be measured in terms of the relative space and visibility a group occupies in the obituary pages of the threenewspapersunderconsideration.Spaceandvisibilitymaybeimpactedby a number of (nonlinguistic) criteria or devices such as obituary size, repeated mention, and use of visibility-creating devices. If a consistent pattern can be established showing an uneven distribution in the use of such devices in relation to some group, one can then conclude that this group has been disfavored and has thus received unequal treatment within the obituary pages. Visibility-creating devices may be script or position related. Scriptrelated devices such as use of boldface, different type size, and / or capitalization —whenconsistentlyappliedinrelationtosomegroup—wouldcontribute to the increased visibility of that group. Likewise, if a certain location on a page is associated with visibility (thus a position-related device) and if that location is consistently reserved for one group, this would constitute a degree of favoritism toward that group. Media and marketing specialists, for example, have argued that in English the upper left-hand corner is the “most visible,” whereas in Arabic and Persian it is the upper right-hand corner.3 If so, then 63 64 Chapter 2 reserving these locations on a page for one group would also constitute a form of favoritism leading to inequity. Unfortunately the impact of these two visibility-creating devices (script and position) could not be measured systematically for all three newspapers simply because they are not utilized in all three. Capitalization is possible only in English; Arabic and Persian both use Arabic script, which has no capitalization . Although the use of boldface and different type sizes is possible in all three, no variation in boldface was noted in the English obituaries, and type size was almost impossible to measure in any precise manner.4 Likewise, the alphabetical listing adopted in the English obituary pages precluded studying page location.5 As a result, the analysis of space and visibility presented in this chapter has been limited to the first two devices—obituary size and repeated mention (henceforth numerical representation)—since only these two recur in all three newspapers and could, therefore, be systematically measured for comparative purposes. A detailed discussion of these two follows in the next two sections. Within the context of obituaries, then, equity in space and visibility is measured in terms of two nonlinguistic variables: obituary size and numerical representation. Accordingly, gender (in)equity is viewed as the result of bias, or lack thereof, that results from the application of these devices in relation to either sex group. The statistical analysis measures the effect of the three variables (Sex, Culture, and Time) on obituary size and numerical distribution of the deceased, and teases out interaction effects, if any, of the variables relative to each other. In each case I show the gender basis of the variation and discuss effects of Culture and Time. 1. GENDERING OBITUARY SPACE: OBITUARY SIZE One of my initial hypotheses regarding gender equity in the obituaries was based on obituary size. If women and men receive different treatment in the obituary pages, one would expect longer obituaries for the more “prominent” sex; and if women have been denied equal access to this public domain (Eid 1994a, 1994b), then obituaries of women should be shorter than those of men. But first, what does obituary length really mean within the context of equity in the distribution of space between the sexes and in the degree of visibility attained by each in the obituary pages? Space and Visibility 65 It is safe to assume that within the public domain of the news media, space and visibility are in general allotted to more “prominent” people and more “noteworthy” news items, as determined by those responsible for the production of news. The space allotted to a news item as well as its location (front page, for example) is considered a very good indication of the relative importancethenewspieceisexpectedtoreceive.Recallinthisrespectthedeath of Princess Diana in...


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