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.

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



Margaret Rhee is the Institute of American Cultures Visiting Researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her Ph.D. in ethnic studies with a designated emphasis in New Media.