Women, Let’s Claim Wikipedia!

Earlier this year, while I was sequestered in the bat-cave studying for my qualifying exam, I came across something very distressing. As has been widely reported, only 13 percent of the people editing Wikipedia articles are women. Though there are endless articles debating the causes, my interest lies elsewhere: What can be done to change this?

I believe that more women would be involved in editing Wikipedia if it were a social activity, rather than an insular one, so I hosted a WikiWomen party at my house to make the experience collaborative. In attendance were five female chemists: myself, Anna Goldstein, Rebecca Murphy, Chelsea Gordon and Helen Yu. We started the night with a dinner, over which we discussed the experience of being a graduate student and how writing for Wikipedia compares to teaching undergraduates.

To get everyone’s creative juices flowing, Anna made us the Golden Peach (the official drink of WikiWomen): 1 shot Ciroc Vodka, ½ shot DeKuyper Peach Schnapps, 1 shot Sprite. After dinner, we all whipped out our laptops (and power cords) and set to work editing Wikipedia. Anna was the only attendee who had edited Wikipedia before, so the rest of us set to work watching tutorials on YouTube and reading Wikipedia editing guidelines. While somewhat discouraged at first by the long list of rules, we were quickly laughing and helping each other by sharing what we had learned.

We decided to start with what we know best: our own research, and the life and times of our research advisors. Anna created a page for her mentor, Peidong Yang (though, curiously, a page already existed for him in on the German Wikipedia). Rebecca created two new pages related to her research project: magellanine and Lycopodium magellanicum, Helen worked on her search for a graduate research group, creating a page for Linda Hsieh-Wilson at Caltech, and Chelsea created a page for her research area, bioorthogonal chemistry. We also edited existing pages for Carolyn Bertozzi, Ken Raymond, bioorthogonal chemical reporters and Wikipedia’s list of chemists.

There was an ulterior motive to starting with these familiar topics: as a graduate student who is often made to feel stupid by my research, I take solace in Martin Schwartz’s idea of “the importance of stupidity in scientific research.” Though research can make me feel stupid, learning how to do something new and teaching it to others is really refreshing. We reveal the sometimes-hidden degree of our own expertise when we can share it with anyone in the world with an internet connection. It was fun to expose science and our research to others while relaxing with friends. As Chelsea put it,

It was a very empowering experience, and helped me to realize how much science I really know… definitely confidence-building. Graduate students are in the perfect position to contribute to Wikipedia—we are all experts on something!

If you would like to join the next WikiWomen party in the Bay Area, please email me at klemmpj@gmail.com. Ladies, let’s claim Wikipedia!

Reprinted from the Berkeley Science Review with permission.

Photo from Flickr user Mike Licht under Creative Commons 2.0


  1. I started university studying Information Technology, and it almost broke me. I was one of about 4 girls taking the course and I was constantly told what a “great wife” I’d make for someone in the industry. I was socially isolated, I was preyed upon by much older men doing the course, I had issues with a guy from one of my classes stalking me (and accessing the uni databases to get my contact info). Even the stairs in the IT building were designed against women- open backed stairs giving boys the ability to look up your skirt if you walked up them to the computer labs. I broke down, became suicidal, left university. A year or two later I returned to university to do an arts degree which included several gender studies courses. So I don’t believe the issue is just with the industry, I think higher education providers need to create a better support network for women undertaking the degrees.

    Also- one of my first purchases when I turned 18 and got a credit card was an Ohmibod!

  2. This painting looks familiar but I can’t place the artist’s name. Anyone?

  3. Lynne Shapiro says:

    This is so true. A Wikipedia shell about New York Radical Feminists I expanded as a long-time NYRF member from documented information from NYRF newsletters and other sources was destroyed by four Wikipedia guys after it was up as is for over a year. The article has the thread of my fight with them until I capitulated as I had no other women friends to be there with me in the fight.

  4. This is a great idea! Glad to hear about women getting active on Wikipedia. Every little bit helps.

    The painting, by the way, is Young Woman Drawing (1801) by Marie-Denise Villers.

  5. Research Over The World!!!! says:

    Wikipedia is a junk site edited by a selected few biased anonymous editors with multiple screen names. It doesn’t allow free editing as it claims and it’s now coasting on being so underfinanced its on a going-out-of-business sale. It’s been forever going out of business because no one donates money to it anymore, because no one reads it anymore because the junk on it is censored, biased, engineered and criminal. Its basically now a California-officed tax write-off that caters to the media-entertainment industry junk that traffics through New York-Los Angeles. Jimmy Wales is an unemployed criminal goon and a life dropout, and that’s a REAL FACT. Wikipedia is on such a vertical dive it makes MySpace and Twitter look like a rocket launch. It needs to get sued and BUSTED until its closed for good, once and for all. Good riddance, Wikipedia. We NEVER loved you anyway. NEVER get your information from Wikipedia. Get your information from research like most who seek information have to, or at least start your own Wiki that does it for real.

  6. I’m interning at the National Council for Research on Women this summer, and I’m working on the NCRW Wikipedia page. I hadn’t known that the amount of women on Wikipedia is so disproportionate until I started this project. Made me feel good that I’m boosting women’s stats, even if it’s only be like .0001% or something like that.

    Another problem that arises because of the lack of women on Wikipedia is that the pages about women’s organizations tend to be very short and not terribly informative, or nonexistent in the first place. If any women out there who are familiar with some of the smaller feminist organizations out there want to start editing women-related Wikipedia pages, I think we’d all be happier.

  7. Very awesome! Thanks for posting this, quite an honor coming from Ms. Magazine. I do hope it encourages women to participate. As a Wikipedian, I do hope to explore this topic more within the community, and hopefully Ms. will share those results.

    The feminist and female voice is a necessity in creating a neutral and informative encyclopedia. Thank you again for this article.


  8. oldfeminist says:

    One of the additional benefits of women grad students being Wiki editors is that this might tip the scales when looking for employment. Yes, your official published articles are more important, but Wikipedia is read by so many that a department looking for positive publicity may see your presence there as a plus for them.

  9. It would be such a relief if we could have more women edit Wikipedia. The men there are just too rude.


  10. Just mentioned your blog in my blog today. I’m advocating that we need more skeptical/scientific editing on Wikipedia, I don’t care what gender is doing the editing, it just needs to be done.

    Check my project out at http://guerrillaskepticismonwikipedia.blogspot.co

    Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia

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