Wikipedia's Gender Gap. Revisited

A couple of year’s ago, I wrote this blog’s most popular post: “I Finally Figured Out What Is Wrong With Wikipedia.” The crux of the article was a study showing that only about 13% of contributors were women. Obviously, a curated encyclopedia of supposed educational content with such a disparity of contributorship can’t possibly cover all the angles.

Fast forward to today, and an article from Sunday’s New York Times reveals Wikipedia is still struggling under the weight of the same deficit. Sue Gardner, Director of the Wikimedia Foundation has set a laudable goal for herself: increase female contributorship to 25% by 2015, but she recognizes some steep obstacles.

Not the least of which is what is perceived to be women’s aversion to conflict, an exercise found in abundance in the Wikipedia world, with roots in hacker mentalities and argument-fueled, semi-anonymous discourse that pervades the entire on-line world in abundance. Men, supposedly, feed off this conflict, while women are turned away from it.

Gardner also cites the massive disparities in quantities of writing pertaining to issues of interest to women compared to issues of interest to men. Although a somewhat banal example, check out the Wikipedia entries for the television shows “Sex In The City” and “The Sopranos” to get a sense of the interest divide.

Normally, I find myself accustomed to such divides, but the numbers relative to Wikipedia make me squirm: a sizable percentage of online researchers stop there first, and the number of adults who use the site to look for information has nearly doubled from 2007 to 2010.

How to fix this? I am not certain. Although I don’t normally shy away from conflict (I am a lawyer after all), I feel that the burden of time is my enemy here. I simply don’t have enough of it to spend creating new articles of interest to women or updating and expanding existing articles. However, maybe it is time to put a bit of effort in. Maybe we female Internet authors should pay a bit more attention to the single most popular research resource on the Web, if for no other reason to get our voices out there as authorities and to beef up those topics that interest and affect us. Perhaps if we build it, they will come.


5 comments on “Wikipedia's Gender Gap. Revisited

  1. Great piece, thanks for doubling back to this!

    To add to the discourse, I think establishing a working group or even creating a listserv of women writers, scholars, professionals, etc. might be the best way to drum up support in the hopes of fixing this glaring contribution deficiency. That listserv then becomes an avenue to get the word out about the areas in which their expertise — or crumbs of knowledge, as coined by Cohen — might prove most valuable. For those with the time to actively monitor the content gaps, the listserv can be utilized as a tool to quickly disseminate that information in the hopes that at least one subscriber, but hopefully more, answers the call to action.

  2. That is a great idea – forming a more welcoming community for women writer / scholars who can then branch put to positively affect the intellectual side of the Internet with their own unique voices and perspective. Understanding of the divide and positive dialog is a good start!


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  4. This disparity bothers me, Martha. I use Wikipedia all the time, although I’ve contributed very little to it. Like you, I simply don’t have time to contribute. I think that’s gonna be my issue with Quora, too.

  5. It will be the problem with all public wikis for a while, Mary. I have had very little engagement with other women on Quora. But if we can find the time, maybe we can improve the situation, one Wikipedia article and one Quora question at a time.

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