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Humanist Archives: Feb. 3, 2019, 7:20 a.m. Humanist 32.415 - women & Wikipedia

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 415.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
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        Date: 2019-02-03 00:44:25+00:00
        From: kara.kennedy@pg.canterbury.ac.nz
        Subject: RE: [Humanist] 32.409: the question on Wikipedia

Hi all,

I’d like to introduce the topic of women into this very interesting and
insightful conversation about Wikipedia, which has only been alluded to. It is
one of the key concerns I have about the site, and as long as Wikipedia retains
its dominance, I think it is worth investing time into, despite the other issues
the site has.

As I see it, Wikipedia suffers from similar problems to the tech industry,
namely that it  became a ‘boys’ club’ where (often young) men claimed ownership
over what they perceived to be their territory and created an increasingly
hostile environment for others, including women, to enter, operate in, and
remain. Since the Wikipedia administrators are chosen based on their level of
contribution, you end up with an administrator class that is also largely male
and can help perpetuate the existing culture, which they may have helped form. I
have anecdotal evidence of editors starting reversion wars or aggressive debates
because they have created a page or performed many edits on it and somehow
believe it is ‘theirs’ to control.

There are also issues with what content is updated, the lack of articles on
women compared to men, what the administrators vote to become featured articles
on the home page which get much more visibility, etc. These issues are not
necessarily unique to Wikipedia as an encyclopedia, but it reaches millions more
people including those who lack access to traditional scholarly sources so the
negative impact on women and other marginalized groups is arguably much greater.
It becomes a problematic cycle where people think that if it’s not online (i.e.
on Wikipedia) it doesn’t exist or isn’t important, and women and other
underrepresented groups are not likely to become editors, so the situation is
not likely to improve. Research on why women are less likely to contribute shows
that it is yet another area of tech they aren’t encouraged in. I tend to agree
with the hypothesis of Collier and Bear (2012) in “Conflict, confidence, or
criticism: An empirical examination of the gender gap in Wikipedia”, who found
that these three ‘C’s’, in addition to a lack of free time to edit, were key

I think it is educational institutions’ longstanding reluctance to engage with
Wikipedia that has let this situation drag on for so long. High school and
university students that I tutor say that they are told not to use it by their
teachers (who probably learned that from their teachers), and my explanation to
them about the biases and inner workings is new information. Regardless of what
we in academia think about the site, it is the go-to source of information for
millions who are likely to accept the info at face-value. If every high school
and tertiary-level English teacher (and other disciplines as well) taught their
students about Wikipedia and had them work on one article (similar to the
#1Lib1Ref project), it could be a game-changer. As long as it remains on the
margins though, it will remain dominated by the group of administrators and
relatively small group of male editors based in the Global North. For more info
on this topic, see my conference paper “Why Women Should Be Editing Wikipedia”


Kara Kennedy
PhD, English
University of Canterbury

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