Gender-Balancing Wikipedia, One Article at a Time

Screen shot 2015-03-13 at 1.06.30 PMOver International Women’s Day weekend, dozens of feminists armed with laptops came to the Ms. magazine offices to reclaim the largest encyclopedia in the world: Wikipedia.

A collaboration between Ms. and the Fembot Collective, the Ms. Fembot Edit-A-Thon aimed to “contribute to the digital legacy of women, trans and/or gender non-conforming scientists, writers, scholars, filmmakers, artists, activists, politicians and others by writing them into Wikipedia.”

An astonishing 90 percent of Wikipedia’s editors are men, and that glaring imbalance often trickles down into who gets a Wikipedia entry and who doesn’t. As Wikipedia is one of the top 10 most visited websites in the world, its gender gap causes a very male-centric well of knowledge for the countless folks who use it every day.

Transforming knowledge production was at the heart of the feminist event. As Ms. in the Classroom director Karon Jolna asked in her introductory address: “Imagine if [all of] Wikipedia was written by women?”

More and more feminists are organizing to make that wish a reality. The Ms. Fembot event joined several others across the country–such as the Art + Feminism events—committed to including more women editors and more representation of women within Wikipedia.

feministsworking

Editing Wikipedia at Ms.

The participants at Fembot created numerous entries and made 29 changes within existing Wikipedia entries. Among the accomplishments were the creation of entries on civil rights icon Rosa Lee Ingram, suffragist and playwright Paula O. Jakobi and 91-year-old American inventor Barbara Beskind. (You can read and/or edit all the Fembot entries here.)

Fembot participant Monica Ramsy worked on an entry for Walidah Imarisha, a black poet and science fiction writer. “I love the notion … of opening up these stilted paradigms and re-purposing these spaces that weren’t made for us,” she said.

Events like these are especially relevant during Women’s History Month, when feminists reconstruct cultural narratives that often exclude the contributions of women. Making feminist scholarship accessible in the digital age—and bridging divides between feminist theory and everyday feminism—is a large part of that.

As Ms. cofounder Gloria Steinem famously said:

Women have always been an equal part of the past. We just haven’t been a part of history.

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Graphic courtesy of Fembot, event photo courtesy of author and headshot courtesy of Dannydan Photography

headshot_mrheeMargaret Rhee is a feminist poet, new media artist and scholar. She holds a Ph.D. in ethnic studies and new media studies from the University of California Berkeley. She is a longtime Fembot Collective member. Currently, she is the Institute of American Cultures Visiting Researcher at UCLA.

 

 

Comments

  1. Jackie Phillips says:

    I have read Wikipedia articles for years and I have not found any imbalance in any article. I am able to find detailed articles on a wide variety of subjects.

  2. How can other women participate in your initiative?

  3. Sandra Phoenix says:

    I am interested in researching and writing about women in wikipedia.

    While I am well versed in researching and writing short information filled psych abstracts I am a dinosaur when it comes to technology.

    I tried to connect to wikipedia’s adopt a new author program I couldn’t make it work. I need help in this area and yes I intend to make it a long term contribution as I am disabled and have much free time.

    Can someone contact me to walk me through the process?

    Sincerely,

    Sandra Phoenix

  4. Casey Johnson says:

    Why does it matter what the gender of the editor is? Information is information, and I have not seen bias on the majority of articles that I have read (unless, of course, they are a controversial issue).

  5. WiseWomanTalkin says:

    What a great idea regarding Wikipedia. I have seen a huge amount of gender imbalance on Wikipedia, and take this article as an encouragement that I can make these changes to Wikipedia individually as well as the organized effort that Ms. magazine put together.

    Going further on the topic of gender neutrality, I wanted to recommend this book that took wise sayings and re-wrote them using gender-inclusive language so that everyone can benefit from it equally. Check it out! It’s quite a good read.

    http://www.amazon.com/Famous-Quotations-Revised-Gender-Neutral-Volume/dp/1500382922

    • Norleen Koponen says:

      I totally agree about including more women who have made important contributions and changes in the U.S. and World regarding social justice, science, technology including computer programs as far back as the 1960’s, education, arts and music, etc.

      Also it is important that gender inclusive language be used throughout Wikipedia, the media, textbooks etc. Like “staffing the booth” instead of “manning.” Personhood instead of manhood. People instead of man. Firefighters instead of firemen. Police officers instead of policemen. And so many other non-inclusive gender terms. It makes me, girls and other women feel like they don’t exist or matter — even if they don’t realize it.

      I hope the females and males working this project will access the National Women’s History Project which is a immense resource for Women’s “Herstory!” Thank you for listening and considering my comments.

  6. Jean Richards says:

    Women in Policing might be a good wikiproject. Our communities are being strengthened by the large number of women who are joining the police force.
    Our Chief of Police Adele Frese has introduced us to Community Police Academy and our teens are joining her dynamic Explorers group. Her efforts will ensure a brighter future for us all in our town of Greenfield, California and, ultimately, across our state and nation. The positive contributions of women in Policing would be a great wiki entry, imo.

  7. Elene Gusch says:

    Good luck. Those who have attempted to write usefully about subjects the powers that be at Wikipedia don’t like, such as my profession, acupuncture, have found their entries and corrections summarily removed. I hope you don’t receive such treatment.

  8. What a GREAT article and so relevant today May 12th. (Maybe re-tweet/facebook this) – It’s such a great organization doing needed work.

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