Women and men are still unequal – even when they are dead

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/mind-your-language/2012/apr/16/women-men-widow-widower

The word widow appears in newspapers up to 15 times more frequently than widower, a discrepancy that suggests that women are still defined in terms of their relationship to men.

Matt Mills
Monday 16 April 2012

It is notable, when reading articles in any British newspaper, that the language used to refer to the surviving spouse of a man who has died differs considerably from that used to refer to the surviving spouse of a woman who has died. Despite the fact that there are paired words – widow and widower – the way they are used varies greatly. The unequal usage of the two words is evident in countless news articles referring to a deceased man’s spouse as his widow or the widow of X. Widow is also quite frequently used in headlines where the woman’s marital status is not relevant to the article.

In contrast, widower is not regularly used in the same way. Newspaper reports discussing a woman who has died refer to her spouse as her husband and not her widower. Widowed men can be referred to as a husband in headlines, when wife is much less used for widowed women. It is also less likely for a man to be referred to as a widower in headlines not relevant to his marital status.

Dictionaries and style guides do not give rules for the ways widower and widow are used, but a study of online newspaper articles clearly shows a huge discrepancy of uses of widow in contrast to those of widower.

For example, the Daily Mail website had a story with the headline “Widow awaiting cancer surgery told to get back to work by benefits inspectors under government’s welfare reforms“. A West Midlands evening newspaper, the Express and Star, featured the headline “Widow must rehome 13 cats or face 20,000 fine“. However, there were no articles where a man was called a widower in similar circumstances.

Instances of the words widow and widower are wildly at variance in all newspapers, including this one. In the past year, there were 475 widows and just 50 widowers in the Guardian, 729 widows and 114 widows in the Daily Mail, and 918 widows and 147 widowers in the Sun. An online search suggests a ratio of about 15 widow references to one widower in the Independent, eight to one in the Telegraph, and six to one in the London Evening Standard.

Continue reading at:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/mind-your-language/2012/apr/16/women-men-widow-widower

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