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January 31, 2011 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Wikipedia Struggles to Reduce Gender Disparities in Online Contributions Sue Gardner, the executive director of the foundation, has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, but she is running up against the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women. Her effort is not diversity for diversity’s sake, she says. “This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be."
posted by modernnomad (147 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the linked article: Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in “The Simpsons”?

The Simpsons entertain. The Mexican feminist writers challenge. Guess which one people prefer more, so guess which one ends up in a prime slot on a major network for 20 years?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:25 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The link works for me.

But because of its early contributors Wikipedia shares many characteristics with the hard-driving hacker crowd, says Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. This includes an ideology that resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity, as well as a culture that may discourage women.

“It is ironic,” he said, “because I like these things — freedom, openness, egalitarian ideas — but I think to some extent they are compounding and hiding problems you might find in the real world.”

Adopting openness means being “open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists,” he said, “so you have to have a huge argument about whether there is the problem.”


That really resonated with me. It's such an incredible drag to have to first prove (and reprove, and re-reprove, etc) a basic and obvious problem, so I can understand shrugging and moving to a place that has at least acknowledged the issue.
posted by Forktine at 6:25 AM on January 31, 2011 [18 favorites]


It works for me too.
posted by lampshade at 6:25 AM on January 31, 2011


Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas.

This is the right thing to do. People do not and should not have to reveal their gender on the Internet.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:27 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Simpsons entertain. The Mexican feminist writers challenge. Guess which one people prefer more, so guess which one ends up in a prime slot on a major network for 20 years?

Sure, that explains Simpsons vs Mexican feminists. But the article also says that there are large discrepancies between TV shows that are equally pure entertainment, such as Sex and the City vs the Sopranos.

I'm reminded of how painful and drawn-out it was to remove "I'd hit it!" from the basic lexicon here at MetaFilter. Changing a basic, organically-grown aspect of a community's culture is really hard to do, and requires smart and dedicated people willing to get in your face about it.
posted by Forktine at 6:28 AM on January 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


When Mexican feminist writers are the new bacon, watch that category explode.
posted by DU at 6:29 AM on January 31, 2011


Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in “The Simpsons”?

Not related to the gender angle, but: Wikigroaning.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 AM on January 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is it just me, or does that NYT article imply women are only good on shoes and shopping? Is that really the best argument they can come up with for equal representation?
posted by londonmark at 6:30 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry - my adblocker programme seemed to be blocking it from loading. Nice post.

Another issue is that more than 50% of wiki-editing is done by less than 1% of the users. More of everyone would probably be better, and for that the interface has to be a lot less geeky and convoluted.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 6:30 AM on January 31, 2011


But because of its early contributors Wikipedia shares many characteristics with the hard-driving hacker crowd, says Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. This includes an ideology that resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity, as well as a culture that may discourage women.

"A culture that may discourage women" is pretty much the long and short of it.

It seems to me that Ms Gardner might be more concerned about why were only 20 percent of 2008 computer science undergraduates at M.I.T. female than the percentage of single, childless, 18-30 year Wikipedia editors who are female.
posted by three blind mice at 6:33 AM on January 31, 2011


between TV shows that are equally pure entertainment, such as Sex and the City vs the Sopranos.

It's a poor comparison. How about Sex and the City vs. Entourage? Very similar shows in terms of quality, very similar coverage on Wikipedia. Sopranos has more coverage because its a better show.
posted by smackfu at 6:34 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


A good article, and Gardner takes a sensible approach:
Her effort is not diversity for diversity’s sake, she says. “This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be,” Ms. Gardner said in an interview on Thursday. “The difference between Wikipedia and other editorially created products is that Wikipedians are not professionals, they are only asked to bring what they know.”

“Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table,” she said. “If they are not at the table, we don’t benefit from their crumb.”
The examples are pretty damning (if you care about things beyond Simpsons and video games), but it's not clear what's to be done about it.

> I'm reminded of how painful and drawn-out it was to remove "I'd hit it!" from the basic lexicon here at MetaFilter. Changing a basic, organically-grown aspect of a community's culture is really hard to do, and requires smart and dedicated people willing to get in your face about it.

Yes, exactly.
posted by languagehat at 6:35 AM on January 31, 2011


The first thing that I thought of when I read this was the similarities to the breakdown of people who call in to talk radio shows. Why are men more willing to share their knowledge, real or perceived? Ego? Machismo? Testosterone?
posted by arveale at 6:36 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


You see man made the web
So data could be transferred
Man made the wiki
To carry the heavy nerd

This is a man's, man's, man's world
But it wouldn’t be nothing
Nothing without a woman or a girl
posted by Segundus at 6:38 AM on January 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sopranos has more coverage because its a better show.

...enh. S&TC is a widely beloved show with an enormous, highly devoted fan base and a pretty deep footprint in (primarily American) culture. Entourage is a second-tier HBO show, at best, in terms of cultural imprint. Many worse shows have far more detailed entries than both. I don't have any commentary as to why S&TC's entry is relatively abbreviated as opposed to, say, that of Pokémon, but there you go.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:39 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read talk pages on wikipedia all the time, and I never even see gender coming up as an issue. Moreover, if someone wants to update articles on early 20th century feminist novelists or whatever, I doubt that the guys writing GTAIV articles are ever going to find it, let alone give anyone a hard time for writing it.
posted by empath at 6:40 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, the thing about a character like Nico Bellic is that he's basically uninteresting as a subject of an encyclopedia article, and the wikipedia articles about him are pointless and should probably be deleted, not emulated as a model. I think wikipedia could do with a lot fewer articles like that, but it's probably not worth the effort to delete them. If there aren't a bunch of hyper-detailed articles about Charlotte Bronte characters, the world isn't missing anything. The books are out there, after all.
posted by empath at 6:45 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe women have lives.
posted by Segundus at 6:51 AM on January 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


Sure, that explains Simpsons vs Mexican feminists. But the article also says that there are large discrepancies between TV shows that are equally pure entertainment, such as Sex and the City vs the Sopranos.

That was my point, comparing Simpsons and Mexican feminists really isn't a worthwhile comparison, as it's two different markets.

Comparing SitC and Sopranos makes more sense, but I'm not sure it's proof of anything other than SitC's audience isn't interested in updating Wikipedia. I'd say part of this is because adding or updating a Wiki is tedious and hard to the general public, so they're not going to be interested in doing so. Change that and you'll see a larger swath of the public helping out, including women. But I expect Dick Cheney to be become a tree hugging liberal before Wikipedia changes that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:53 AM on January 31, 2011


Comparing SitC and Sopranos makes more sense, but I'm not sure it's proof of anything other than SitC's audience isn't interested in updating Wikipedia. I'd say part of this is because adding or updating a Wiki is tedious and hard to the general public, so they're not going to be interested in doing so. Change that and you'll see a larger swath of the public helping out, including women.

Did you just say Wikipedia is too hard for women to use?
posted by londonmark at 6:59 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's also hard to compare because once a TV show has separate pages for each episode, they fill up. I don't know how that decision gets made, but that decision is the important one.
posted by smackfu at 6:59 AM on January 31, 2011


I'm surprised that the reputation for general jackassery wikipedia editors have hasn't come up yet. My disinterest in editing wikipedia has more to do with my lack of interest in stepping into flame wars, having topics I think are important deleted, having my edits undone with snippy comments in talk, and so on than it does with my theoretical difficulty with using a wiki.
posted by immlass at 7:05 AM on January 31, 2011 [20 favorites]


Did you just say Wikipedia is too hard for women to use?

No. I specifically wrote "general public".
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:05 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sue Gardner was interviewed on the Guardian's Tech Podcast a couple of weeks ago
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:08 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Culture? You can update it from your bedroom naked if you like, without having to interact with anyone. I get the impression that somebody is being blamed for the paucity female contributors, but what are the barriers preventing them from doing so?
posted by jellywerker at 7:09 AM on January 31, 2011


I'm surprised that the reputation for general jackassery wikipedia editors have hasn't come up yet.

That's what keeps me away from trying to add much to Wikipedia.
posted by octothorpe at 7:12 AM on January 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


S&TC is a widely beloved show with an enormous, highly devoted fan base and a pretty deep footprint in (primarily American) culture. Entourage is a second-tier HBO show, at best, in terms of cultural imprint. Many worse shows have far more detailed entries than both. I don't have any commentary as to why S&TC's entry is relatively abbreviated as opposed to, say, that of Pokémon, but there you go.

Okay, see, what you are all not getting is that Sex and the City is not beloved by nerds. Entourage, the Sopranos, the Simpsons, Pokemon, and so on are all nerd favorites (see also Arrested Development), and as such Wikipedia has reams of info on them, since the people who write the really huge, detailed entries are nerds. If Sex and the City was a nerd-pandering show, it would have more information about it on Wikipedia.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:20 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


... obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.

Silly women and their uncomfortableness around facts!!
posted by odinsdream at 7:21 AM on January 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


It seems to me that Ms Gardner might be more concerned about why were only 20 percent of 2008 computer science undergraduates at M.I.T. female than the percentage of single, childless, 18-30 year Wikipedia editors who are female.

I imagine that, if asked, that may well be something that she is more concerned about. Other people are trying to fix that.
Her goal is to get it to 25% and by 2015, not next year. In other words, this is someone who is deeply pragmatic. They've taken a small part of a big problem and set modest but difficult goals. I wish them the best of luck.
posted by atrazine at 7:24 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised that the reputation for general jackassery wikipedia editors have hasn't come up yet.

In that case, may I recommend every other Metafilter thread ever that mentions Wikipedia?
posted by Jpfed at 7:27 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know, maybe a TV ad showing a woman on the couch with her family, watching TV and surfing on her iPad where she sees something on TV and decides that belongs in the wikipedia article for that subject would be helpful. It could show that all it takes it to hit that little 'Edit' button and emphasize that everyone knows a lot about something and can contribute.

The part where that edit is reverted and her IP is banned is probably the harder part to illustrate in a snappy ad, though.

This makes me also wonder if there's a good iOS app for collecting citations to put into wiki articles? Making including of citations into a very-obvious-how-to-do-it part of the interface is something that would definitely ease people into how to participate properly, as well.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:28 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just to clarify my comment, what she's trying to get to 25% is the Wikipedia contribution.
posted by atrazine at 7:30 AM on January 31, 2011


Men have alienating obsessions that offer them no tanglible benefit and women have cats.
posted by I Foody at 7:36 AM on January 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


Goodness, somebody tell the Girl Scouts about the shocking lack of information on friendship bracelets; they'll get right on that.
posted by Mizu at 7:37 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps women are just too busy actually getting the shit that needs doing done.

Wikipedia's gender disparity isn't a social equity issue as much as it evidence that there is a surplus of men compared to society's actual need for them. We are all just spares sitting around waiting for a war [or make that a fourth simultaneous war? Shit ... we are not even needed for wars...].
posted by srboisvert at 7:40 AM on January 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Did you just say Wikipedia is too hard for women to use?

No. I specifically wrote "general public".


My apologies then for misinterpreting your words, but we're talking about a gender imbalance in the Wikipedia editing community, so if by "geneal public" you mean men and women equally then the difficulty of the editing process can't be the cause.

On the other hand, the assumption has been made both in the OP and elsewhere in this thread that the Sex and the City entry is of more interested to women than men, so I hope you can see where I drew the wrong conclusion.

Either way, the SATC entry should not be the litmus test for gender equality on Wikipedia because it ghetoises women along gender lines, reinforcing gender stereotyping and diminishing their greater role on the site. It's like going back to a time when women were restricted to housekeeping and 'female' jobs.
posted by londonmark at 7:41 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Simpsons entertain. The Mexican feminist writers challenge.

For some of us, The Simpsons challenge too.
posted by rhymer at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2011


Forktine writes "Sure, that explains Simpsons vs Mexican feminists. But the article also says that there are large discrepancies between TV shows that are equally pure entertainment, such as Sex and the City vs the Sopranos."

Many discrepancies like this have to to with relevancy. Pick pretty well any TV show pre-web and it's pages pale in comparison to even the worst crap being produced today. SitC ran from 1998-2004; The Sopranos 1997-2008. Because Wiki's membership base has been growing and edits accumulate the more current an entry topic is generally the more that is written.

But besides that comparing individual topics is crazy. All you need is one or two people with a hobby horse to write volumes on a topic to generate examples of disproportionality. I'm sure there is some Northern Canadian town with a total population of 73 that has dozens of pages of content just because a) someone from there is an editor and b) no one cares to challenge the content's relevancy,
posted by Mitheral at 7:46 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Space Coyote writes "You know, maybe a TV ad showing a woman on the couch with her family, watching TV and surfing on her iPad where she sees something on TV and decides that belongs in the wikipedia article for that subject would be helpful. It could show that all it takes it to hit that little 'Edit' button and emphasize that everyone knows a lot about something and can contribute."

Are TV shows considered to be a valid cite? 'Cause otherwise that'll be shot down as original research.
posted by Mitheral at 7:51 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This might piss some of you off, but has it ever occurred to those that follow these things that maybe, just maybe, women don't want to become wikipedia editors as much as men ? And that to go to great (or not so great) lengths to change this is in fact a fundamental challenge to the choice that these women have made.

"fuck doris, I can't come with you tonight to see a movie, I have to edit wikipedia otherwise the gender balance will be screwed"

To be fair to the lady at Wikipedia she has no grind on equality she wants a better product, and nothing wrong with that, but there is an air here that this completely democratic, no barrier to entry 'occupation' that can indeed be done sitting naked at home, is somehow contributing to gender discrimination.

Really ? This is pretty much the absolute opposite of the boardroom, isn't it ?
posted by Boslowski at 7:54 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Goodness, somebody tell the Girl Scouts about the shocking lack of information on friendship bracelets; they'll get right on that.

Cool, sure! I know you meant that as sarcasm, but why not? Editing wikipedia sounds like a good pursuit for introducing a scout troop to the attached resources AND good writing practice, both things that

About the SatC entry. It's not the merit of the show or that woman can't be tediously obsessive, or even that they're not on the internet. The show's fans are happily pirating it (it's an easy to get torrent), talking about it and referencing it on corners of the internet that are more female in focus. Speaking as someone who bridges geekery and fluffy-femme, one of the great geek disservices to women is that even when we're on the same electronics, what we do, from the insanely successful Sims franchise to blogging until our fingers fall off, it ends up beneath notice or not "real".

And for my next trick, watch me bitch about how the male clerks at the gaming store make a big frikking deal out of me buying my stuff packs, or for that matter, any purchase from the rapidly dwindling rack of computer games.
posted by Phalene at 7:57 AM on January 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


When I use Wikipedia, the first thing I try to find out is whether the article was written by a Black, Hispanic, Jew, Oriental, Woman, Gay, Bi- or atheist....Without knowing this, I am fearful the article might not be truly representative.
posted by Postroad at 8:00 AM on January 31, 2011


This might piss some of you off, but has it ever occurred to those that follow these things that maybe, just maybe, women don't want to become wikipedia editors doctors as much as men ? And that to go to great (or not so great) lengths to change this is in fact a fundamental challenge to the choice that these women have made.

Really?
posted by londonmark at 8:01 AM on January 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


I suspect (no citation, sorry!) that some of it has to do with the ways in which socializing is done inside wikipedia, compared to other styles of community building, friendships, and projects online.

Although I mostly avoid editing wikipedia because of the rampant jerkwad factor, and partially because I can't be bothered to learn the markup to my meticulous satisfaction, a large part of my reason for not contributing my highly esoteric knowledge is that I'm busy contributing elsewhere. Fandom stuff keeps me really busy - we have our own ways of archiving and record keeping and spreading knowledge, and it's all very skewed towards female.

The few times I've touched wikipedia, I've been struck by how isolating it can feel. It's a very fend for yourself kind of place for me. Anywhere else online, my first impulse is to put out feelers. I make friends, ask for links to FAQs and guides, and inevitably someone takes me under their wing and shows me the ropes of whatever niche culture I'm obsessed with that month. It's very collaborative, and prioritizes friendships and enjoyment of pre-existing work over results. Wikipedia isn't like that, as far as I've experienced. There's no reciprocal culture; to just plunge oneself into the thick of things and start adding information can be highly intimidating, and there's no structure set up to find like-minded people to assist one's first attempts. Instead I just find lots and lots of links to lots of information-dense pages.
posted by Mizu at 8:06 AM on January 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


londonmark, you do realize there's a difference between doctors and Wikipedia editors, right?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:07 AM on January 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cool, sure! I know you meant that as sarcasm, but why not?

Actually I didn't really mean it as sarcasm. I did think it was funny how the officially "girly" thing the article chose to list was friendship bracelets. Oh the memories of horror! What if I couldn't master the double reverse knot? What if I ran out of purple floss? Shame! Ultimate shame!

I was slightly serious that the Girl Scouts should get on that. It would be interesting to see, if maybe they produced some easy guides for scout masters (or whatever they are called) how much could be fleshed out about Scout-flavored things. Put the organization to use!
posted by Mizu at 8:11 AM on January 31, 2011


londonmark, you do realize there's a difference between doctors and Wikipedia editors, right?

What's your point? You can speak with the authority of the female race about one, but not the other?
posted by londonmark at 8:11 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


What's your point?

The comparison doesn't work, IMO, because being a doctor is much more prestigious and rewarding (on many levels) than being a Wikipedia editor. You can't just sub one in for the other as proof of bias.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:17 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


good point, londonmark, though an ironic example. From what I've heard, more women than men are graduating as doctors these days (and by a big margin).

And interest/culture does have an influence in choices. I remember discussing gender in an undergraduate class, and one of the male students discussing the pressure he felt to major in something remunerative, because he would have to support a family one day. Most of the female students in the same class declared that they did not feel the same pressure.

but in the case of wikipedia -- it probably has to do with existing gender imbalances on the web, and esp on the early web -- and also with the poisonous behaviour of many editors during the notability wars. many women coming to the web in the early to mid 2000's, as I was, probably encountered wikipedia at its very worst.
posted by jb at 8:18 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that there are a lot of underlying factors for the gender disparity. The article touches on some that seem fairly difficult to address at anything less than a society-wide level, such as the possibility that "women [lack] the confidence to put forth their views," and commenters here touch on the possibility that women are (in general) more inclined to do other things with their time.

However, the thing that immediately leaps to my mind as a female non-Wikipedia editor is the simple barrier to entry that is the Wikimedia editing interface. "For the more technically inclined, wiki markup is a simple way of formatting a wiki page. However, many would-be users of MediaWiki are put off by what looks to them—rightly—to be code of any sort."

Let's please not come back with "so you're saying women are too stupid to learn Wiki markup language and only have enough brain cells to operate via point-and-click?" Of course not. But women are--for those myriad, intractable social reasons--less likely to be coders of any sort, and anything that is a barrier for non-coders is hence also a hurdle that builds a gender bias into the system.

The same page linked above goes on to explain the reason why--in 2011, for God's sake--MediaWiki still lacks a built-in WYSIWYG editor. Regardless of those reasons, it seems that if Sue Gardner is serious about evening the playing field, focusing on internal software engineering is a better bet than external social engineering.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 8:22 AM on January 31, 2011


It may be unpleasant to have to endure the encyclopædists, but I think having to fight through a legion of obsessive pedants for your contribution (HI METAFILTER) can only be good for the quality of Wikipedia's content.

Why must there continue to be these people who think that equal numerical representation is so important absolutely everywhere? Reality is clumpy. I don't see injustice here. As a mefite, I support wikipedia's right to be curmudgeonly and harsh in the name of promoting outbreaks of discourse.

If the majority of people who do or don't want to contribute to a particular website happen to be women or men, is it automatically unjust? Is wikipedia really so important?
posted by Casimir at 8:23 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The comparison doesn't work, IMO, because being a doctor is much more prestigious and rewarding (on many levels) than being a Wikipedia editor. You can't just sub one in for the other as proof of bias.

I really didn't think I was being that subtle, but my point was to illustrate how absurd it is to presume what fiftyish per cent of the population may or may not want. It's that kind of attitude that illustrates exactly why we are still battling inequality on such a basic level.
posted by londonmark at 8:23 AM on January 31, 2011


My friend Kat is quoted at the end of the article and shared more thoughts here, if anyone's interested.

I'm a girl on Wikipedia and I hate Sex and the City, FWIW.
posted by SMPA at 8:24 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


"For the more technically inclined, wiki markup is a simple way of formatting a wiki page. However, many would-be users of MediaWiki are put off by what looks to them—rightly—to be code of any sort."

Yep, that's a major factor why the general public isn't participating in Wikipedia. The editors overwhelming skew towards the techy, nerdy types, which aren't a majority of women anyway. To me it seems that if you want to include more women, you'd have to make Wikipedia more like Facebook (at least in idea, not look), easy to post to.

Yeah, that'll happen.

I really didn't think I was being that subtle, but my point was to illustrate how absurd it is to presume what fiftyish per cent of the population may or may not want.

I don't think it's absurd at all, particularly in light of the fact that 50% of the population doesn't seem interested in editing Wikipedia. That's not a presumption, it's fact.

We'll probably just have to agree to disagree.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:33 AM on January 31, 2011


What exactly is broken with wikipedia and why was I finding it useful and enjoyable when obviously that was not the case?
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 8:34 AM on January 31, 2011


Really, the size of a Wikipedia article seems to result from the combination of 2 factors: 1) the amount of free time available to the members of the population concerned by the article and 2) their willingness to allocate that free time to Wikipedia editing. While the gender difference shown here may be partly due to the boyzone effect, it could be that women have less free time and other/better/more important things to do with their free time (or what's left of it). After all, there are entire gender-neutral areas of knowlege with tiny and badly edited pages on Wikipedia.
posted by elgilito at 8:35 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe women want to work on the Simpsons and Sopranos articles and don't want to write about Mexican Feminists.

How many articles are there on shoes, shopping and hunky guys, let's get the ladies started on those ASAP!
posted by Ad hominem at 8:38 AM on January 31, 2011


Are there any statistics about which articles that women are more likely to contribute to? Everyone is assuming it would be Sex in the City, but why wouldn't it be, say, articles about their home town or cooking, or accountancy or whatever? I really haven't a clue about what differences in usage patterns there might be between men and women on wikipedia, and I'd hate to just assume it's just feminist literature, girly tv shows and fashion or whatever.

I think the thing to do would be to do a survey of women about which articles that

A) They are interested in reading

B) They think are underdeveloped

and

C) They would feel comfortable contributing to.

And then start a campaign to promote those types of articles to women somehow.
posted by empath at 8:42 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that there is anything wrong with shoes, but the idea that women should devote their time to writing Sex and The City articles is kinda funny.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:44 AM on January 31, 2011


You would think that librarians would love to update Wikipedia.
posted by smackfu at 8:45 AM on January 31, 2011


Shoes, shopping, and hunky guys are all vitally important and fascinating aspects of human existence. Just because something is generally considered the purview of women doesn't mean it has less value, nor does it deserve less meticulous, nerds-on-wikipedia-like attention. Why are we trying to legitimize the lack of coverage on "feminine" topics by inverting the point brought up by the article? It seems reductive.

Wikipedia would not be worse off for attracting people who wanted to write detailed articles about hunky guys and eyelash curlers, and I applaud anybody who works to attract such people to the project.

Sorry for the grar. Pet peeve there. Maybe I should go learn the markup and flesh out the article on sequins or something.
posted by Mizu at 8:46 AM on January 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


Women already do this stuff, but we tend to do it in our own communities. You name just about any single media property with any kind of fanbase, and I can direct you to the Wiki, the Lexicon, the archive, and at least 2 major communities for them, all built by women.

Just because we're not building those things on Wikipedia doesn't mean we're not capable or interested. We are, and we're achieving them with perfectly elegant coding, scripting, and other technology.

I've tried to edit on Wikipedia, but I find the "This is my troll bridge, you may not pass!" attitude obnoxious. I can add all kinds of things to male YA authors' pages with minimal cites and no one says a word.

Whereas, every time I try to add a female YA author, or contribute to their pages, I invariably end up with some obnoxious gatekeeper complaining that my cites from Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal aren't NEARLY enough, and besides, this author isn't SIGNIFICANT enough to have an entry, who cares if she published three books? They're not NOTEWORTHY. Meanwhile, 1-Book Nobody Dude's Wikipedia page is 14 printable pages long.

So, I wish Sue Gardner luck, I really do. But I have enough parity stuff I have to fight about; fighting to post on Wikipedia doesn't even make the top 100.
posted by headspace at 8:46 AM on January 31, 2011 [40 favorites]


I absolutely agree that this is a problem, both for Wikipedia and as a symptom of a larger issue in our culture. (It may be more problematic and significant that only 17% of the House of Representatives are female, but whatever.)

And as a staunch feminist, I definitely don't want to be seen as whitewashing the situation!

BUT. The Feminist section of Wikipedia is awesome, and I use it all the time. The volume, scope, and tone of the articles relating to feminism is amazing. It always makes me proud.
posted by ErikaB at 8:53 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shoes, shopping, and hunky guys are all vitally important and fascinating aspects of human existence. Just because something is generally considered the purview of women doesn't mean it has less value

Sure, I just think the Simpsons vs Sex and the City metric is kinda ridiculous. Women should write what they want but the notion that if they lure more women in to writing articles they will suddenly have tons of articles on Sex and The City or Mexican Feminists is strange.

Or maybe it's not, I don't know anymore. Has anyone recapped season one where they had that web designer guy who slept with Miranda?
posted by Ad hominem at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


One hostile-to-women thing about Wikipedia I have noticed is that if a movie has a rape scene in it, the wiki article will often say it was a sex scene. When people try to change it, editors change it back and note that unlike "sex", the word "rape" is not neutral, so it should be left out according to NPOV.

Example (this one actually ended up changing "sex" to "make love", which, oh wow.), example. There are probably more but it's pretty depressing to seek them out. (It's not true in cases where the movie is explicitly about rape, like the rape revenge genre that's got its own page, but please don't tell me that should assuage my concerns.)

There are a few other things I've found frustrating about Wikipedia, but discovering that feature was really jarring and made me feel unwelcome there.
posted by bewilderbeast at 8:55 AM on January 31, 2011 [18 favorites]


I really didn't think I was being that subtle, but my point was to illustrate how absurd it is to presume what fiftyish per cent of the population may or may not want. It's that kind of attitude that illustrates exactly why we are still battling inequality on such a basic level.

I didn't make any presumption about what anybody wants, I asked a question.

For sure my tone was sightly snarky. But that is because it seems that many posters have made presumptions (it should be assumptions but I thought I would stay with your language) about what proportion of women want to edit wikipedia.

Unless you have assumed that more women want to do this then you can not get annoyed. And it seems that you are annoyed.

The only data point we have is that in a very friction free area of gender inequality (wikipedia - low/no barriers to entry) we still have massive disparity in gender contributions.

Some people have offerred decent food for thought. The need to be a coder, for example adding to the discussion or the fact that women do share on the web, but just in more feminine areas of the web.

"Fandom stuff keeps me really busy - we have our own ways of archiving and record keeping and spreading knowledge, and it's all very skewed towards female"
Mizu

"However, the thing that immediately leaps to my mind as a female non-Wikipedia editor is the simple barrier to entry that is the Wikimedia editing interface"
SomeTrickPony

So, in the spirit of discourse. When we have such a disparity in terms of barriers to entry between, the Boardroom and being a wikipedia editor, why are women still underrepresented against the population average ?

Its a decent enough question, that you, Londonmark, are yet to contribute to.


"What's your point? You can speak with the authority of the female race about one, but not the other?" - this while undoubtedly true is a complete derail of this thread.

We are not discussing the commonplace discrimination against women in society. We are discussing the peculiar situation where a completley free to enter 'occupation' suffers from the same skewed gender balance. These are not the same thing.

Really.
posted by Boslowski at 8:59 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Why must there continue to be these people who think that equal numerical representation is so important absolutely everywhere?"

Just to address Casimir's question, which is a common one. It's true that reality is "clumpy," but it's important that the important bits have equal representation. Wikipedia is one of the important bits, as is (to reference my previous comment) the House of Representatives.

Things become clumpy because either they A) have a strongly gender-specific appeal (i.e. tampon purchasing statistics) or B) actively repel the other gender (i.e. Hooters restaurants).

There are cases where this is valid, understandable, and "correct" (tampon ads). And cases where it is not (Wikipedia).

Everyone is hurt by the clumpiness of Wikipedia. Not least of which being Wikipedia itself, which aims to become the world's encyclopedia. Which will be difficult for it to do effectively, given that the world is 51% female.
posted by ErikaB at 9:02 AM on January 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wikipedia is only free to enter if your time is worthless.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:04 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread is unaccountably depressing my morale in so many complex layered ways I can't begin to tease out the nuances.
posted by infini at 9:04 AM on January 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Example (this one actually ended up changing "sex" to "make love", which, oh wow.)

Interesting. The scene in Blade Runner where Deckard becomes aggressive with Rachel is odd, but hardly rape, IMO. No doubt some would disagree, but that's probably a root of the problem, different definitions on what's acceptable or even ok. I think that's a good example of where a more female perspectives would be really useful, but I can totally see a fight brewing over how to define that scene.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:07 AM on January 31, 2011


"Why must there continue to be these people who think that equal numerical representation is so important absolutely everywhere?"

Let me take you back to my example. I have two young adult authors. Both are NYT bestsellers. The male author has a full and extensive Wikipedia page, even though he's only published one book.

The female author has published three books, but doesn't have a Wikipedia page at all, because one of the self-appointed Wiki gatekeepers keeps deleting it because he feels the female author isn't noteworthy enough.

Numerical representation is still important because if the prevailing majority decides a certain minority group isn't noteworthy enough, they disappear entirely.
posted by headspace at 9:09 AM on January 31, 2011 [37 favorites]


Women already do this stuff, but we tend to do it in our own communities. You name just about any single media property with any kind of fanbase, and I can direct you to the Wiki, the Lexicon, the archive, and at least 2 major communities for them, all built by women.

Exactly. If I need Doctor Who information, I don't go to Wikipedia. I go to the Doctor Who wiki. I bet there are a lot more women participating there as a percentage than there are on wikipedia. And if I were inclined to add or correct information, I'd far rather do it there because I don't automatically expect to be treated rudely for daring to participate.
posted by immlass at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't forget the panfandom things, like AO3 & fanlore (both subsections of the Organization for Transformative Works), fandom_meta, and the motherlode that is TV Tropes. Fandom's basic refusal of the importance of noteworthiness goes quite far in removing participatory barriers, even in things like Memory Alpha where the standards for markup proficiency and article writing are quite high.
posted by Mizu at 9:23 AM on January 31, 2011


Wikipedia's toxic editing culture seems to attract - not require, but attract - somewhat socially-maladjusted individuals. Last I checked, cultural pressure to be socially healthy was nearly omnipresent for women to a far greater degree than men. The stereotype of the parents'-basement-dwelling male nerd with a pedantic streak and a chip on their shoulder is not entirely without merit.

I think Wikipedia's editing culture could use some women, but I don't know that most women need or want involvement with Wikipedia's editing culture. The most important thing is that there are equal opportunities - whether or not those opportunities are utilized is of significantly diminished importance.
posted by Ryvar at 9:26 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


The most important thing is that there are equal opportunities - whether or not those opportunities are utilized is of significantly diminished importance.

Yes. I think its called choice. Although some here don't seem to like it (or, at least in this context, its not enough - for some people).
posted by Boslowski at 9:30 AM on January 31, 2011


That women do not want to edit Wikipedia is a tautology. The data does in fact show that there are significantly fewer women than men, and in the absence of practical obstacles preventing women from editing, we are forced to conclude that women do not want to edit.

How could this be? Wikipedia is the go-to source for factual information for many. That's a worthy mission. Do women not like the mission? Is that what you're saying, Boslowski? I hope you don't think that. It's an ugly implication, that women are less intellectually motivated. Do women (some of them) like the mission, but find something problematic about the way Wikipedia goes about it? If so, why does this problem repel women more than it does men? We observe that it does, based on the fact that only 20% of Wikipedians are women. That problem, whatever it is, discriminates along gender lines, meaning that it is some form of sexism.

"fuck doris, I can't come with you tonight to see a movie, I have to edit wikipedia otherwise the gender balance will be screwed" --as though someone suggested that gender equality would be a motivator for an editor to write an article on Wikipedia, rather than for an editor to get more female editors into the project. No, the motivation for editors to write articles should always be to improve the quality of the site. No one has suggested otherwise, least of all the woman whom the post is about.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:31 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been editing the Wikipedia for about nine years.

In the early days, there was a welcome wagon that would say hello to new users, and most articles were red links. You could create a new article,do an ok job of writing a few sentences, and feel like you were a part of the site.

In the present day, there are many more things to keep track of to be a basic, competent contributor, including fairly tricky markup as used for references and the bit for generating the list of references in an article. There are also a dozens of templates for different flagging occasions.

In short, there's a lot more to learn. To memorize, even. And I'm not sure how new users, male or female, who only wish to contribute casually, manage it.
posted by zippy at 9:32 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Uhm, hijacking of feminist movement points for unclear purposes?

First, let's remember that gender representation is not the same as gender discrimination:

- if a woman (or a man) is not allowed to represent her(his) ideas, or the idea shared by many people having the same gender, and that happens because of her(his) gender, that would be an act of gender discrimination;
- if a group of people is not evenly composed of men and women, that does not imply that one of the genders isn't being fairly "represented".

The fallacy here is in believing that a person is qualified to best represent the issues that affect her(his) gender because she(he) shares the same gender of the group being represented.

Indeed it is counterintuitive to think that a man could do a better job that a woman at representing issues affecting women (or vice versa), but let's think it over for a minute:

- would women mind if a man was able to represent women interest by arguing that women are likely to need more help during pregnancy and in the few first years of life of the newborn ? Or even to argue that it does seem entirely natural that a person may just -like- the mere presence of another person during a particular time of need, indeed one such pregnancy?

- would men mind if a women was able to represent men interest by arguing that men shouldn't be forced to renounce carreer progression so as tend to their children or loved ones?


And if they mind so, why ?
posted by elpapacito at 9:36 AM on January 31, 2011


So, in the spirit of discourse. When we have such a disparity in terms of barriers to entry between, the Boardroom and being a wikipedia editor, why are women still underrepresented against the population average ?

Its a decent enough question, that you, Londonmark, are yet to contribute to.

You asked: "has it ever occurred to those that follow these things that maybe, just maybe, women don't want to become wikipedia editors as much as men?" A question I took in the rhetorical tone it was written. But fine, I'll bite. No it hasn't occurred to me. Just as it hasn't occurred to me that women might not want to be computer scientists as much as men, or soccer players, or members of parliament. And to ask the question is to completely misunderstand the nature of inequality. It implies that perhaps the reason for the imbalance is somehow natural, inherrant, when history tells us there are usually far more artificial reasons for the imbalance. I don't know why the numbers aren't representative, but I do think it's important to smack the notion that women may not be interested on the head. This is wikipedia, not an Action Man fanzine; it should be a given in this thread that women are as likely to be interested as men. We should be asking "how do we get more women interested?" not "should we bother?"
posted by londonmark at 9:38 AM on January 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher writes "Interesting. The scene in Blade Runner where Deckard becomes aggressive with Rachel is odd, but hardly rape, IMO. No doubt some would disagree, but that's probably a root of the problem, different definitions on what's acceptable or even ok. I think that's a good example of where a more female perspectives would be really useful, but I can totally see a fight brewing over how to define that scene."

A disagreement also noted on the talk page. It's the problem with original research that Wikipedia tries to distance itself from by requiring citations. And in this case pretty well impossible to resolve in an empirical sense. Heck the viewer (at least of the original) doesn't even know whether Decker is a replicant; trying to ascertain whether Rachael is being raped in essentially impossible; even setting aside the possibility of raping a machine. It's a big ol' can of worms that exists for a wide variety of topics and really it's amazing wikipedia doesn't implode under the edit wars that result from these conflicts. See for example the lengthy talk page on who invented radio. This may be one of the central pillars that disproportionately keeps women away: a lack of nerdy patience to prevail in these discussions. Not sure how they can change this if it's true without going to more of a top down management/editorial system.
posted by Mitheral at 9:46 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


My apologies then for misinterpreting your words, but we're talking about a gender imbalance in the Wikipedia editing community, so if by "geneal public" you mean men and women equally then the difficulty of the editing process can't be the cause.

Incorrect. It's simply reflecting the larger imbalance between the genders in technology enthusiasts... see the point made earlier about MIT comp sci students. Wikipedia is kept difficult to use and master for those who are not inclined to tackle steep technical and social learning curves - this includes almost everyone who isn't a computer hobbyist.

Consensus is not respected. Rules-lawyering and its attendant pecking-order macho male-aggressive bullshit is the order of the day. The environment is pretty hostile to newcomers and those who don't like long, protracted ego jousts to defend their "turf."

It's a culture designed to keep most women out.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:51 AM on January 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in “The Simpsons”?

This says more about the speaker than about anything else. The Simpsons have consistently been one of the most popular, worldwide, mass media phenomenons for the past 20 years and change. That explains the 45 articles.

If you take that a step further, and trying to convey that it shouldn't be as popular as it is, well, that puts you into the camp with the people that insist that rock and roll isn't music, that Stephen King isn't literature, or that television is an empty wasteland.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:57 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is that what you're saying, Boslowski?

Not in the slightest. I do wish you would read what is posted. I asked a question. No-one has yet really tried to answer it.

There have been a good few suggestions as to why this gender disparity exists that seem to be sexist, ie that coding is hard (I am not saying women can't code, I am merely mirroring a post from this thread written, I think, by a woman). But I have at no point endorsed any such thought.

There are so many reasons why women on mass might like to opt out of the wikipedia process, many have been offerred here by openminded posters.

But you have opted for the intellectually lazy approach of framing outrage as an accusation (you have at least been kind enough to offer it as a question), against me of sexist attitudes.

"as though someone suggested that gender equality would be a motivator for an editor to write an article on Wikipedia, rather than for an editor to get more female editors into the project"


This, meanwhile, is utter rubbish. Did you read it before you posted it. How can we talk of sexism and gender inequality without making what I thought might be a safe assumption, that gender equality was a laudable goal, and hence motivating.

As inane as this.

"That problem, whatever it is, discriminates along gender lines, meaning that it is some form of sexism" - which would make tampon buying inherently sexist (again raised upthread by a female poster, not me). You just can't have the phrase 'whatever it is' in here. Context, whether you like it or not is important.

No, the motivation for editors to write articles should always be to improve the quality of the site.

No one has suggested otherwise

Apart from EricaB, though.

"Why must there continue to be these people who think that equal numerical representation is so important absolutely everywhere?"

Just to address Casimir's question, which is a common one. It's true that reality is "clumpy," but it's important that the important bits have equal representation. Wikipedia is one of the important bits, as is (to reference my previous comment) the House of Representatives.


And yes. She correctly suggests that this is to make the site better. Which is also what the article is about.

But that does not change the fact that this is a goal that can be very accurately expressed as gender equality.

So what if the 2 sides of the issue are related. Why did you assume that I did not realise that ? Its pretty clear, particularly if you have read the article. that doesn't mean that its wrong to use the phrase gender equality in this thread. sheeesh, talk about looking for reasons to be offended.

gender quality = better wikipedia. But i don't have to use all of those words every time. It is pretty legitimate to also call gender equality a goal, even if it is a step along the path to another goal.

Can I stil point out though that no-one has yet answered the question as to whther or not women want to edit wikipedia as much as men seem to want to ? It is JUST a question, that seems to be very relevant here.
posted by Boslowski at 10:00 AM on January 31, 2011


The female author has published three books, but doesn't have a Wikipedia page at all, because one of the self-appointed Wiki gatekeepers keeps deleting it because he feels the female author isn't noteworthy enough.

An extension of the inclusionism vs. deletionism debate?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:02 AM on January 31, 2011


We should be asking "how do we get more women interested?" not "should we bother?"

Dammit. I can't even get through one post before I have to start again.

If you can answer that question. The one you just posted.

Without asking the question "why are more women not interested" then you are a fucking genius.

And you clearly aren't that. Me neither by the way.

Not being interested in something, and finding ways to change that situation are related. End of story. if you ask the question and it comes back that actually yes, another 35% of women (again numbers made up for illustration against perceived equality) would like to do this but are prevented then we go looking for solutions.

If, however, you find that they do not want to edit wikipedia then YOU and your solutions would be a problem, to those women. Hell I still don't know, and have never claimed to know if more women want in to wikipedia or not.

Pleae stop assuming I hold opinions that I do not hold. Start thinking more effectively. I have never in this entire thread suggested we do not bother with anything. You are defaming my position. Entirely.
posted by Boslowski at 10:11 AM on January 31, 2011


> Why must there continue to be these people who think that equal numerical representation is so important absolutely everywhere? Reality is clumpy. I don't see injustice here.

Let me guess: you're a guy.
posted by languagehat at 10:28 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Let me guess: you're a guy."

I could be wrong but just in case you think I asked this question. I did not. I only inclulded it in my post to give context to EricaB's response.

It was posted by Casimir. Who might well be a guy.

Please will you all read what I post instead of jumping to conclusions. if you were replying to Casimir then please disregard.

Plus you should probably stop applying gender based sterotyping, really.
posted by Boslowski at 10:33 AM on January 31, 2011


To me as a relative newbie to Mefi and a non-Wikipedia contributor, it looks like a lot of the things people are saying about Wikipedia apply to Mefi as well.

The things that people say would put women off contributing to Wikipedia... well they're darn close to the things that I find unappealing about Mefi.

Rule lawyering? Aggressive BS? Steep learning curve? Assumptions of tech savvy?

Check, check, check and check.

Now I don't know the gender balance on Mefi. For that matter I don't know whether on average women are more put off by these things than men. My guess would be that there is some subset of humanity that is not put off by things, but that subset is much narrower than "men", even if it is disproportionately male.

Anyway, it may be enlightening to compare and contrast gender balance on Mefi vs Wikipedia in the the light of these thoughts.

For example, if Mefi has a more equal balance than Wikipedia, what does that tell us?

My first guess on that would be that if the gender balance is more equal here (something I don't actually know) it may reflect various upsides of Mefi that counter-balance the less appealing aspects, and those upsides may be lacking on Wikipedia.
posted by philipy at 10:34 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pleae stop assuming I hold opinions that I do
not hold . Start thinking more effectively . I have
never in this entire thread suggested we do not
bother with anything . You are defaming my
position . Entirely.

So now I'm not sure what we're arguing about. I believe (admittedly with no evidence and only my personal knowledge of the human race as support) that, all things being equal, women should be as likely as men to be interested in contributing to wikipedia. I'm as interested as you in why that is not demonstrably the case today. But I understood you to be asking, more fundamentally, are women just inherently less interested. Can weat least agree on that much?
posted by londonmark at 10:34 AM on January 31, 2011


Hell I still don't know, and have never claimed to know if more women want in to wikipedia or not.

I am a woman. I would like to edit Wikipedia. The reputation of Wikipedia editors (with supporting evidence from talk pages I've read) for hostility to newbies combined with my own professional experience in geeky cultures as a tech writer tell me that I would not enjoy the process of dealing with Wikipedia editors.

As a woman and a feminist, I find the "this is all about men's and women's choices because men are like THIS and women are like THAT" one of the most frustrating parts of online discussions about gender disparity. There are wikis out there that women participate in all the damned time, and a bunch of them have been named in this thread. That tells me that the problem is not with women who just don't want to edit or don't have the technical chops; the problem is something about Wikipedia. (Not a problem with men, because even though men predominate in Wikipedia editing, that doesn't mean Wikipedia editors are a majority of men.)

That many corners of (male) geek culture are toxic to women is not news to anyone paying attention to women's issues or, frankly, tech issues. I would ask whether we really have to reinvent the wheel every time we discuss "why women are underrepresented in tech?", but apparently we do.
posted by immlass at 10:35 AM on January 31, 2011 [24 favorites]


B) actively repel the other gender (i.e. Hooters restaurants).

Actually, both genders are repelled by lousy wings.
posted by jonmc at 10:42 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


The need to be a coder, for example adding to the discussion or the fact that women do share on the web, but just in more feminine areas of the web.

What exactly is a "more feminine area of the web"?
posted by blucevalo at 11:07 AM on January 31, 2011


Can I stil point out though that no-one has yet answered the question as to whther or not women want to edit wikipedia as much as men seem to want to ?

The question assumes that one's gender is (or should be) relevant to the question of whether one wants to edit Wikipedia.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:24 AM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


"But I understood you to be asking, more fundamentally, are women just inherently less interested. Can weat least agree on that much?"

I think we probably do agree on much in regards to this issue. My curiosity was genuine. I am not a wikipedia editor, or a high volume user for that matter but there was no obvious reason clear to me at the start of this thread why there would seem to be such a disparity along gender lines. So i asked the question. I now have a number of candidates to ponder.

I'm not sure where I sit on the obligatory equality (if that equality is not wanted by the underrepresented) meme, and I think a sidebar discussion on why the female wiki's (as mentioned by several posters) don't come in for the same level of discussion/attention here would be interesting (but not something I really want to go into tbh).

I am a little OTT with the quality of arguments at times. I like to see consistency applied to both pro and con views. Sometimes I think we fall short on such things (me too, of course) here at mefi.
posted by Boslowski at 11:49 AM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to edit on Wikipedia, in areas where I have some expertise (pages related to history and religion). The markup language was not an issue. The protectiveness of a page's original author and his friends, the lack of community among those who edit, and the random edits-for-giggles from IPs associated with high schools were issues; so was the complete impermanence of the work. (I wonder how many Wikipedia users are even aware of what the View History tab shows.)

These days, I do my unpaid editing at Distributed Proofreaders, who work on recently digitized texts that are going into Project Gutenberg. There's a better structure for edits, a greater sense of community and common purpose, and a tangible outcome.
posted by catlet at 11:57 AM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The question assumes that one's gender is (or should be) relevant to the question of whether one wants to edit Wikipedia.

Again you are assuming things that are not in my posting. FFS get a grip.

Its a relevant question because only 15% of people editing wikipedia are women. Wikipedia is not the boardoom where there are lots of structures that we can understand, that explain why we have underrepresentation. I wanted to understand what was going on. It seemed like a sensible place to start.

Lots of women in this thread HAVE explained why they don't want to edit wikipedia, and they have done it from the perspective of being a woman (which considering what this thread is about shouldn't be a surprise) so don't be so fucking contrary.

Really.
posted by Boslowski at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2011


If their true end goal is to make the encyclopedia the best it can be, I think the real issue is with how difficult and intimidating it is for newcomers and even existing editors to edit or create new articles. Anyone that has edited Wikipedia know how frustrating it can be dealing with the obnoxious self-appointed "gate-keepers" of information that has more time to spare in making revisions to self-claimed articles.

I am actually a female that has editing various Wikipedia articles in the past (the university I went to, favorite bands, etc), and I gave up after a while. I would make edits, and then have them drastically changed or pushed back in revision without much explanation. I *could* have went through other means to defend my points... but at the end of the day did I really want to? I'm a bit of an info nerd yes, but I'm an info nerd with other practical things to accomplish in my time than to win an online editing fight on Wikipedia, of all things.

I'm also willing to bet the majority of casual users of Wikipedia don't even realize that they have the power to edit and curate articles, perhaps there should be a little bit of a push or an initiative that lets the passionate and the nerds that perhaps may not know they *can* edit an article, that they can and are encouraged to do so.
posted by xtine at 12:01 PM on January 31, 2011


But isn't Wikipedia intimidating to everyone nowadays?
posted by smackfu at 12:15 PM on January 31, 2011


It's not that it intimidates me. It's more than, well, if I spend three hours carefully composing a concise article on something, complete with blasted citations and attention to formatting consistency, the chances of it being poof!gone the next day are still high, and on top of all my work I don't get anything back apart from the ineffable sensation of contributing to humanity's knowledge base. I want friends who will excitedly inform me how pleased they were by my penultimate paragraph, dammit. I want a way to team up with someone who knows the markup and can help iron out problems before stuff gets published. I want a social backbone to keep me contributing and caring, one that doesn't depend on the frequency of my contributions. Contests for "best article about birds in November". Basically, give me a LJ-flavored wikipedia editors fan community.
posted by Mizu at 12:29 PM on January 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


The question assumes that one's gender is (or should be) relevant to the question of whether one wants to edit Wikipedia.

Given that the link is called "Wikipedia Struggles to Reduce Gender Disparities in Online Contributions," that sounds relevant to me.

I, too, am interested in the why of it. If I show up in a fabric store (as I sometimes do) and I receive the hairy eyeball from everyone else there (as typically happens), that might influence my chances of coming back again. That pressure would be absent in a virtual fabric environment unless I established a handle like DupioniDude or I somehow otherwise identified my gender, so a disparity in the virtual fabric environment would be more puzzling.

The question is useful to answer even if you are not terribly curious, but want to change the gender ratio, simply by trying to identify causative factors to tweak.
posted by adipocere at 12:40 PM on January 31, 2011


I skimmed the thread and hope I'm not repeating anyone but two ways it occurs to me that this disparity might be reduced is through schools and universities.

Why can't improving wikipedia be a school project kind of thing? Get 'em young and make it assessible. It's something that ought to be coordinated with wikipedia somehow, so edit wars are minimised. I mean, I know schools etc hate wikipedia but they're never going to stop it; best would be to contribute.

And universities that have any digital collections should, it seems to me, be encouraging their staff and students to be (at the very least) adding links to their collections in relevant articles.

Thus making it all a little more familiar and a little less geekoteric, hopefully.
posted by peacay at 12:41 PM on January 31, 2011


Due to the need for citations, "improving" wikipedia nowadays is mainly just Googling and cutting and pasting. Is anyone really served by copying the descriptions for Sex and the City from TV.com over?
posted by smackfu at 12:44 PM on January 31, 2011


I'm a woman. I occasionally edit Wikipedia, usually just fixing errors where I find them. Is there a way to form a group of editors, so that, say, mefites can keep an eye on each other's work and back each other up on things like deletions? That would make it more attractive to me.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:42 PM on January 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


In the anecdotal arena -- My mom recently signed up to become an editor to fix a particularly bone-headed error about a relatively obscure 19th Century figure. She's a retired teacher and writer whose hobbies include vetting census record transliterations for accuracy and is an excellent geneological researcher. She's also quite comfortable with computers, but is not a blogger or familiar with content management systems in any way.

The whole process was alienating for her. It wasn't clear to her how to fix the error (a conflation of two entirely different people for whom there is no confusing evidence that they might be the same person other than a shared last name and geographical location), how to fix the problem, if she was posting a correction behind the scenes or fixing the article, and what the protocol or preferred style was. She thought the previous correction behind the scenes wasn't particularly collegial or helpful even if it was correct. She muddled through, being frustrated, and had no desire to go back and do it again. She said the experience of logging into geneology system/program, using a computer that is poorly supported (Macs) to interpret 19th Century handwriting of often foreign and non-modern names (or to rule on other folks' interpretations) was a far more rewarding experience. She feels far more sure of the value she is delivering there.
posted by julen at 2:08 PM on January 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm another female editor, and I'm glad to see a NY Times article about this, but I found it a bit disappointing — taking the survey from a year ago and getting some comments from experts, but no talking to everyday male and female editors to see a little of what the experience is like for them, or maybe doing a bit of analysis of the recent changes page to see a snapshot of self-reported genders and interests as described on user pages? That voluntary survey was pretty basic and leaves a lot of interesting questions open.

My mental model of Wikipedia is that it draws most of its editors from a pool of confident, intellectual, often young-ish people who are underemployed or bored in some way — studying one subject in school (or working in one field) but interested in many subjects, procrastinating on a thesis, liking to write and edit but not doing much of that at work, etc. Maybe there are proportionately fewer women in this pool. But more likely, women looking for that kind of fulfilling semi-structured intellectual/creative/social experience online often find a home in fandom instead, like Mizu and headspace have discussed. (Or, you know, on Metafilter and other websites.) These other places are wonderful and very important, but so much less visible.

One real problem I see with this percentage of female editors is that Wikipedia should have more editors of all kinds — and the disproportionate numbers are a serious sign that Wikipedia is missing out on a lot of potential recruits. Impatience with newcomers is a systemic problem that discourages people of all genders, races, and classes; it probably disproportionately discourages people who don't already feel super-confident in speaking authoritatively in public online (aka it's a barrier that is often easier to unconsciously overcome for people who are white/male/nerdy/educated or all four).

So I think the issue is only partly that women editors sometimes end up repairing bias; so like others, I edit according to interest and mostly work on male-oriented topics, but I suppose I also occasionally build out the Etsy article or remove advertising from stuff like sundresses and love beads. The friendship bracelet article is an interesting example: it's short, but I wouldn't think to try to edit it — where would I find reliable secondary sources to draw from? Who in the world has bothered to write a through and not-wholly-sentimental analysis of the function and history of friendship bracelets? OK, maybe I could look through sociological journals about childhood? Now I'm interested, but that requires a lot of thinking and research! I'll probably just go revert this inaccurate and poorly-written addition to an article about a tech startup I'm interested in, accidentally discouraging a brand-new contributor...
posted by dreamyshade at 2:55 PM on January 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


About the SatC entry. It's not the merit of the show or that woman can't be tediously obsessive, or even that they're not on the internet. The show's fans are happily pirating it (it's an easy to get torrent), talking about it and referencing it on corners of the internet that are more female in focus. Speaking as someone who bridges geekery and fluffy-femme, one of the great geek disservices to women is that even when we're on the same electronics, what we do, from the insanely successful Sims franchise to blogging until our fingers fall off, it ends up beneath notice or not "real".

This really can't be emphasized enough. I operate in both hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine online spheres, as well as many (like mefi) which are somewhere in the middle, and the constant implication in both the masculine and middle-of-the-road spheres is that the feminine stuff isn't good. Minecraft (or WoW) good, farmville (or Sims) bad. Having a Wordpress blog that no one reads is good, having a livejournal read by hundreds is bad. Posting your art to tumblr is good, posting it to deviantart is bad. Putting a "music video" or Slap Chop remix on youtube is neat, putting a fanvid on youtube is not. Being a war-history buff is serious business, being a genealogy buff is not. Amateur porn is awesome, amateur erotica is awful. And it goes without saying that women have to either hide their gender or work twice as hard to earn half the respect in many of the "good" parts of the internet, also.

You can see this on mefi, even -- sure, someone who spends hours editing Lightsaber Combat on wikipedia is a big nerd who has too much time on his hands, but there's no implication that he's doing any harm... and if someone were to suggest so, most people here would find them either laughable or mildly offensive. Change that to Star Wars fanfiction, and all of a sudden you've got ten people who Just Don't Get Why People Can't Be Original And Don't They Know They're Just Hurting The Original Artist And/Or Themselves.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with gender, though; it's just, you know, [insert female activity here] is intrinsically less serious and less positive than [insert similar male activity here], for "objective" reasons like X, Y, and Z. QED, right? And so you find people like me, who've been on the internet since '94 yet live half their online lives building intricate towers in an off-the-map grotto where you can safely assume that everyone else is female, and the other half in a place where people find it entirely reasonable to harp on the question of "whether or not women want to edit wikipedia as much as men seem to want to".

tl;dr: this dynamic goes way, way beyond wikipedia. Even talking about this is like trying to solve a hedge maze built solely out of self-fulfilling prophecies. All the questions start to answer themselves, and "mu" is the only reasonable answer...
posted by grey_sw at 3:24 PM on January 31, 2011 [32 favorites]


I'm a woman. I occasionally edit Wikipedia, usually just fixing errors where I find them.

This is exactly what I do—and I don't have a Wikipedia username or anything like that. I usually just make anonymous edits/contributions whenever I'm looking up something on there and happen to see information that's wrong or lacking in an area I know something about. Perhaps part of what's happening here is that there are a lot of casual women Wikipedia users like me who don't participate in the editing culture or whatever of the site, but do contribute in small ways here and there. And perhaps that usage isn't being measured, due to our not being officially registered with and/or logged into the site when we make our contributions.

The UNU-MERIT survey results (PDF) linked from the New York Times article are a bit frustrating, because they include nothing about the methodology. Perhaps casual Wikipedia editors like me aren't adequately targeted by (or simply click past) surveys seeking information about their use of the site.

Anecdotally, the one person I know who's big into being a "Wikipedia Editor" is an obnoxious, self-consciously nerdy dude with a huge chip on his shoulder. Knowing he has a presence on there definitely hasn't made me any more excited about becoming part of the Wikipedia "community."
posted by limeonaire at 3:47 PM on January 31, 2011


You can see this on mefi, even -- sure, someone who spends hours editing Lightsaber Combat on wikipedia is a big nerd who has too much time on his hands, but there's no implication that he's doing any harm... and if someone were to suggest so, most people here would find them either laughable or mildly offensive. Change that to Star Wars fanfiction, and all of a sudden you've got ten people who Just Don't Get Why People Can't Be Original And Don't They Know They're Just Hurting The Original Artist And/Or Themselves.

It's news to me that fanfic is a stereotypically female pursuit, ditto all of the other examples you mention. I have read a little bit of good fanfic and a lot of terrible stuff, but I can't ever recall checking the gender of the writer. Still less have I ever looked at the gender of anyone who edits wikipedia. LiveJournal vs Wordpress? Tumblr vs DeviantArt? I'm not buying it.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:49 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a woman. I occasionally edit Wikipedia, usually just fixing errors where I find them. Is there a way to form a group of editors, so that, say, mefites can keep an eye on each other's work and back each other up on things like deletions? That would make it more attractive to me.

This would be considered meatpuppetry, by the way: theoretically, no one should get their way simply because they have the most friends. Not that it isn't common, you would just probably want to be careful against appearing too coordinated and avoid trying to prevail through sheer weight of numbers.

I'm a guy and I've been editing Wikipedia for a few years and it seems to me that the traits that make me willing to put out the amount of effort and the types of efforts necessary to successfully work my will on Wikipedia are probably pathological traits, to some degree at least, when you get right down to it.

I also think that there are many different, often complicated, "autoimmune" processes going on in Wikipedia to resist various sorts of manipulation, processes that have had to entrench and be reinforced as Wikipedia has become a more important part of the internet and hence a more appealing target for manipulation. These processes are necessary in a sort of Wild West project like this where just anybody can come in off of the internet and be an author. But in many cases I think the kind of person who does these sorts of work best has a variety of obsessions and other pathologies that dispose them well to it.

So my guess would be that if women are underrepresented it's because they don't tend towards the kinds of pathologies that fit well with the way that Wikipedia currently works, as much as men tend towards those pathologies.

In which case the root of the problem is to figure out how to make Wikipedia work without the various pathologies that are currently keeping things chugging. (Or maybe just with different pathologies.) That's the tough part it seems to me; anyone can freely copy the entirety of Wikipedia, both the software and the content, and be lord and master (lady and mistress?) of their own encyclopedia project and set things up to work in their wiki-utopian ideal vision. But so far none of the many people who have tried that have come up with anything that works on a large scale.
posted by XMLicious at 3:55 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's news to me that fanfic is a stereotypically female pursuit, ditto all of the other examples you mention. I have read a little bit of good fanfic and a lot of terrible stuff, but I can't ever recall checking the gender of the writer. Still less have I ever looked at the gender of anyone who edits wikipedia. LiveJournal vs Wordpress? Tumblr vs DeviantArt? I'm not buying it.

This sort of comment is exactly what I meant by "of course, none of this has anything to do with gender". It's news to you, but you're not buying it... and you got from the former to the latter in just five sentences, apparently without bothering to search the wikipedia page about fanfic for the word "female", without taking the time to Google it, and without consulting any other source except your own brain. Why?

I wasn't the first woman to mention LJ, fanfiction, fandom, etc above -- do you think this is some sort of coincidence? Do you think we are lying to you? Or maybe we just haven't "checked the gender" of everyone on our friends lists? While we're at it, maybe it's also a coincidence that this and this mention "girls", "bitches", "camwhores", "lesbians", etc. so often! Yeah, that makes sense. That explains everything.

Or maybe you're not seeing the whole picture on this one. Your choice as to which is more likely.
posted by grey_sw at 5:44 PM on January 31, 2011 [16 favorites]


Why can't improving wikipedia be a school project kind of thing? Get 'em young and make it assessible.

I have to admit to some discomfort with this idea. I know it doesn't mean "girls should be socialized to provide unpaid labor under unpleasant working conditions to an 'important' project like Wikipedia instead of whatever they'd otherwise do with their free time", and yet, that's somehow part of what I end up reading. Women's (and men's) behavior in avoiding Wikipedia editing culture, as mentioned again and again in this thread, is rational. A solution that doesn't address that culture, that just tells girls to get used to it, bothers me.
posted by immlass at 6:23 PM on January 31, 2011


Why can't improving wikipedia be a school project kind of thing?

Students don't know much about the subjects they are studying. By the time they have mastered the material, the class is over.
posted by ryanrs at 7:05 PM on January 31, 2011


immlass points to a great way to increase the number of women involved in editing Wikipedia: pay them.
posted by Marty Marx at 7:23 PM on January 31, 2011


Why can't improving wikipedia be a school project kind of thing?

Wikipedia is definitely moving in this direction. I am a female editor there, I write the ocasional article and I keep the Vermont town pages vandalism-free for the most part. Most of the trouble I've run into at Wikipedia hasn't been gendered trouble it's just been crazy-person trouble.

You would think that librarians would love to update Wikipedia.


A lot of library school students are encouraged to mess around with Wikipedia but the byzantine ruleset can put a lot of people off. It's tough to really want to immerse yourself in a foreign culture for a semester-long project. Librarianship is in many ways a rule-bound culture but the rules of Wikipedia have different goals than the rules of librarianship and while some people are at home both places, many aren't. There are some good mediawiki projects run by librarians, most notably the Library Success wiki which has a lot of library best practices type of stuff.

That said Wikipedia has been promoting its ambassador program lately specifically to assist people who are using Wikipedia in the classroom. They have some nice training tools.
posted by jessamyn at 7:40 PM on January 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


--I have to admit to some discomfort with this idea.--

Well immlass, it seems to me that kids everywhere are put through the wringers for years in terms of having to go and read and learn and write reports and essays that are submitted as a class requirement and for which they never usually get anything tangible beyond a mark written in red on a page by the teacher. My naive thought was along the lines of having them do the identical academic task, but tack a wikipedia component onto it.

In other words, task the kids with fixing or creating a de novo article, therefore having to learn how to edit and navigate around wiki and its edit pages in addition to having to research the topic (which is the same research that anyone would have to do ryanrs : we'd not be expecting something on quantum physics, but town history? why not??).

I have no idea to what depth or to what extent of a course or a class or a school year something like this ought to, or might, take, but the whole point is to get them socialised early enough so that the geek barrier to participating is hopefully reduced. Will this rid the site of its other problems - the so-called rational ones mentioned above - that stop people contributing? No.

The idea is only meant as a socialising experiment that's mixed in with what they would have to do normally. If everyone has to have at least some notional interaction with wikipedia in their school years, then it's just a little more likely, is it not, that future edits on wiki will tend towards a more even distribution among the genders?

I hear what you infer about exploitation or the somesuch but unless every task a school child is given to complete is viewed through such a perverse lens, then I'm not sure why this kind of idea deserves a harsher dissection. The point isn't to get school contributions to wiki edits up to 20% or 40% of all edits or the like at all; in fact, it might be the case that wikipedia would create some big sandbox for schools in which kids could be required to play but only the best efforts (or whatever... I'm not going into details because I have no idea... this is merely a thought experiment from a non-educator and a very occasional wiki contributor) get saved to the main site. Or something along those lines.
posted by peacay at 8:27 PM on January 31, 2011


unless every task a school child is given to complete is viewed through such a perverse lens, then I'm not sure why this kind of idea deserves a harsher dissection.

If the point of Wikipedia-editing assignments is to teach kids how to edit Wikipedia, that's one thing. In a thread with an OP about about how we can solve the gender balance problem of Wikipedia, the suggestion takes on a different cast, one that leans towards solving the problems of Wikipedia by convincing people that it's their duty to put up with those problems instead of suggesting something Wikipedia might do to improve its own situation.

My sense is that one of the problems with Wikipedia editing is it's an unpaid position that wants applicants to be professional-level in terms of the knowledge and skills and commitment level required, plus the hostile-to-newbs culture (which I think would be an issue for school assignments) and "crazy person trouble" as well as gender issues, e.g., the NPOV on rape in Blade Runner mentioned upthread. I think Marty Marx has hit on the actual solution, which is if we, for any value of we, want Wikipedia edited at the professional level, we need to pay people to do it. I don't think that will ever happen because it would threaten too many vested interests to make that kind of change to Wikipedia, though. And by vested in this context, I mean socially vested as much as financially vested.
posted by immlass at 8:46 PM on January 31, 2011


Kids editing as a part of school work is not about saying "it's their duty to put up with those [gender balance] problems". It's only meant as a simple suggestion to help balance the supply side: if you have greater numbers familiar with the site/code then hopefully you get more balance among editor numbers over time. It's not offered/intended as a stand alone measure; it of course doesn't change inherent wiki problems.
posted by peacay at 9:28 PM on January 31, 2011


Increasing the supply through incentivizing participation is an interesting idea, but does it sidestep whatever it is about Wikipedia that is either repelling or not engaging women?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:38 PM on January 31, 2011


It was probably ill-advised of me to have jumped in late(r) in the thread with only the barest of understandings for what had already been stated in the comments. I don't withdraw anything I've said about school project stuff; but I acknowledge that it suffers from a little incongruence with respect to the dominant wikipedia-focussed editor problems. Sorry 'bout that.
posted by peacay at 9:51 PM on January 31, 2011


In all my literally tens of times "participating" in wikipedia, almost none have been participatory at all. There could be no editors other than me, and the experience could have been largely the same. The handful of times where I've actually needed to *visit* the talk page at all, or interact with other wikipedians in any way, I haven't once even thought about whether the personalities behind the names were male or femaile.

This is The Way It Should Be.

Here we are, on the information super-highway-net-sphere, and we insist on recreating every trivial bit of Darwinian, real-world, social nonsense that we have a chance at actually shedding in our digital society. Wikipedians have no gender, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not going to mate with any of them, and have no interest at all in even trying. So let's drop the primate social posturing, shall we? Wikipedia should be the one place where logic and reason can reign in one big 'ole kumbayah campfire moment. Hell, the whole internet was supposed to be that way, with discussion seperated by interest into newsgroups, rather than geography and rank as in our physical ape society. But that's been lost, and so has Wikipedia, starting with the notoreity nazis, and continuing with the chronic lack of interest in forking the content and starting over with new policies. It's a rats nest of little empires run by little people, unified only by a barely coherent, kafkaesque parody of group decision-making.

And now we're troweling on the meta-layers of laughablly heavy-handed overmanagement that all human organizations eventually evolve: the people that wikimedia pays to justify their existence beyond keeping the lights and pings low, people who don't have real problems to solve, and so go looking for them by applying concepts like gender in places they don't belong, like electronically-networked, democratically-minded, detail hawks who are collaborating to create a fucking encyclopedia, These are the people who brought you NPOV guidelines, but they seem to think that they don't apply in aggregate. The hive-mind has spoken. There are things we will write about. There are things we will not. Sex and the City didn't make the cut.

Get Over It.
posted by LiteOpera at 10:09 PM on January 31, 2011


Sticherbeast: Only if you pay them enough.

More seriously, Wikipedia already seems to be trying to sidestep that issue. Gardner says they want more women to participate in order to improve the quality of Wikipedia. They do not argue that the difference is the result of any sort of injustice and so must be addressed for these reasons. If anything, the "diversity for diversity's sake" line disavows that argument. So it seems that they aren't going to be even talking about how Wiki-society may be off-putting or inaccessible to a greater portion of women than of men. If Wikipedia can't even have that discussion publicly, (“Gender is a huge hot-button issue for lots of people who feel strongly about it,” she said. “I am not interested in triggering those strong feelings.”) I don't see how they're going to remove internal barriers. So that leaves them with offering incentives -- though I'll bet that there would be an uproar about any sort of scholarship fund for non-white, non-straight, non-English-speaking, or non-male editors anyway.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:21 PM on January 31, 2011


The hive-mind has spoken.

But this hive mind that is speaking is a hive mind made up overwhelmingly of men, which casts doubt on whether it speaks for everyone, and whether everyone ought to listen.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:47 PM on January 31, 2011


Wikipedians have no gender, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not going to mate with any of them, and have no interest at all in even trying.

Believe it or not, gender concerns extend to a wider range of arenas that whether or not you would like to have sex with someone. There's a whole world out there that's got nothing to do with your dick. Excuse us for a moment while we discuss that...

If only half the potential population is contributing, then Wikipedia is limited to only half the knowledge it could have. If you want Wikipedia to be a success, it's worth looking at ways to get a broader range and higher number of people contributing. Given the current gender imbalance, that will necessarily include more women. I'd be interested to know if there's a race and class issue too.

My own opinion as someone who attempted and failed to contribute to Wikipedia is that it needs to have a more user-friendly editing system (not necessarily simpler), and to rein in the gatekeepers who abuse their power. The first addresses the very steep learning curve, and the second addresses the lack of motivation that results when you conquer the learning curve only to have your hard work deleted by a douchebag who knows less about the subject than you do.
posted by harriet vane at 10:49 PM on January 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


But this hive mind that is speaking is a hive mind made up overwhelmingly of men, which casts doubt on whether it speaks for everyone, and whether everyone ought to listen.

Nuh uh, wikipedians are beings of logic and reason who have no gender! This is The Way It Should Be! Get Over It! What are you, someone who doesn't have real problems to solve in your physical ape society?

Speaking of fandom, I can name at least three robot-bad-guys-obsessed-with-perfection who had more even-handed dialogue than this. It's an encyclopedia; take a breath before you pass out on the floor.
posted by grey_sw at 11:44 PM on January 31, 2011


The real story here should be the troublesome male-female disparity in socially isolated weirdo-ism, and the steps that are being taken to lessen the amount of men who fritter away their time in self-destructive pursuits like arguing on the Internet.

In the bizarro world of self-consciously "pro-women" discussion, the things women do are always perfunctorily written off as disreputable and somehow involuntary, even when they are obviously superior.
posted by dgaicun at 1:39 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


... Or a few (barely parodic) Onion takes on the matter.
posted by dgaicun at 1:58 AM on February 1, 2011


But this hive mind that is speaking is a hive mind made up overwhelmingly of men, which casts doubt on whether it speaks for everyone, and whether everyone ought to listen.

There are no significant barriers to women editing wikipedia. I know several regular people that do, about half of which are femaile. This reminds of Cryptonomicon where the protagonist-whose-name-I-forget is forced to suffer through dinner with his wife's friends from academia, and they all tell him that it isn't fair that he knows a lot about computers, even though all the manuals and whatnot are freely available at the library. Edit the thing. No one is stopping you, and complaining about a "culture" of wikipedians is nonsense, because one can simply ignore the social aspects of the site and go on with adding facts about underwater basket weaving (with citations, of course). To the extent that this isn't true, it isn't a purely sexist or cultural deficiency, it's a structural one having to do with endless rules and processes no one understands, and that affects everyone, not just women,

As a stopgap, until the women-on-wikipedia movement finds their Rosa Parks: just drop the gender nonsense on the internet. It's become a joke that everyone on the internet is male until proven otherwise. More accurate is that everyone on the internet is neuter until proven otherwise.
posted by LiteOpera at 3:50 AM on February 1, 2011


The merits of your argument (if there are any) are totally obscured by your obnoxiousness.
posted by peacay at 3:59 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


peacay: Why can't improving wikipedia be a school project kind of thing?

Female wikipedian here to inform you that in fact, it's becoming that! We've been pushing hard on a project called the Public Policy Initiative, in which we coordinate with college classes across the country. Their coursework is Wikipedia-productivity-centered and we offer them mentors, both in person and online, to train them how to use the system.

Similarly, whoever commented a bit earlier that the interface ought to be easier to make sense of, there is in fact a (slow) push toward that, too. They revamped the default interface in 2010 specifically to match the results of a usability study. Still needs more work, a lot more - like that mythical WYSIWYG - but at least efforts are sort of being made.

HOWEVER, that all said and my obligatory plugging done, the gender gap on Wikipedia is one of my pet peeves. It's real, it's undeniable, and it's only partially in our control, I think. Wikipedia can be a fighty place, no doubt. To stick around there can require you to be willing to do the virtual equivalent of stomping on someone's foot when they get in your face, which a lot of women, myself included, find difficult. Even more important to this issue, I think, though, is that it can require you to judge your own competence and decide it's high. If I might draw gross generalization here for a moment, imagine the following scenario:

You're wandering around Wikipedia, and you come across the Friendship Bracelet article. Shock! You actually know a lot about friendship bracelets, and you can fill in a lot of the obvious gaps in the article with what you know! Do you:
a) Fill in those gaps. This isn't controversial information, after all!
b) Think about it, then decide that probably if it were that easy, someone else would already have done it, and therefore you are likely to be missing something about how this whole thing works

Did you pick option A? You're a bit more likely to be male. B? Odds are on the side of you being female. No, this isn't across the board. I know plenty of people who cross those categories. But my sense is that this slight tendency of women to doubt their competence, coupled with the undeniable gatekeeping problem of experienced Wikipedians reverting just that sort of shouldn't-be-controversial-but-they-put-it-on-MY-article! edit, adds up to a repulsion factor.

Women I know on Wikipedia often fall into one of two groups: those who will take you on, any time any place; and those who grind away in behind-the-scenes areas, copyediting articles, populating maps, cleaning up licensing rationales, and doing other largely-uncontroversial things. There seem to be more men who cover that middle ground, the ground where there's no fear of doing something noticeable but also no fear of talking back to someone if necessary.

Again, I hasten to point out that this isn't true of everyone, by far. But as a friend of mine wrote in an essay on the topic, it seems like it's less that Wikipedia isn't welcoming specifically to women and more that active, full-spectrum Wikipedianism is fitted best by certain personality types, and for some reason there seem to be more men who slot neatly into that type than women.

And just when I've convinced myself that it's all the inadvertent atmosphere, and there's no real boyzone going on, I remember that as far as the inner Wikipedia community is concerned, this is our mascot.

And then I headdesk and go copyedit some more articles.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 6:24 AM on February 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


> Get Over It.

Let me guess: you're a guy.
posted by languagehat at 6:25 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


What. The. Fuck.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:31 AM on February 1, 2011


To the extent that this isn't true, it isn't a purely sexist or cultural deficiency, it's a structural one having to do with endless rules and processes no one understands, and that affects everyone, not just women,

And yet, men predominate among Wikipedia editors. As in, Wikipedia is hoping to get up to 25% women in four years time.

This reminds of Cryptonomicon where the protagonist-whose-name-I-forget is forced to suffer through dinner with his wife's friends from academia, and they all tell him that it isn't fair that he knows a lot about computers, even though all the manuals and whatnot are freely available at the library.

But you must see how this conversation is nothing like that. No one is saying it is unfair that men edit Wikipedia. They are noting the dramatic gender disparity and concluding that there must be something about Wikipedia that is off-putting, if not outright hostile, to women. (Gardner notes one such fact: the hostility to talking about gender at all). The analog would be sitting through dinner listening to academics say that even though the manuals and whatnot are freely available at the library, a variety of social pressures make learning about computers less attractive for women overall than it is for men.

I mean, maybe the gender disparity is just a freak event, or maybe it's like every other time a nominally egalitarian organization had informal barriers for select groups. It isn't like there aren't any women in this very thread explaining why they find Wikipedia hostile to them as women.
posted by Marty Marx at 6:49 AM on February 1, 2011


As a stopgap, until the women-on-wikipedia movement finds their Rosa Parks: just drop the gender nonsense on the internet.

Clearly somebody needs to tell the Wikimedia Foundation that, since they're the ones pushing the "gender nonsense" that adding more women contributors will somehow improve Wikipedia.

Some women are perfectly happy contributing to Wikipedia, and more power to them! But for the rest of us, if Wikipedia wants our (volunteer, leisure time, unpaid) labor, it's up to them to make the experience worthwhile in some way to us. Women in this thread are talking about what would make them more likely to contribute. Wikipedia can take notes from discussions like this, including the many ideas that might help men who (want to) contribute, or they can decide the problem is women who might like changes to make contributing easier/better/more enjoyable are wrong and need to be "fixed" more than Wikipedia does. It's pretty clear from the article that the Wikimedia Foundation's approach is going to end up closer to the latter than the former. I hope they're not surprised, then, when women who take a look at how Wikipedia editing works and don't like what they see go somewhere else with their volunteer efforts.
posted by immlass at 7:07 AM on February 1, 2011


I'm a bit nonplussed at the supposed negativity of the OS-tan culture. As far as I know it's never been anything more harmful that an offspring of moe culture in Japan.
posted by Phyltre at 8:29 AM on February 1, 2011


They're not being negative - they're just being tsundere.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:38 AM on February 1, 2011


OS-tan stuff is pretty harmless as these things go, and I'm coming at it as a reformed weeaboo revolutionary feminist currently working in the anime translation industry for sweet cash dollars. But! When you put people arguing that Wikipedia should be a genderless virtual space of idealized minds and non-binary contributions (yadda yadda) next to the Wikipe-tan concept as mascot, it makes my brain go kinda tilty. Better that we welcome gender identity into the culture than reject Wikipe-tan on the basis of her moe.

Personally, I consider my identity as female to be intrinsic to my experience and understanding of the world. If my knowledge is what I'm supposed to contribute to wikipedia, I'm not going to react well to a culture that is telling me to put a very important part of how I gain my knowledge to the side in order to participate properly. It'd be like telling someone who was born deaf to not bring their experiences to the table when fleshing out articles on cochlear implants or something. Or some better metaphor, pick one.
posted by Mizu at 8:50 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wikipedia might as well be a MUD called "DEFEND THY SENTENCE!" subtitle: "DEFEND IT UNQUESTIONINGLY AND UNCRITICALLY WITH YOUR LIFE!"
posted by tehloki at 9:52 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


What about incentivizing mods on Wikipedia? Could that change the culture for the better? While just plain getting more non-white, non-male editors on Wikipedia is a good idea as well, even if you get participation up to 40% female, you're still going to have that abrasive culture.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:03 PM on February 1, 2011


It's become a joke that everyone on the internet is male until proven otherwise. More accurate is that everyone on the internet is neuter until proven otherwise.

People assume default=male, not default=neuter. Because in real life, neuter is rare. We don't automatically assign a rare feature to people we haven't met. Your claims of accuracy are based on what, exactly? For someone who acts as though he's got all the answers, you seem to be talking out of your arse, not from any real data.

...just drop the gender nonsense on the internet.

We will if you will.
posted by harriet vane at 7:47 AM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Apropos of this, I was asked to write a short piece for today's New York Times Room for Debate section. Me and a few peple weighed in on things we thought could help. Folks might enjoy it more without reading the comments. I know I did.
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, those comments are... uh... really something. I've always read the Times for the articles, and had no idea that the comment section skewed so far in the direction of dumbass.
posted by Forktine at 10:49 PM on February 3, 2011


All newspaper column sections do. The Guardian positively encourages it. I think it might be that the fount of sweet, sweet pageviews skews towards the dumbass community.
posted by Grangousier at 11:01 PM on February 3, 2011


I couldn't help but laugh at the "How's that working out for you?" dude. I mean, seriously. Not every site has to have the goal of being a household name.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:59 PM on February 3, 2011


Folks might enjoy it more without reading the comments.

I seem to be more wary every day of apparent "differences between the sexes". But I wonder if this doesn't highlight a large part of the problem, as implied by Susan Herring. I can only speak from anecdata, but I often as not find myself posting here and elsewhere in anticipation of--perhaps in need of--a somewhat adversarial response. And while I suppose the ideal adversarial response is an enlightened one, I don't have any compunctions about wading through mounds of backwards, hurtful rhetoric to get there. I don't enjoy the negativity, but I can shut it out.

Now you might argue, and I'd probably agree, that my ability to do so is largely a manifestation of white male privilege. There are fewer cultural stones of sufficient weight to do me harm. Yet independent of cause, it seems that your advice against the comments is something I've seen more commonly from women. Over and over, the "What Women Want" Wikipedia statements--when written by women--assert that what's missing is a supportive community. When the community isn't supportive, it's far more subjectively hostile to women than men in practice based on that.

And again from anecdata, I'd say absolutely--modern male culture is far less supportive, especially online. We have delusions of virtue-based judgment, individuality, and responsibility that, thankfully, haven't quite made their way across the gender line. We are most frequently called to battle when "someone is wrong on the internet" as XKCD put it in their comic. Almost never in support but in disagreement. Ergo, reading those comments only makes me laugh at how silly most of the posters are, and happy to be able to understand the flaws in their assertions. Somewhere I'm competing with them, and happy to "win". That doesn't make me any stronger--strength, I think, comes from not fighting unnecessarily--but I wonder if it isn't somewhere near the heart of this. Anyone reading those comments not looking for an "easy win" would certainly come out the other side worse for wear and with a dimmer view of humanity, and that seems to be what Wikipedia participation does to the statistically typical female.

I'd like to conclude by addending something I only realized while putting together this post. Jessamyn, you are the closest thing I have ever had to a role model. The sheer amount of things you've caused me to reconsider and unpack would fill a book. Everything that you are is everything that I was failing to be a few years ago, and as a result I can't think of anyone's opinion I respect more. Thanks for doing what you do.
posted by Phyltre at 9:01 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's nice of you to say. I think I talk a pretty good game online, I have as many offline flaws and foibles as everyone else but being able to be well-spoken about some of this stuff is a gift of sorts so I try to use it wisely.

And I've been thinking more about this whole topic. I've been added to a mailing list where people have been talking about actual strategies to reduce the gender gap. The great news is that the Wikimedia Foundation decided that the gender gap is important so everyone doesn't have to work from first principles and make the case why this is important.

My feeling on Wikipedia is that I'd always hoped it would be a collaborative environment but the things I've worked on [mostly existing article edits] have always felt like a bunch of individual people taking little steps with them. Communication with other users is clunky, difficult and public. Every time I write a new article I sit and wait for someone to call for its deletion. The good news is that this is encourages me to write good articles. The bad news is it's exhausting.

On the mailing list people have mentioned that there are definitely sections of Wikipedia that have good gender balance, some of the projects and the college ambassador program that I mentioned way upthread. Certain roles seem to have better gender balance, maybe because of what they're supposed to do, maybe because of how they're introduced and who they're run by.

as far as the inner Wikipedia community is concerned, this is our mascot.

This has been a large topic for debate on the list, my suspicion is this will be one of the things addressed in the overall push for equity.
posted by jessamyn at 8:55 AM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I liked this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the issue with Wikipedia and women and what might happen if there were more female contributors. I liked that there was no implication of weakness on the part of women who don't wish to contribute to Wikipedia as it is.
posted by Danila at 2:28 AM on February 12, 2011


The NYT debate and the Ta-Nehisi Coates links were both very interesting (and ugh, yes, about the NYT comments; you'd hope they'd be better than the Texas papers but you'd be wrong). Thanks for posting them.
posted by immlass at 7:46 AM on February 12, 2011


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