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April 30, 2013 8:56 AM   Subscribe

"There is consternation at Wikipedia over the discovery that hundreds of novelists who happen to be female were being systematically removed from the category American novelists and assigned to the category American women novelists."

The full discussion at Wikipedia.

The full American novelists category appears to have been restored. Currently, American men novelists has 111 pages and American women novelists 551.
posted by dubusadus (169 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm decently sure my entire editing history at Wikipedia consists of removing the descriptor 'female' from the careers of various women in the lead graph.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie, often referred to as Marie Curie or Madame Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934), was a female Polish female physicist and lady chemist, working mainly in woman-France, who is girl-famous for her pioneering chick research on radioactivity.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:59 AM on April 30, 2013 [202 favorites]


Joyce Carol Oates expressed her view on Twitter: “Wikipedia bias an accurate reflection of universal bias. All (male) writers are writers; a (woman) writer is a woman writer.”

"Joyce Carol Oates expressed her view on Twitter" is not a sentence I woke up expecting to read.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:02 AM on April 30, 2013 [26 favorites]


This New York Times Op/Ed is where I saw this break first a few days back.
posted by mathowie at 9:02 AM on April 30, 2013


I was just thinking of this Wikipedia ghettoization when a younger person I know (around 30?) had expressed surprise at the existence of the term "authoress" and wondered when it stopped being commonly used.
posted by obloquy at 9:06 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia editors are also retaliating against the author who first called them out in the NYT by gutting her Wikipedia entry as much as they can without deleting it.
posted by Phire at 9:07 AM on April 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


Typically, it's mostly the work of one obsessed Wikipedian:

It turns out that a single editor brought on the crisis: a thirty-two-year-old student of history named John Pack Lambert, enrolled at Wayne State University and living in the Detroit suburbs. He’s a seven-year veteran of Wikipedia and something of an obsessive when it comes to categories...

Lambert vehemently disputes suggestions that he is motivated by sexism (or racism, as the case may be). He cites principles of Wikipedia categorization: arguing, for example, that huge categories should be broken up and “diffused” because they become useless for navigation. “This whole hullabaloo is really missing the point,” he told me. “The people who are making a big deal about this are not being up-front about what happens if we do not diffuse categories.” Others argued that laypeople are simply misunderstanding the purpose of a big category like American novelists. “It is really a holding ground for people who have yet to be categorized into a more specific sub-cat,” said a user called Obi-Wan Kenobi. “It’s not some sort of club that you have to be a part of.”


But the practical effect of it being much easier to "diffuse" minorities out of large categories remains: Lambert should start by removing the white male writers. If he's having trouble sorting those writers into other categories, well, that's something he needs to think about.
posted by mediareport at 9:08 AM on April 30, 2013 [34 favorites]


Marie Skłodowska-Curie, often referred to as Marie Curie or Madame Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934), was a female Polish physicist and chemist

Thing is, Marie Curie is remarkable not only for being an extremely influential physicist and chemist, but in doing that while operating against enormous prejudice. Surely you lessen her achievement by not acknowledging that.

Not to dispute the nonsense of moving all female writers out of the general category and into their own.
posted by Marlinspike at 9:08 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


It turns out that a single editor brought on the crisis: a thirty-two-year-old student of history named John Pack Lambert, enrolled at Wayne State University and living in the Detroit suburbs. He’s a seven-year veteran of Wikipedia and something of an obsessive when it comes to categories.

I feel like "an obsessive when it comes to categories" ought to understand that being in a subcategory does not exclude something from the parent category.

Either this guy is really, really sexist or really, really stupid. Or both.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:10 AM on April 30, 2013 [38 favorites]


Honestly, the thing that annoys me the most about this is that it's bad categorization. Every single "American Female Writer" is also an "American Writer." Unless you rename it to "American Male Writers," then the category is underinclusive, which is just another way to be wrong.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:10 AM on April 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was just thinking of this Wikipedia ghettoization when a younger person I know (around 30?) had expressed surprise at the existence of the term "authoress" and wondered when it stopped being commonly used.

I stopped referring to female actors as "actresses" a while ago... you wouldn't call a female president the Presidentress, would you? Actor = one who acts.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:12 AM on April 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


i never realized how ingrained this was until college, which i went to late so i was 26 or so when this came up in a rhetoric class.

i had never really gotten that joke before about the doctor and the patient being the son of the doctor before. i mean i had gotten it after it was explained, but i hadn't really grokked it until that moment in class when the prof asked what the difference was between "woman doctor" and "doctor".

i try to not qualify things in this way anymore, if i can, but i know i'm still guilty of it. although saying a woman doctor always makes me think ob/gyn as opposed to a female person being a doctor.
posted by sio42 at 9:12 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's the difference between being a woman hypnotist and a hypnotist of ladies.
posted by goatdog at 9:13 AM on April 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


Lambert vehemently disputes suggestions that he is motivated by sexism (or racism, as the case may be). He cites principles of Wikipedia categorization: arguing, for example, that huge categories should be broken up and “diffused” because they become useless for navigation. “This whole hullabaloo is really missing the point,” he told me. “The people who are making a big deal about this are not being up-front about what happens if we do not diffuse categories.” Others argued that laypeople are simply misunderstanding the purpose of a big category like American novelists. “It is really a holding ground for people who have yet to be categorized into a more specific sub-cat,” said a user called Obi-Wan Kenobi. “It’s not some sort of club that you have to be a part of.”

I used to volunteer at a bookstore where this was a real, material problem: Do we put the US African-American history in the 'African-American' section, which highlights it and which helps us see whether we have lots of books or need to improve the section, but which suggests that African-American history is some kind of weird, separate history? Or do we co-mingle all the US history regardless, which makes books about African-American US history topics harder to find and lets us cruise on by without realizing that we are only stocking a couple of titles? [And of course, the same goes for any marginalized category]. We could not afford two copies of all books so that they could be stocked in both sections (and what if they could go in three different sections?!?) It was a constant problem and no solution was satisfactory.

What's different with Wikipedia - and the reason that I do not believe this guy - is that there is no reason you can't "shelve" US women novelists both as "US women novelists" and "US novelists". It's free! It's simple! People who want to look only for the work of women can do so on the "US women novelists" list! The really logical-yet-misogynist - but not unproblematic given trans and genderqueer writers - way to do this would be to have three lists, one for men novelists, one for women novelists and one for all novelists. But I strongly suspect that the culprit in all this would have proceeded - had he been able to move all the women novelists unnoticed - to start moving all the novelists of color, gay novelists...maybe left-leaning novelists or writers of "the great working class novel" or something as well, if he got bored enough.
posted by Frowner at 9:16 AM on April 30, 2013 [29 favorites]


"Joyce Carol Oates expressed her view on Twitter" is not a sentence I woke up expecting to read.

Man you just don't know enough about Joyce Carol Oates then.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:16 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sys Rq: " I feel like "an obsessive when it comes to categories" ought to understand that being in a subcategory does not exclude something from the parent category."

This is what I don't get. Why not leave the main page as-is, and simply note that two indices broken down by sex also exist?
posted by zarq at 9:20 AM on April 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Joyce Carol Oates expressed her view on Twitter" is not a sentence I woke up expecting to read.

Fun fact, Bulgaroktonos: everyone in this thread but you is a Joyce Carol Oates sockpuppet.
posted by Iridic at 9:21 AM on April 30, 2013 [33 favorites]


Perhaps Mr. Lambert needs to be catagorized: I vote he be listed under "Sexist jerks who like to make silly catagories".
posted by easily confused at 9:21 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wikipedia needs to do away with folders and just use labels.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on April 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


Marie Skłodowska-Curie, often referred to as Marie Curie or Madame Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934), was a female Polish physicist and chemist

Thing is, Marie Curie is remarkable not only for being an extremely influential physicist and chemist, but in doing that while operating against enormous prejudice. Surely you lessen her achievement by not acknowledging that.

There's plenty of room to acknowledge the significance of her gender in relation to her accomplishments in the body of the article, or even just in the next sentence. Calling someone a "female physicist" or "female doctor" or "female [professional title]" is among the worst possible ways of doing that.

For an example of a better way, Wikipedia currently:
Marie Skłodowska-Curie...was a Polish physicist and chemist, working mainly in France, who is famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences.
posted by cjelli at 9:22 AM on April 30, 2013 [42 favorites]


Perhaps Mr. Lambert needs to be catagorized: I vote he be listed under "Sexist jerks who like to make silly catagories".

Actually he fits nicely under the category of "30-year-old professional History undergrad" (I've known a couple of these creatures). How sad and pathetic is that?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:23 AM on April 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Joyce Carol Oates expressed her view on Twitter" is not a sentence I woke up expecting to read.

Man you just don't know enough about Joyce Carol Oates then.


Oh God, yes. Twitter was invented especially for JCO. Recently:

Joyce Carol Oates ‏@JoyceCarolOates 14h
Even now, hordes of feral swine are fast approaching. Massive as small tanks, frothy-mouthed & tusked, hammering hooves & curly tails.


(Sorry for the derail, but you should totes check her out)
posted by neroli at 9:23 AM on April 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


The category system on wikipedia should be automatically generated from a database. The manual system they have is crazy. Obviously categories are hierarchical and the topic belongs to all the parent categories.
posted by bhnyc at 9:25 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Marie Skłodowska-Curie...was a Polish physicist and chemist, working mainly in France, who is famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences.

Little-known fact: she was also the first woman to use radioactivity to make a mean beef stroganoff.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:27 AM on April 30, 2013 [43 favorites]


This is what I don't get. Why not leave the main page as-is, and simply note that two indices broken down by sex also exist?

I think Lambert's idea is that it would be easier to navigate if, instead of a list of 10,000 names, there were a one-page list of subcategories, each containing a one-page list of sub-sub categories, each containing a two-page (at most) list of authors.

I don't think he was motivated by sexism so much as letting sexist assumptions shape the way he approached that (dubious) task. If you really need to break up the list, why not just group people alphabetically?
posted by straight at 9:28 AM on April 30, 2013


I don't think he was motivated by sexism so much as letting sexist assumptions shape the way he approached that (dubious) task.

That is a way of being motivated by sexism.
posted by LogicalDash at 9:29 AM on April 30, 2013 [28 favorites]


Do we put the US African-American history in the 'African-American' section, which highlights it and which helps us see whether we have lots of books or need to improve the section, but which suggests that African-American history is some kind of weird, separate history? Or do we co-mingle all the US history regardless, which makes books about African-American US history topics harder to find and lets us cruise on by without realizing that we are only stocking a couple of titles?

One solution I've seen for this which I think works well is to have one larger History Section, with LOTS of smaller subsections. So you've got history which is divided into US/Americas/Europe and probably "Misc. World History" for everything else unless you're a really huge store. Within US history, you've got "Colonial Period", "Civil War", "African-American History", "Native American History", "20th Century", etc. You might also break down some of the other history sub-sections further, like sections for the World Wars in the European History area, maybe some region sepecific sub-sections for the "misc history" section, etc.

So you don't have a different shelf in another part of the store for African-American History, you just stick a label to the part of the shelf that has African-American History within various other history sub-topics.

I mean, nobody is going to ever find any books if you just have "HISTORY" without trying to break it down at all.

Where this really breaks down is when you figure out what to do with more interdisciplinary nonfiction. Do you make an African American Studies section, and if so, do you put history titles there or in the History section? I've seen this become more of a problem with Women's Studies. Do you put histories of Second Wave Feminism in the Women's Studies section, or do you put that in US History/20th Century? Do memoirs of important women go in Women's Studies or Memoir? You don't want to have a separate ghetto for Ladybooks, but people coming into the store looking for things should be able to find them easily.
posted by Sara C. at 9:33 AM on April 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


I really love the fact that one of the Wiki commenters went off on a tangent about how the word "woman" applies only to females who are married.

The impulse to categorize, re-categorize, subdivide & refine is both hilarious and terrifying.
posted by aramaic at 9:34 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]




Ummm, sorry guys, I apparently have a lot of thoughts about organizing the social sciences/humanities parts of bookstores.
posted by Sara C. at 9:35 AM on April 30, 2013 [19 favorites]


The nice thing about digital objects (as opposed to physical objects like print books) is that things can be in more than one place at once. This guy is an idiot without creativity or an understanding of hierarchical relationships. Also a sexist asshole.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:37 AM on April 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Wow, things get weird inside natural monopolies, don't they?
posted by tyllwin at 9:37 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Little-known fact: she was also the first woman to use radioactivity to make a mean beef stroganoff.

"Mean" doesn't begin to cover it. The radioactive mutant beeves stroganoff were massive as small tanks, frothy-mouthed & tusked, hammering hooves & curly tails....
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:40 AM on April 30, 2013 [34 favorites]


semantic wikipedia would solve all this, no?
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 9:40 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the problem is that the category "American Novelists" is too large and becoming unwieldy, why not subdivide by century? 18th, 19th, 20th, etc. Or "Living" vs. "Deceased"- not much room for argument there.

This allows for more manageable categories, and neatly sidesteps the whole issue of gender. Because what about women who write under male pseudonyms?
posted by ambrosia at 9:43 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Either this guy is really, really sexist or really, really stupid.

Oh, be charitable. He might be only a little sexist and really stupid.
posted by General Tonic at 9:43 AM on April 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Worth nothing that there's some fairly detailed discussion on his Wikipedia user:talk page, near the bottom. Spoiler: People have a lot of problems with him.

My personal favorite comment from him:

I wish the writer had asked me if the information on wikipedia about me was up-to date. I graduated from Wayne State University 4 and a half years ago for example.
John Pack Lambert (talk) 00:53, 30 April 2013 (UTC)
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 9:44 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia needs to do away with folders and just use labels.

Surely binders are the most appropriate tool for this situation.
posted by Riki tiki at 9:45 AM on April 30, 2013 [72 favorites]


I really love the fact that one of the Wiki commenters went off on a tangent about how the word "woman" applies only to females who are married.

Oh man that's gloriously bizarre.

Especially since yeah okay the etymological source is OE wīfmann, but wīf at that point could itself just mean "woman." So even on Planet Etymological Pedant, where words never ever ever change their meanings, he is way off base.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:45 AM on April 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


This makes no sense. Everyone knows American authors should be placed in order by the number of books they have published with all ties broken by who has the saltiest sweat.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:46 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you really need to break up the list, why not just group people alphabetically?

What I don't understand is, why not just treat everyone the same in terms of gender, and then categorize based on time period (17th Century, 18th Century, 19th Century...), then by literary movement, or geographic location, or whatever seems most relevant.

If I'm looking for Harriet Beecher Stowe, I can go to 19th Century American Novelists, and then to Abolitionist Novelists, and that probably only covers her and a few other people, so there we are.

With the gendered categories, I have to go to American Women Novelists, then I presumably have to navigate a mirror universe of literary categories that is identical to that in American (Men) Novelists, for no other reason than to keep the genders separate.

I mean, unless gender is the ONLY level of categorizing, which seems stupid in a category as large as American Novelists. Especially since gender isn't the first distinction I think of when I think of novelists. They might as well break it down based on eye color, for as useful as the gender distinction is.
posted by Sara C. at 9:47 AM on April 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


nathancaswell: I stopped referring to female actors as "actresses" a while ago... you wouldn't call a female president the Presidentress, would you? Actor = one who acts.

Yes, of course— I was just wondering if/when the term fell from favor. I was guessing it was some time around/after the women's suffrage movement (did they call themselves "suffragettes," or was that a reclaimed "slur?"). I recently noted the heavy use of the term "Jewess" in Daniel Deronda (1876), so was thinking it would have been after that, but before WWII. I thought the Wikipedia kerfuffle served as an example of how often we still feel the need to differentiate women in our terminology, although the terms themselves change over time.
posted by obloquy at 9:47 AM on April 30, 2013


So even on Planet Etymological Pedant

Yeah, the first season of TNG is pretty weak, but it gets much better starting in season 3.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:48 AM on April 30, 2013 [28 favorites]


The dirty secret behind this kerfuffle: nobody sane actually uses Wikipedia categories to navigate by. Usually it's much easier just to use the "list of..." page.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:49 AM on April 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


This makes no sense. Everyone knows American authors should be placed in order by the number of books they have published with all ties broken by who has the saltiest sweat.

I'm here from Wikipedia. To properly categorize your place in literature, I need to lick your forehead.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:51 AM on April 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


Except to answer curiosity about the question, "who the hell else is in this category?" of course.
posted by frimble at 9:52 AM on April 30, 2013


This is what I don't get. Why not leave the main page as-is, and simply note that two indices broken down by sex also exist?

I expect that the excuse boils down to Wikipedia being really poorly designed. But as usual, rather than fix the underlying technical problem — in this case, that categories with lots of member items in that category are tough to navigate — someone in the WP brain trust decided to just force-fit the data to the broken software. Specifically by just breaking big (but useful!) categories like "American Novelists" out into subcategories like "American Women Novelists" ... with the side-effect that you'd never be able to see a single coherent list of "American Novelists".

This sort of shit is rampant on Wikipedia. There are bad semi-technical justifications for most of the worst behaviors that go on, including the whole "deletionism" business, which is typically justified as somehow preserving the sanctity of the top-level namespace or some crap like that.

The blame, in my opinion, rests largely on a lack of communication between the Wikipedia development team (and a glacial development pace when it comes to user-facing features) and users/editors, leading to crappy half-baked "solutions" to perceived technical shortcomings.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:54 AM on April 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I mean, unless gender is the ONLY level of categorizing, which seems stupid in a category as large as American Novelists. Especially since gender isn't the first distinction I think of when I think of novelists. They might as well break it down based on eye color, for as useful as the gender distinction is.

In a perfect world, you'd be able to do boolean searches on categories. (Maybe it would make more sense to call them "tags" or "attributes" at that point, but let's stick with the term they use.)

In that case, the categories could all be very broad: a "woman" category and a "novelist" category and a "from-America" category and an "around-during-the-18th-century" category. But that'd be okay, because you'd be able to search for e.g. "woman AND novelist" or "novelist AND from-America" or "woman AND around-during-the-18th-century" or whatever. Essentially, you'd be able to construct whatever subcategorization scheme you needed on the fly, so there'd be no need for a single privileged subcategorization scheme hard-coded into the site.

But I suspect that would require some very very deep changes in how Wikipedia is set up, such that it realistically will never happen.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:55 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like the notion of (manageable) categories to help me discover new stuff I didn't know about.

Like, OK, let's say in the case of Harriet Beecher Stowe that there is an Abolitionist Novelist category under "American Novelists" and "19th Century Novelists". Maybe I'm reading about Stowe and realize I can't think of a single other writer of fiction in support of the Abolitionist Movement. So I should be able to use that category to learn more about other novelists who wrote from an Abolitionist perspective.

But the way Wikipedia actually works, I can't, because the categories are all garbage.

I think Wikipedia should be run exclusively by people who really love devising awesome new ways for people to fall down the rabbit hole and blow their entire day reading about different 19th century literary movements. There should be some kind of Curiosity Test, and if you pass it, you're allowed to be a Wikipedia architect, and if you don't, you can only correct typos.

Instead, Wikipedia is run by a bunch of pedants. I guess I prefer pedants to know-nothing assholes, but seriously guys, usability.
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 AM on April 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


So much of this controversy is due to the one Wikipedia editor who decided to do some "grudge editing" of Filipacchi's page after her editorial. You can see other Wikipedians trying to talk him down on his own talk page. (Keep reading down--it gets stranger.) They guy sounds unhinged, and clearly animated by sexism
posted by LarryC at 9:55 AM on April 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


... you wouldn't call a female president the Presidentress, would you?

Of course not. You'd call a female president a presidentrix.
posted by birdherder at 9:56 AM on April 30, 2013 [22 favorites]


(Presidente, maybe? Pronounced identically, but spelled differently just to prove that you're the sort of protocol droid who can remember the difference between fiancé and fiancée.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:59 AM on April 30, 2013


So, this has me thinking now about gendered nouns, in particular ones that denote occupations: author, authoress; actor, actress; aviator, aviatrix; waiter, waitress; etc., and the sexism inherent in the fact that the 'male' form is also the general form (nowadays one would say 'actors' when referring to a cast that includes both men and women).

When I waited tables in college, we jokingly referred to ourselves as 'waitrons' to denote a gender-neutral term (while also tongue-in-cheek connoting how we felt like robots, i.e. replaceable cogs in the restaurant-machine). But that form of neologism does not appear to be taking hold in general. More and more, we just call everyone by the 'male' form; and yet there are vestiges where it can be convenient (like the 'best actor' and 'best actress' categories at the Oscars).

So if 'actor' is supposed to be neutral, and 'actress' refers to women actors, then we need a male equivalent -- manactor? actorman? Suggestions?
posted by fikri at 9:59 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, Maya Angelou is not an American poet:
Throughout Wikipedia, in all kinds of categories, women and people of nonwhite ethnicities are assigned only to their subcategories. Maya Angelou is in African-American writers, African-American women poets, and American women poets, but not American poets or American writers.
So the argument being used for removing women is that it makes American Writers more manageable and therefore easier to navigate. However when you remove all the woman it is no longer American Writers but has now become something different, American Men Writers.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:07 AM on April 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


So if 'actor' is supposed to be neutral, and 'actress' refers to women actors, then we need a male equivalent -- manactor? actorman? Suggestions?
I kinda like putting he- or she- before nouns to make the point about their gender. The meaning is clear and obvious, but it's so clunky that it wards off people doing it too much. You could call Einstein a he-physicist as much as you could called Curie a she-physicist, but damn if they aren't ugly words.
posted by Jehan at 10:08 AM on April 30, 2013


LarryC: "You can see other Wikipedians trying to talk him down on his own talk page. "

Whoa.
posted by zarq at 10:09 AM on April 30, 2013


Fikri, one thing I've seen more isn't so much using the "male" term to denote everyone (though sometimes we do), but settling on a new more gender-inclusive term.

So you hear "server" a lot, instead of waiter/waitress/waitron. (I cannot think of the word "waitron" without my brain going to somewhere like "I AM THE WAITRON 5000. PLEASE SUPPLY YOUR PARAMETERS FOR HUMAN NUTRITIONAL SUSTENANCE. BEEP BOOP.")

Similarly, we have "mail carrier" instead of "mailman", "chair" instead of "chaiman", etc.

Other terms just aren't sufficiently gendered to present an issue. Teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc. I suppose in a manner of speaking those are "gendered male" in the sense that those are jobs that used to be exclusively male but now are not. I don't think that's something about language that we can entirely erase -- should we come up with new words for every career to reflect that both women and men do them now?

I'm more surprised that some terms STILL haven't shed their masculinity. Why don't we call our congress-people MCs for Members of Congress (a la British Commonwealth MPs), rather than having to either use a cutesy term like "congresscritter" or just stick to gendered forms?
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on April 30, 2013


bhnyc: The category system on wikipedia should be automatically generated from a database. The manual system they have is crazy. Obviously categories are hierarchical and the topic belongs to all the parent categories.

How would the database be built, though? What's the difference between adding a category tag to a page and editing a database record to add a page to a category? The index that the system builds of which pages are tagged with which categories is functionally the same as the database you're referring to.

NtatTat: In a perfect world, you'd be able to do boolean searches on categories. <snip> But I suspect that would require some very very deep changes in how Wikipedia is set up, such that it realistically will never happen.

Are you talking about something like this:

incategory:"German films" incategory:"1998 films"
posted by XMLicious at 10:11 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I waited tables in college, we jokingly referred to ourselves as 'waitrons' to denote a gender-neutral term (while also tongue-in-cheek connoting how we felt like robots, i.e. replaceable cogs in the restaurant-machine). But that form of neologism does not appear to be taking hold in general. More and more, we just call everyone by the 'male' form; and yet there are vestiges where it can be convenient (like the 'best actor' and 'best actress' categories at the Oscars).

I thought the gender neutral term for waiter or waitress was server and was pretty commonly used in the restaurant industry; if not always by the public at large.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:11 AM on April 30, 2013


Interestingly, the reverse form of gender-classification seems to often be true of animals. Take cows and ducks, for example. A mixed group of cattle can be called cows, but a pair is a cow and steer; a pair of ducks is a duck and drake. What's up with that?
posted by obloquy at 10:13 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]



So you don't have a different shelf in another part of the store for African-American History, you just stick a label to the part of the shelf that has African-American History within various other history sub-topics.


Strangely, this never occurred to anyone volunteering there, even though there were some very sharp-edged conflicts over shelving. I wonder if we could have prevented a lot of conflict and problems with this method, one which seems so obvious when it is described.

Politically, I was very in sympathy with the "what, you think that [queer/POC/working class/etc] history is some kind of special freaky-deaky history that has no impact on "regular" history and should be sequestered away?" As a book-orderer, I also really liked having our sections visible and visibly in relation to each other - technically, we could use our online catalog to search in this way, but the visual representation was much more helpful and prompted much more "well shit, we sure are falling down on the 'books about labor' front" than blending everything together did.
posted by Frowner at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2013


There are also a few words for humans that were treated as female-by-default that have been generalized. So "nurse" used to refer by default to women — as seen from the fact that men were consistently referred to as "male nurses," but women weren't usually referred to as "female nurses" — and now it's been generalized to gender-neutral use. Ditto "secretary" and few others.

Though I guess we never had a dedicated suffix for deriving male forms of female-by-default nouns. It was "male secretary" and not "secretaro" or "secretaror" or something.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2013


"You can see other Wikipedians trying to talk him down on his own talk page. "

Wow. He even went so far as to delete an article about her mother and severely redact the article about her father.
posted by straight at 10:16 AM on April 30, 2013


I'm doing my part. I've moved Samuel R. Delany into the category "Black, male, American, bi-sexual, science fiction writers".

I then renamed this category to "People who are Samuel R. Delany".
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:22 AM on April 30, 2013 [42 favorites]


"You can see other Wikipedians trying to talk him down on his own talk page. "

Wow. He even went so far as to delete an article about her mother and severely redact the article about her father.


Yeah, and he is under attack for his editing of another woman's page. I see today that he has actually cleaned up that talk page a little, but I am not ambitious enough to pick through the edits to see what he removed.
posted by LarryC at 10:23 AM on April 30, 2013


Now there are two. There are two _______: Though I guess we never had a dedicated suffix for deriving male forms of female-by-default nouns

That's true, but there's one example of a common English word that has this property (i.e.: refers to a (human) female by default but is turned into a male-gendered version by the addition of a suffix).

[spoiler below]
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
widow -> widower
posted by mhum at 10:29 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Students of history should not be fucking about with categorization systems on globally relevant information warehouses.

Damn it, Wiki, HIRE SOME LIBRARIANS.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:31 AM on April 30, 2013 [29 favorites]


mhum -- that's awesome. Thanks. I was stuck on profession words.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:34 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]



Damn it, Wiki, HIRE SOME LIBRARIANS.


This is what I wanted to say too. Wikipedia is a great resource and a grand experiment in volunteerism but they desperately need to hire people with these specific skills, who went to school to perfect their craft and hopefully without any particular bones to pick. And with consequences for their actions. If they want to keep it free perhaps they could have some kind of official interning program set up or something. But please, there needs to be better consequences so one whatever-ist idiot can't just go on a rampage.
posted by bleep at 10:36 AM on April 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


refers to a (human) female by default but is turned into a male-gendered version by the addition of a suffix

If you'd said "prefix" I would have guessed Mr. Mom.
posted by straight at 10:37 AM on April 30, 2013


Interestingly, the reverse form of gender-classification seems to often be true of animals. Take cows and ducks, for example. A mixed group of cattle can be called cows, but a pair is a cow and steer; a pair of ducks is a duck and drake. What's up with that?

Well, the drake is the one that does up its feathers all fancy-like.
posted by Jpfed at 10:41 AM on April 30, 2013


Frowner, I totally feel that. And I think it's easier to figure this out for some topics than for others. Especially if there's a desire to put ALL books about a certain group together rather than sub-categorize within the broader sections.

I also think it depends on what the selection in the store is like. Bluestockings in New York breaks everything down by group rather than topic, which makes sense when it's an intersectional leftist bookstore with a comparatively tiny fiction selection but a comparatively HUGE section of nonfiction about the Sandinistas. So their solution is that they have a section about "Central America" that includes every kind of book about Central America they have, whether it's Like Water For Chocolate, a biography of Pancho Villa, or a political science text about the ongoing leftist struggle in Chiapas. This is great for what Bluestockings does, but probably would be impossible for a Barnes & Noble, and completely sideways from the point at New Orleans' Faulkner House.
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 AM on April 30, 2013


RE: server, mail carrier, etc. -- Sara C. and Bulgaroktonos, you are right, of course. There has been movement in that direction (which I sort of just breezed by without so much as a how-do-you-do). I think maybe I was grasping for the notion presented by Now there are two:

I guess we never had a dedicated suffix for deriving male forms of female-by-default nouns. It was "male secretary" and not "secretaro" or "secretaror" or something.

That seems odd/interesting to me. A bias embedded in the language itself (or, at least, in how we have used that language). And an interesting thought experiment for coming up with plausible male form derivations of what would now be considered the 'neutral' form...

(Maybe it should not matter if your lawyer is male or female, so, arguably, who really needs gendered forms at all... but fun to think about nonetheless.)
posted by fikri at 10:42 AM on April 30, 2013


Secretary didn't specify femaleness to begin with. It used to be a primarily male profession. Note how many high political offices have titles of the form Secretary of...
posted by Karmakaze at 10:47 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ummm, sorry guys, I apparently have a lot of thoughts about organizing the social sciences/humanities parts of bookstores.

We need more people like you! I'm blessed to live in a small city with a large number of independent bookstores (plus I'm about 20 minutes by car from a "Booktown" with about a dozen speciality bookstores), including the largest used bookstore in Canada. They have over a million titles, but have only indexed about 5% of their stock online, so it can be very difficult to tell if they have a particular book.

It usually means hunting through the stacks, usually in multiple sections.

It's actually a pleasant way to spend time on a rainy winter day, and there are always discoveries to be made, so I'm not complaining, but the elliptical always competes with efficiency. Sometimes I just want that particular book!
posted by KokuRyu at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2013


So if 'actor' is supposed to be neutral, and 'actress' refers to women actors, then we need a male equivalent -- manactor? actorman? Suggestions?

Acter.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:54 AM on April 30, 2013


If you'd said "prefix" I would have guessed Mr. Mom yt .

BEHOLD THE MIGHTY MOTHERING POWER OF... MAN-MOM!
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:02 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Interesting Guardian readers editor piece on the actor/ actress question (as far as I'm aware, in the UK, actress remains pretty common and is not generally considered sexist or demeaning).
posted by rhymer at 11:06 AM on April 30, 2013


I stopped referring to female actors as "actresses" a while ago... you wouldn't call a female president the Presidentress...

I'd probably use the term Presidentrix because I find the -ix ending to be really cool for some reason.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:07 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Similarly, we have "mail carrier" instead of "mailman", "chair" instead of "chaiman", etc.

I think "chairman" has almost come to occupy this space, but I really dig how "Ironman" (as in someone who has completed an Ironman triathlon) in particular is gender-neutral--either a ()man or woman can be an Ironman.
posted by psoas at 11:09 AM on April 30, 2013


I always thought Linda Hunt should have won both Best Supporting Actor and Actress for The Year of Living Dangerously, just to be on the safe side.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:10 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Instead, Wikipedia is run by a bunch of pedants. I guess I prefer pedants to know-nothing assholes, but seriously guys, usability.

The only thing worse than a know-nothing asshole is a know-everything asshole.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:10 AM on April 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've always noticed men are referred to as "chairmen" etc., while women are referred to as "chairpersons". "Chairman" and "chairwomen" are probably best.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:11 AM on April 30, 2013


It's funny, because there's this stereotype that it's women who are all about the Drama of any situation....but most wikipedia eds are men, and in the teeny bit of poking around I've done on various talk pages, oh my god the Drama. That's a thing that has certainly discouraged me from doing any heavy lifting on wikipedia. That and being really lazy.
posted by rtha at 11:11 AM on April 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


XMLicious: How would the database be built, though? What's the difference between adding a category tag to a page and editing a database record to add a page to a category?

The categories could be constructed on the fly. All the database knows is adjectives for the topic. Then you can do a query- American Novelists Female.
posted by bhnyc at 11:13 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wikipedia editor behaves like an entitled prick embarrassing himself and Wikipedia. When called out, Wikipedians close rank to prevent any thought that Wikipedia might be at fault from passing without spittle-flecked retort. Or, as we like to call it, Tuesday.
posted by kjs3 at 11:15 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd probably use the term Presidentrix because I find the -ix ending to be really cool for some reason.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:07 PM on April 30


Because you have great taste in words, obviously. There's no mystery there. I'm generally on board with the idea behind gender neutral words, but so many of them sound so bad. Chairperson? That's an awful sounding word.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:18 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've also heard "chair" used as a gender-neutral noun for chairperson. It's way less unwieldy.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:21 AM on April 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I always thought that we should rename all uses of "man" to "human" and all uses of "human" to "man" simultaneously to avoid a extinction-level search and replace catastrophe. This way, you have a human and a woman and they are both men.

I never thought this out loud, of course.
posted by chemoboy at 11:22 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I propose going back to using "-man" and "Man" as the ungendered version, and coin the term "broman" for men who are male.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:23 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ummm, sorry guys, I apparently have a lot of thoughts about organizing the social sciences/humanities parts of bookstores.

This is more of an issue on a book shelf or in a file cabinet or other quasi-linear system than in something that is computer based. There is absolutely no reason why a pointer to an article can't exist in every list to which that article is appropriate. American authors; Jewish authors; left-handed authors; female authors; authors between 5'6" and 5'9", etc. Unless you're dividing the parent class into two separate classes (like novelists and poets instead of writers) there is no logical reason to do this.

It'd be easier for me to harsh on Wikipedia if I hadn't seen a DJ30 corporation do exactly the same thing. In the gender politics free world of regulatory compliant data management systems we'd have things would fit equally well in two categories but rather than put the document (and let's be real here, it's a pointer to a memory location, not "the document") in both those places management freaked the hell out because what if you updated one version and not the other version. So instead, we opted for the best of all systems - never being sure you're putting things in the right place and never being able to find anything.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:24 AM on April 30, 2013


Or, in Australia, "bromate".

...cough... Sorry, I've been thinking about fuel chemistries too much of late.
posted by aramaic at 11:25 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wait, all these people who insist that they still hear "chairman" all the time.

Really?

I haven't heard that word used in a contemporary setting pretty much ever, except in the case of someone like Chairman Mao.

When I encounter the term in 2013 (in the US) it's almost always "chair".

The Media Committee Chair will be Jaime Washington now that Chris Rosenberg has been elected Treasurer.

And so on.

I also often see "chair" as a verb rather than using a "be" verb and being cornered into chairman/woman/person.
posted by Sara C. at 11:26 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I propose going back to using "-man" and "Man" as the ungendered version, and coin the term "broman" for men who are male.

You're closer than you know.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:27 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is more of an issue on a book shelf or in a file cabinet or other quasi-linear system than in something that is computer based.

Yes, that's what I was referring to. Literal actual shelves of books in bookstores.

Obviously an online book sale database could simply be tag based so that you're not forced to deal with nested categories.

But if I'm a person and I walk into a physical store to buy a book-shaped object, I have to go to one particular part of the store where I will find that particular book on a particular shelf. There's really no getting around it in the real world.
posted by Sara C. at 11:29 AM on April 30, 2013


If you google "Elizabeth Warren Chairman" you'll see lots of references to her grilling Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. If you google "Elizabeth Warren Chair" you'll see a far greater proportion of references to the things she herself chairs.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:30 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fed Chairman

My guess is that this particular title disappears when we have our first female Fed Chair. I suppose it's possible that we'd call her the Chairwoman, since Chairman Of The Fed is more of a title than a job description, and there is only one at any particular time. Sort of like how King/Queen still works and we don't feel the pull to call all royal heads of state Highnesses or something else gender neutral.
posted by Sara C. at 11:34 AM on April 30, 2013


Sort of like how King/Queen still works and we don't feel the pull to call all royal heads of state Highnesses or something else gender neutral.

Monarch.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:37 AM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sara C.: I think Wikipedia should be run exclusively by people who really love devising awesome new ways for people to fall down the rabbit hole and blow their entire day reading about different 19th century literary movements.

So you're proposing turning it over to TV Tropes?
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:39 AM on April 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


So you're proposing turning it over to TV Tropes?

Noooo. Why did you link that? Don't you know how much work I need to get done today?!

Now I'll have to go burn the computer. It's the only way to be safe.
posted by Salieri at 11:44 AM on April 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


So I'm checking image search for JPL to confirm if he really has a neckbeard, and mostly I get pictures of Mitt Romney ...
posted by scruss at 11:44 AM on April 30, 2013


Yes. That exactly.
posted by Sara C. at 11:44 AM on April 30, 2013


The categories could be constructed on the fly. All the database knows is adjectives for the topic. Then you can do a query- American Novelists Female.

I guess I'm missing something... how is this different from clicking on the link to an "American Novelists Female" category and seeing a list of articles within that category, or doing a search that shows the intersection of "American novelists" and "Women" like the example with films I gave above? Are you maybe talking about having a fixed list of categories which only some people can edit, and others are required to choose from that list when categorizing articles?
posted by XMLicious at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2013


You can see other Wikipedians trying to talk him down on his own talk page.

Wow. He comes off as, uh. "Somewhat irrational" is the nicest possible way I can put it.
posted by elizardbits at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: I haven't heard that word used in a contemporary setting pretty much ever, except in the case of someone like Chairman Mao.

For what it's worth, it seems to be pretty standard terminology in business reporting.

His Service Nearly Complete, Yahoo Chairman Steps Down
H.P. Chairman Steps Down as 2 Resign From Board
Groupon's Chairman Was On A Two-Month Vacation When Andrew Mason Was Fired
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt: Google Glass Can Be Weird And Inappropriate
posted by mhum at 11:58 AM on April 30, 2013


>Wait, all these people who insist that they still hear "chairman" all the time.

Really?


Yes. It could be a regional thing, depending on what style manual a particular local paper or tv station uses - it is a thing in western Canada, although the Globe and Mail, which generally has a more professional editing team (who I think use a modified CP Style), uses "chairman" and "chairwoman".
posted by KokuRyu at 12:04 PM on April 30, 2013


Damn it, Wiki, HIRE SOME LIBRARIANS.

Can you imagine if wikipedia were organized according to the LoC subject classification system? Actually... I guess it doesn't matter since you can only find things in wikipedia via google anyway...
posted by ennui.bz at 12:06 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "resident expert" of Categories at Wikipedia is user Bearcat, whose opinion I respect, he gave a nuanced explanation of the issue. It is nothing new or specific to America or authors or women, this type of thing can and does come up all the time with categorizing. To read his one paragraph, go here and search on the first occurance of "Bearcat".
posted by stbalbach at 12:08 PM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Ministress.

I assume no-one dared.
posted by alasdair at 12:12 PM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of the MeFi post a while back about the Al-Jazeera article discussing Philosophers (i.e., Western/European) versus ethnophilosophers, the same dynamics are at play.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:20 PM on April 30, 2013


Shit like this is why Wikipedia should be taken about as seriously as the Weekly World News, or the National Enquirer.
posted by xedrik at 12:23 PM on April 30, 2013


Phire: "Wikipedia editors are also retaliating against the author who first called them out in the NYT by gutting her Wikipedia entry as much as they can without deleting it."

Is that true? I compared her article pre-controversy and in fact the current article is much better than previously. The previous version was almost completely unsourced. Now it has a rich diversity of sources on almost every sentence.

I've seen intentional gutting this is not it, there is a good faith effort to make a reliable article per BLP.
posted by stbalbach at 12:25 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I compared her article pre-controversy and in fact the current article is much better than previously.

It seems to have been repaired now.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:29 PM on April 30, 2013


tyllwin: Wow, things get weird inside natural monopolies, don't they?
I wouldn't call the management of Wikipedia a natural monopoly, unless you're referring to its existence in general (in which case it has unseated older competitors such as Encyclopedia Britannica, and no new significant competitors exist yet). Rather, it is actually a bizarre new love-child of pure democracy and constitutional autocracy: anyone can change anything (one person's vote overrules thousands of previous votes), but the "survival" of that change is proportional to how much it irritates the electorate overall (and can be locked down completely if it violates primal ground rules, thus the "constitutional" part of it).

I doubt it would work on a social/political level, but it's fascinatingly successful at what it aims to do - moreso than any other model ever tested in human experience. Nothing comes close, in terms of disseminating reliable information about generic topics on demand to the masses.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:31 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems like wikipedia had a brief period of time when it really had great potential: sometime in the middle of last decade, after it got big and important and you could still be idealistic about it. Up to a certain point, there wasn't pushback against including stuff in wiki, it was all about growth and the policies around citation were looser back then. Then deletionism became a thing, and there was a fight for control, and they won.

Wikipedia is a lost cause. It was a good idea and it had a lot of potential, but that's gone now. It's assholes all the way down. I've seen this qworty's MO a number of times: remove all the sources and interesting details, then bring the article to task for lack of sources and notability. Two step deletion, for when you can't get away with deleting it outright.

Six months from now when this has gone away and no one's watching, what do you think the odds are those articles stay on Wikipedia? They're not good.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:33 PM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


zarq: LarryC: "You can see other Wikipedians trying to talk him down on his own talk page. "

Whoa.
Jump, you datafucker, jump!
posted by IAmBroom at 12:36 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Hot dog, it's the fe-Mail-Man!"
"Fe-Mail Carrier, Bart!"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:36 PM on April 30, 2013


widow -> widower

or bride -> bridegroom
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 12:49 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


said a user called Obi-Wan Kenobi

Towards Wikipedia being taken seriously, great strides have been made, I see.
posted by Revvy at 12:52 PM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I frickin' love Joyce Carol Oates and I don't care who knows it.
posted by Mister_A at 1:00 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


What's really ludicrous is that Qworty is clearly off his or her rocker and vandalizing left and right while spewing hatred at Filipacchi and everyone connected at her, but everyone in the Talk apparently feels the need to treat Qworty with the tenderest regard and deference. The actual reputation and usefulness of Wikipedia is less important than one nut's self-regard.

It's a textbook example of the degeneration of Wikipedia.
posted by tavella at 1:01 PM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


And perhaps more on point, that is a shame and a travesty, and the yutzes behind it probably don't even realize that they are creating a second, lesser tier for those dames who can string a couple sentences together, which I suppose is thought to be hard what with the long gams and the smallish hands and flowing locks and shit.
posted by Mister_A at 1:03 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


So You're Saying These Are Pants?: or bride -> bridegroom

Nice one! For some reason, the trivia center of my brain thought there was only one example. Clearly not. Now, I wonder if there are more.
posted by mhum at 1:04 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some[who?] feel that Lambert should be cited for sexist behavior.[citation needed]
posted by ogooglebar at 1:05 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Natural monopoly in the sense that it's natural for barriers of entry to make it more efficient for a single "firm" to take over most of the market, and everyone more or less likes it that way. In the case of Wikipedia, it's social capital rather than money, of course. Facebook, I suppose is like that, too: by no means an actual monopoly: one can fork Wikipedia, and Google surely has tried to compete against Facebook, but what the market wants is one central place. So, within that market, any one player is either lord of all s/he surveys, or dogmeat. (I wonder sometimes why Google has never tried to displace Wikipedia, too. I personally think it's a softer target than Facebook, and a lot of advertising space.)

Anyway, I just think that once you're insulated in that fashion from the outside world, some weird attitudes tend to grow up, because you become much more inward-looking. People start caring much less about the forest than the trees. Who cares if we look like assholes? The process is what counts!
posted by tyllwin at 1:06 PM on April 30, 2013


Six months from now when this has gone away and no one's watching, what do you think the odds are those articles stay on Wikipedia? They're not good.

The article in question is bullet proof, will never be deleted. If someone tried to remove the refs they would be caught and reverted. If someone tried to deleted it the number of refs far exceeds requirements of notability, it would be an immediate "snow close" (ie. snowball chance in hell of being deleted). You can't trick your way into deleting whole articles on Wikipedia if the article is well sourced.

The biggest issue with Wikipedia is it has no real competition. It's too successful. Over time this will mean lack of innovation and stagnation. Three TV networks, multiple computer OS's, etc.. Wikipedia needs competition or it will be like the Church of England - people will stop going because it's an old beast from another generation that never kept up with change because it was the only game in town and didn't need to make difficult changes the old guard resisted.
posted by stbalbach at 1:08 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


everyone in the Talk apparently feels the need to treat Qworty with the tenderest regard and deference

To be fair to the sane Wikipedians, there's a whole lot of Wikipedia articles that don't really measure up to the official standards guidelines, and it's not unreasonable to expect that any time a person achieves some newsworthy notoriety, their Wikipedia article is going to receive atypical scrutiny from the editors. And it is possible that some of Filipacchi's articles had stuff that doesn't meet the official guidelines and merits editing.

Looking at what happened, it's pretty clear that Qworty's edits were motivated by a desire to retaliate for her article, but I can understand the other editors wanting to start by giving him the benefit of the doubt. But if he were really acting in good faith, he'd see the importance to Wikipedia of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety in a situation like this.
posted by straight at 1:12 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder sometimes why Google has never tried to displace Wikipedia, too.

They did beginning in 2007 but shut it down a little less than a year ago.
posted by XMLicious at 1:13 PM on April 30, 2013


They did beginning in 2007 but shut it down a little less than a year ago

How the hell did I miss that?
posted by tyllwin at 1:20 PM on April 30, 2013


How the hell did I miss that?

They probably announced it on Google Wave.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:28 PM on April 30, 2013 [13 favorites]


Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Ministress.

I assume no-one dared.




Some did.

You'd be amazed who was actually on the Belgrano.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:37 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


stbalbach
Wikipedia needs competition or it will be like the Church of England - people will stop going because it's an old beast from another generation that never kept up with change because it was the only game in town and didn't need to make difficult changes the old guard resisted.

I'd say that is overstating the case a bit! I don't have statistics in front of me but Wikipedia gets millions of hits a day and I cannot imagine a time when they will suddenly have no hits. I'm all for competition but it's very costly to run Wikipedia - as is evident when they do their annual pledge drive to stay affloat - so if someone comes along it will have to someone with very deep pockets.
posted by Rashomon at 1:56 PM on April 30, 2013


"Joyce Carol Oates expressed her view on Twitter" is not a sentence I woke up expecting to read.

Man you just don't know enough about Joyce Carol Oates then.


I'm sure it was a comment poking fun at the idea of such a prolific writer being confined to 140 characters. Perhaps a comment like: "JCO released several hundred thousand tweets on the subject this morning." might have clarified.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:39 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


A steer is only most of a male cow. An entire adult male cow is a bull.

My favorite animal gender-specific dichotomy (an incidental counter-example) is fox / vixen (although I'll accept vixen / vulpecula as well).

/end transmission from Planet Etymological Pedant
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:43 PM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Marie Skłodowska-Curie...was a Polish physicist and chemist, working mainly in France, who is famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences.

So the edit removes "female" as an adjective from "female Polish physicist" but leaves "Polish". Why do you think "female physicist" is more problematic than "Polish physicist"?

I have some ideas of my own about why that might be the case Ibut I can't articulate them clearly, and can also imagine arguments in favor for "female physicist".
posted by layceepee at 2:52 PM on April 30, 2013


Because you will see articles with "American physicist" but not "male American physicist". There is no default nationality, while there are physicists and then there are *female* physicists.
posted by tavella at 2:55 PM on April 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


There's the classic 'man-' prefix, as in man-milliner and various other words.
posted by bq at 4:06 PM on April 30, 2013


Also, her Polishness was very important to Curie herself--one of the elements she and Pierre discovered was named Polonium, after all. She was born during the Third Partition, when Poland was no longer an independent political entity (Warsaw was part of the Russian Empire when she was born). /Polish history nerd
posted by orrnyereg at 4:07 PM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am reminded by this whole thing (including the talk pages linked upthread) of the push to get more women to edit Wikipedia and why it's a problem that women don't and why women might not want to. Particularly on the why women, or anyone else who's read those talk pages, might not want to.
posted by immlass at 4:10 PM on April 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wikipedia is a lost cause. It was a good idea and it had a lot of potential, but that's gone now.

Wait, what...? It remains, by a long shot, the most useful source of general information that has ever existed in all of human history. "Gone now"? Management problems it may have, but it still functions, and there's nothing on the horizon with a chance of replacing it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:38 PM on April 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


I haven't heard that word used in a contemporary setting pretty much ever, except in the case of someone like Chairman Mao.

In the U.S. Senate, men appear to always be "Chairman," and women are a mix of "Chairman" (Murray, Boxer, Feinstein) and "Chairwoman" (Stabenow, Cantwell), except for Mary Landrieu, the lone voice for "Chair." On the House side, they apparently aren't letting women chair anything but House Administration (Chairman Candice Miller), and all the men are also using "Chairman" (no "Chair"s).

Reince Priebus is RNC Chairman. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is DNC Chair.


For whatever all of that is worth.
posted by naoko at 6:06 PM on April 30, 2013


Frankly, I'm just amazed that wikipedians describe non-wikipedians as lay people. There is a fuckton of connotations in there, as if wiki editors where scholar priests or something.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:29 PM on April 30, 2013 [16 favorites]


Just wait till someone tells him about inter-gendered novelists. He's going to flip. I think given his confusion about how to handle categorization of novelists who change nationality that he may be sincere if a bit OCD, rather than intentionally (vs. institutionally/structurally) sexist.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:07 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I'm checking image search for JPL to confirm if he really has a neckbeard
haha yeah or a goatee
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:09 PM on April 30, 2013


I'm not clear on why Wikipedia has "List of" articles and Category indexes at the same time. Also, it seems like category views should either automagically surface and collate links from sub-categories or suppress links to individual articles from the view if there are sub-categories.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:46 PM on April 30, 2013


The "resident expert" of Categories at Wikipedia is user Bearcat, whose opinion I respect, he gave a nuanced explanation of the issue...To read his one paragraph, go here and search on the first occurance of "Bearcat".

Thanks, that was worth reading. It's nuanced, sure, but clearly comes down against the moving of women out of the general "American novelists"category:

Gendered categories are useful in certain circumstances, certainly — but any situation in which women get a gendered subcategory while men are still left in the ungendered parent category is never one of them, and the policy around gendered categories has always been quite clear about that.

Can't wait to read the justifications from the thoughtless sexists and their juvenile, emotionally unstable supporters in response to that.
posted by mediareport at 9:05 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Frankly, I'm just amazed that wikipedians describe non-wikipedians as lay people.

In this case it means "people who get laid."

well somebody had to
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:51 PM on April 30, 2013 [9 favorites]


emotionally unstable supporters
can we please not mental-health shame itt
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:25 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hello, I'm David McGahan: Frankly, I'm just amazed that wikipedians describe non-wikipedians as lay people. There is a fuckton of connotations in there, as if wiki editors where scholar priests or something.

Actually, nowhere in the discussion do the participants refer to non-wikipedians as "laypeople" or "lay people". From what I can tell, that terminology originates with James Gleick in his article at the New York Review of Books Blog.
posted by RichardP at 11:40 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd love to do some Wikipedia editing, and I love sorting out information architecture issues. But this is yet another example of why I'm not touching it with a ten foot pole until they sort their editor management out. I've got better things to do with my life than argue with drama-loving dudes who have no idea what they're doing but plenty of time on their hands.
posted by harriet vane at 12:35 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


So when you get to the root of it, this is one angsty dude entranced by his power as a Wiki editor systematically isolating women, racial minorities and sexual minorities to inferior categories while his ideal straight white men remain the archetypes for entire fields of art and professions. When his strategy is questioned he spews venom and doubles down on the "cleansing" of Wikipedia and defiling the pages of those who called him out. Especially those of filthy, uppity women who published criticism in the lame stream press.

He's protected by the wikihive because he's been an editor for seven years. Even though this isn't the first time he's tried elevating white males above all others, his tenure appears to put him above reproach. Jimmy Wales suggested booting this fine specimen of humanity and all hell broke loose. This is why I don't take Wikipedia seriously and will never give them money until they solve their nutjob problem. Until they have a transparent, equitable, ethical and authoritative framework for treatment of subjective topics, it will remain an easily exploited outlet for losers with nothing to do with their lives but grief Wiki into submission. The rest of us yield by default to the griefers because investing your life is the only way to even hope to effect change within wiki leadership, and some of us have much more to live for than crawling down that rathole.

TL;DR white male hetero supremacist devotes self to "cleansing" Wikipedia; Wiki's organizational controls fail to ameliorate the impacts of an obsessive activist who won't stop and who they won't discipline because politics. Many wonder about long-term utility of an informational resource with such shady ethics, because this is hardly the first such instance.
posted by SakuraK at 12:58 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Novelists that from a long way off look like flies.
posted by Wolof at 1:10 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slightly OT: Am I the only one who thinks the use of "Man" and "Woman" as adjectives is superfluous and ugly? They're nouns. The adjectives are "male" and "female". I also think using "male" and "female" as nouns for humans is kind of ugly.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:23 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


RichardP, I've spent all day reading and marking undergraduate essays. I assure you I have no need, nor want, to read a wikipedia talk thread. My brain has been through enough today. But fair enough.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 2:12 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


can we please not mental-health shame it

Fair enough, I apologize for that. The user trashing Filipacchi-related pages was throwing a childish tantrum; I should have left it at that.
posted by mediareport at 6:59 AM on May 1, 2013


Liz Henry: In this case I am a bit annoyed at the facile reporting that does not seem to take into account the complexity of how information gets added to Wikipedia.

Joseph Reagle discusses taxonomy, manageability, biases, meaning, usefulness, technology, and practice as illustrated by the recent discussion.

Adrianne Wadewitz says: "Yet, in all of the press coverage that I have read, not one single female Wikipedian has been interviewed or quoted." (lots of links)
posted by brainwane at 7:22 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hey Kadin2048 and others in this thread, if you have ideas for how the developers of MediaWiki and Wikimedia-specific technology should be communicating better with Wikipedia users, I absolutely seriously want to hear them. I am the head of the Wikimedia Foundation's engineering community team, and would love more help with this. I'd especially love if you could help as a tech ambassador; tech ambassadors are technically-minded volunteers who help other Wikimedians with technical issues, and act as a bridge between developers and local Wikimedia wikis. If you have ideas for how my team or the ambassadors ought to be communicating better with readers, uploaders, editors, and the rest of the Wikimedia community, feel free to memail me, leave 'em on the Ambassadors talk page, or the like.

The Foundation also hired a community liaison for product development in 2011 to help work better with editors. This is one reason the editor engagement team has been, in my opinion, producing user-facing improvements that editors like and find useful (e.g., better new page curation).

In the past, yes, software development was pretty slow and ad hoc, especially when there were 0 paid tech staff, or just enough to keep the servers going. In the past few years we've been paying off a lot of technical debt from that time (like making our systems administration way more robust, and rewriting the parser so it can support a WYSIWYG editor that works with 290 languages and with all the wikitext people have already written) and growing our open source community to help get more fixes and improvements faster. If there's a specific user-facing feature you think has been going slower than it ought (in addition to the categorization stuff), please let me know so we can talk about it.

(Here's the staff of the Wikimedia Foundation, and here are some stats on the open source community around MediaWiki, for those who are curious. And I may as well link to "How to contribute".)

I think this is one of the bugs that needs fixing to make categorization better within MediaWiki and address the problem regarding properly categorizing women who write novels, but I'm going to check with the dev community. MediaWiki has a lot of legacy architecture that needs fixing. :( I could talk about this forever but I'll stop here.
posted by brainwane at 7:59 AM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wikipedia gets millions of hits a day and I cannot imagine a time when they will suddenly have no hits.

No doubt people said the same thing about BBS's in the 80s and Usenet in the 90s. These things still exist, Wikipedia will always exist, it's a strawman to say otherwise, much less for Wikipedia to "suddenly" have no hits.
posted by stbalbach at 9:30 PM on May 1, 2013


No doubt people said the same thing about BBS's in the 80s and Usenet in the 90s. These things still exist

So do penny-farthing bikes.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:37 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mars Saxman: It remains, by a long shot, the most useful source of general information that has ever existed in all of human history. "Gone now"? Management problems it may have, but it still functions, and there's nothing on the horizon with a chance of replacing it.

You're right, of course. There's no way to replace wikipedia, for the natural monopoly effects already discussed. That's why it's such a tragedy that it's gone the way that it has. What we've ended up with is broad swaths of information shunted off to wikia or other domain specific wikis that could have been on wikipedia proper. What that means is that fewer people will see those articles and fewer people will work on those articles than if they had been on wikipedia. Making wikipedia less inclusive not only diminishes wikipedia itself, but it also diminishes the quality of the article produced.

Some things can genuinely not be included on wikipedia, and that's fine. Memory Alpha, for instance, is always going to need to be it's own thing. But a lot more than is there, could be, and a lot that used to be, now isn't.

Wikipedia is still there. It still works. Nothing can replace it. But in it's current state I can no longer hope for it to be what it once might have been. And nothing can replace it.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:01 AM on May 2, 2013


Note that from my check last night, the damage has still not been repaired, and it isn't just women authors -- John Pack Lambert was busy purifying the American Authors category of anyone who wasn't male, white, and straight. I undid the change for the ones I checked, but I expect that he or his little cadre of supporters will reverse it.
posted by tavella at 9:26 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hate that Wikipedia conflicts devolve into games of who can hold their hand to the stovetop longer.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:04 AM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


As an update, "Qworty", so tenderly cossetted as he went on lunatic rampages, turns out to be resentful writer revenge-editing.
posted by tavella at 9:09 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, tavella, thanks for that. Short summary: looks like childish tantrums thrown under the guise of editing Wikipedia pages are not new to "Qworty," who has a long history of obviously inappropriate self-promotion and revenge editing:

After weeks of research, these [Wikipedia editors] were convinced that they had identified Qworty as a novelist who had long been surreptitiously editing his own Wikipedia page — and was guilty of his own multiple instances of self-puffery. Not only was Qworty guilty of revenge editing, they argued, but he was also a raging hypocrite! A conflict-of-interest cop who had initially created a Wikipedia account for the sole purpose of pursuing his own self-interest.

The writer they identified is Robert Clark Young, author of the 1999 novel “One of the Guys”...Not only did Qworty have a long history of close involvement with editing Young’s page, but I found that he had a long record of negatively editing the pages of writers that Young had had disputes with in the past..


Good lord. If you have ten minutes, read the whole thing. Bob Young is an ass:

Qworty’s very first action as a Wikipedia editor, barely five minutes after he created his account on March 10, 2007, was to archive the Talk page devoted to Robert Clark Young’s Wikipedia page...After years of styling himself as someone who specializes in scrubbing Wikipedia pages clean of “conflicts of interest,” Qworty/Young admitted to editing “the Wikipedia articles of writers with whom I have feuded.” How can Wikipedia possibly allow this man to keep his editing privileges?

Great follow-up link. Here's the detailed investigation of Qworty/Bob Young's disgusting history from the folks at Wikipediocracy.
posted by mediareport at 4:00 AM on May 19, 2013


Bob Young's "it was all just a post-modern performance" bit, posted just before his current firm defense of all of his past edits, is a hoot. And a morally repulsive, desperate attempt by someone trying to contain the damage to his reputation by pretending it's all a game, made only more perfect by his complete reversal soon after:

Qworty is a shtick. Qworty is an entertainment, an annoyance, a distraction, a put-on, a reading experience, a performance, a series of ironies, an inversion that you do or do not get. At times you might read excerpts from these texts in the news and you might take them—at your own peril—at surface value. Which any college English freshman would warn you not to do. And which any graduate student in literature would laugh at you for doing.

Marvelous. Perfection. A++ would allow to edit again.
posted by mediareport at 4:11 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Controversy over Wikipedia editing

See also: List of Wikipedia controversies

In May 2013, Young was accused by Salon.com reporter Andrew Leonard of editing, under the username Qworty, Wikipedia articles on his personal and professional adversaries in a biased and negative way. Young also edited his own article extensively.[8] Young was banned from editing the site two days later, by a consensus of the Wikipedia community.[9]


All's well that ends well?
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:23 AM on May 19, 2013


Sort of; the original statement from Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, linked at the bottom of the Salon article, actually allowed Young to continue editing, with only one limitation:

If you do continue or resume editing in the future, you are directed not to edit biographical articles concerning any living person (other than yourself and excluding reversion of obvious vandalism)

Unbelievable. They actually decided after learning the truth to allow him to continue editing *his own page*? The system eventually worked, but this whole episode is a clusterfuck that reveals deep flaws in Wikipedia's internal policies. It's not the first of those, but it's exactly the kind of thing that for years now has kept me from investing any time in writing for the site.
posted by mediareport at 8:18 AM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a mess.
posted by homunculus at 8:53 PM on May 19, 2013


From the Salon piece: (One person who knows Young told me that he often liked to assume female personas online.)

Uh-huh. And therein hangs a tale.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 4:59 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]




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