Next Tuesday, March 4, MHC LITS will be hosting a Seven Siblings Women's History Month Wikipedia Edit-a-thon from 4 to 8pm in the Library atrium! Edit-a-thons will be happening at the same time at Barnard and Smith Colleges, with Radcliffe and Bryn Mawr holding events later in the month. Here's a video of last year's edit-a-thon to get you psyched:
The goal of this edit-a-thon is to promote understanding of the Gender Gap of Wikipedia editors and create a space for women to edit Wikipedia entries. Here is a quick and dirty introduction to the Gender Gap.
What is the Gender Gap?
The discrepancy between the number of people identifying as male and those identifying as female who are active contributors to the Wikimedia movement.
The findings of a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project were that female Wikipedia editors in 2008 accounted for 22.7% of all editors. In 2013, the percentage of Wikipedia editors identifying as female was 16.1%. From this data, it is evident that women are grossly underrepresented among Wikipedia editors(2).
To decrease the gap by increasing the number of female-identifying Wikipedia editors, the Gender Gap Manifesto was created. The manifesto can be found by clicking on link (1).
Why is the Gender Gap a problem?
To us, it might seem obvious why having an overwhelming percentage of male contributors to a crowd-sourced knowledge base is problematic. But let’s spell it out anyways.
First of all, a lot of internet users choose Wikipedia as a source of information when doing research. According to another Pew survey, 42% of Americans used Wikipedia in May 2010. This is estimated to represent about 53% of American adults that regularly go online. So, the information presented on Wikipedia is accessed often and is influential.
Maia Weinstock, a science writer who co-organizes Brown’s edit-a-thon noted, “Most of history has been written by men about men… Many women have contributed important things to history that have been left out of the official records, whether that’s in science or any area of life. Wikipedia is one of - if not the - most popular encyclopedias in the world, so to not have as many women represented in science in particular is a travesty.”
The Gender Gap causes skewed representation of coverage of or emphasis on topics:
“Among the significant problems that aren’t getting resolved is the site’s skewed coverage: its entries on Pokemon and female porn stars are comprehensive, but its pages on female novelists...are sketchy. Authoritative entries remain elusive. Of the 1,000 articles that the project’s own volunteers have tagged as forming the core of a good encyclopedia, most don’t earn even Wikipedia’s own middle-ranking quality scores.” (3)
This representation of coverage/emphasis on topics also includes the controversies surrounding categorization. For example, the separation of categories: American women novelists from American novelists. The rationale as to why this is problematic is as follows: “As per gender neutrality guidelines, gender-specific categories are not appropriate where gender is not specifically related to the topic. This subcategory also creates the unfortunate side effect that Category:American novelists contains only male novelists.” (4)
The objectivity of Wikipedia is compromised
Because of the skewed nature of topics covered, the quality of Wikipedia is compromised. (Of course, none of you should be using it as a source of information for research anyways…)
But wait… how can an online, collaborative effort be sexist? It isn’t like there is an elite group of Wikipedia editor hirers that are actively discriminating against female editors, leading us to ask this next question:
What is causing and/or perpetuating the Gender Gap?
Overt and pervasive misogynistic attitudes
There have been many disturbing reports about the treatment of women contributors on Wikipedia. Because some of the content is potentially a trigger, I will post links to this information rather than explicitly list them here.
medley of reasons (Personally, I am off-put by #3 and #4 and find #1 and #9 irrelevant)
What are some potential benefits of decreasing the Gender Gap?
Improve the quality of information provided by Wikipedia
At MHC, we know that information is improved by the addition of differing perspectives. We know that the best way to get differing perspectives is to ask people with different life experiences.
Open doors to more groups
Including women will hopefully spur the inclusion of other historically disempowered groups, leading to more diverse perspectives.
I hope that this short introduction has convinced you that participating in our edit-a-thon is important! Hope to see you there!