While theoretically anyone can help create content on Wikipedia, the truth is that fewer than 15% of the site’s editors are women. As a result, sexism, both intentional and otherwise, inevitably pervades the pages. Fortunately, women are now taking proactive steps to make one of the internet’s most popular destinations more equitable.
Last year, Care2 discussed how author Amanda Filipacchi noticed the sexism when browsing Wikipedia’s page for “American Novelists.” She and hundreds of others had had their names removed and put on a separate page, “American Women Novelists.” Male writers, on the other hand, stayed on the main page, regardless of their level of fame and accomplishments. Anyone visiting the site might get the impression that there aren’t women novelists in the United States because of this unnecessary sub-categorization.
After Filipacchi spoke out about the problem, she witnessed her personal Wikipedia page sabotaged by Wiki editors. They removed the citations from her page and then labeled the page unreliable for lacking sources. In just one day after speaking out, Filipacchi’s page was altered as many times as it had been in the previous four years, in what appeared to be an act of retaliation.
Meanwhile, Wikipediocracy, a site devoted to tracking the inherent problems of the web giant, reported on a trend where famous women in a variety of fields don’t have pages created for them until after they have died. The implication is that a woman cannot be considered important while still alive, perhaps because acknowledging so threatens male dominance.
As cries of sexism amplified, tech and gender activist Deanna Zandt challenged women to fix the problem. Already involved in Wikipedia, Zandt believed change was accessible. “I don’t expect Wikipedia to solve the sexism that exists in the world, but I do see it as place for us to challenge the status quo of the sexism that surrounds us,” she wrote. “It’s not enough that we create an open system and say that everyone has the opportunity to work on it – we need to make intentional interventions into the status quo that involve raising the voices of those who are not heard as often.”
Whether or not they heard Zandt’s challenge directly, people around the world have been heeding the call. As Business Insider reports, women (and allied men) are making those “intentional interventions” by arranging meet-ups to edit and create Wikipedia pages. The idea is to establish a social environment for feminists to bring their laptops and help to make the internet less sexist.
It turns out that participating on Wikipedia is a little more complicated than going to the website and editing pages. Since Wikipedia has strict rules in place, many of these women-led changes would be erased for not following procedures. The meet-ups include detailed instructions on how to have entries and edits approved so that the female interventions can remain intact.
Last month, a group named Art+Feminist put together an “edit-a-thon” to improve Wikipedia’s existing art content. Around the world, about 600 partakers added more than 100 new entries on notable female artists that Wikipedia’s male-dominated editors had previously not added. Participants also edited another 90 art-related pages to remove sexist language and/or provide more thorough information about subjects. This event was so successful that subsequent edit-a-thons were quickly organized for upcoming months.
For what it’s worth, Wikipedia seems excited at the progress made and hopes that a diverse editor group emerges from these events. Spokesperson Jay Walsh said, “It’s a really important way for people who have knowledge to share, but no experience editing Wikipedia, to get comfortable with the process.” Hopefully, these women will continue contributing to the community to help make Wikipedia less sexist one entry at a time.