Friday, February 11, 2011

Women: Wikipedia Wants You!

Via The New York Times, less than 15% of the contributors to Wikipedia are women.

As a frequent browser of and sometimes-contributor to Wikipedia, this number does not surprise me. Every now and then, I make it part of my feminist agenda to edit articles that present men as the default human being or that are obviously written from an anti-feminist perspective. It's often little things like fixing the "generic masculine" but sometimes its bigger things like arguing for the consolidation of, to be generic here, two articles about "humans" and "female humans."

My edits aren't always popular among the Wikipedia boys' club, but often I'm able to make a convincing argument for my edit by appealing to other contributors' sense of accuracy.

The Times article, cited above, discusses the gender-based disparity as being similar to how many women wrongly feel they are unqualified to submit op-eds to newspapers:

"It would seem to be an irony that Wikipedia, where the amateur contributor is celebrated, is experiencing the same problem as forums that require expertise. But Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. 'When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies,' she said."

I would agree. The reasons for the gender disparity in Wikipedia contributions are likely multi-faceted. Being a contributor requires access to a computer and internet, as well as the time to do what is, essentially, unpaid labor. Women also tend to underestimate their intelligence, while men tend to overestimate theirs, as the Wikipedia article for "Illusory Superiority" also briefly mentions, which should not also be overlooked as a possible causative factor here.

And to add to that, it can be difficult in male-dominated space to put forth views that some will undoubtedly interpret as "radical feminist PC bullshit." It can be draining to have to fight that battle day in and day out, especially in non-feminist spaces where it's assumed that anti-feminist perspectives are objective and feminist ones are biased. See, for instance, the talk page for the "Gender neutrality in English" article.

Nonetheless, Wikipedia is many people's go-to source for quick and easy summaries of many topics. It's important that our information about the world not be presented mostly from the limited, and therefore not-fully-accurate, male perspective. I mean, we've been down this road before, right, with only a segment of the population writing reality for everyone else? It'd be nice if it didn't happen with internet too, kthx.

I know from the comments that many of you have specialized knowledge in lots of different areas- whether it's math, literature, dancing, music, biking, linguistics, art, pop culture, sports, atheism, Assassin's Creed, or anything else. You non-commenting readers probably know some stuff too.

If you have the time, resources, and desire to potentially have run-ins with MRA types, consider contributing to Wikipedia. Start your own article, or add to one that already exists.

I'm making it a priority of mine to do so more often.

(See also, Echidne).

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