Gender bias, even in death

During our observation of the Calvary Cemetery, my team mainly noticed differences in gender between gravestones. As other people have mentioned, our sample size (N=33) was quite small to be making general conclusions, but from what we observed, men’s gravestones tended to be larger than the women’s. In the family plots we found, the male head of the house was given a larger gravestone than the women and his siblings or children. In cases of memorial stones over family plots, it was often the case that the patriarch’s name would be on the large memorial stone, while his family member’s names would be on footstones in the surrounding area. This reflects our society’s habit of valuing men over women. Gender inequality is also shown in the decoration and detail of gravestones at the cemetery. Often, the men’s graves were monuments or columns, more richly decorated than the women’s. It seems pretty cliché that the only conclusion I can try to make is one of gender inequality shown at a Catholic cemetery, but there you have it.

As my colleague noted, we discovered some interesting facts when we talked to cemetery staff; I learned about the Seattle flu epidemic that occurred in 1918-1919. Not being from Seattle, I don’t know anything about its history, so learning that prompted me to do a little side research into that time of history.

Another interesting thing we discovered was that there were ‘forgotten’ burials in a section of the cemetery, people who could not afford footstones or any other gravestones. These people were essentially forgotten by family and staff. One of the staff members recently recovered information on these people’s names and birth/death dates, and has had a memorial erected for all those people.

Memorial to the "forgotten" burials of the cemetery

Memorial to the “forgotten” burials of the cemetery

2 thoughts on “Gender bias, even in death

  1. Yes, interesting how patriarchs tend to get these central, even obelisk-style monuments, as opposed to matriarchs (there must be some matriarchs buried in this cemetery). Or perhaps “sometimes an obelisk is just an obelisk,” to paraphrase Freud.

    Another line of evidence to look into is whether matriarchs expressed their power in different ways, that just happen not to appear in the cemetery. Might we compare, for example, some kind of church donation registry, or other record of patronage?

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