Feminists Gather at MOMA to Combat Wikipedia’s Gender Gap

Wikipedia is the world’s most popular encyclopedia. But it has a major problem: gender diversity. Only 13 percent of editors identify as a woman.  And that’s reflected in the kind of content on the site, too.  Almost two decades after its founding, Wikipedia still struggles to represent everyone. Meg Dalton went to the art+Feminism edit-a-thon to find out how some people are trying to address the problem.  


 

 

It’s just after 10 a.m. on a cold Saturday in March, and Mabel (MA BELL) Colon (CO LOAN) flips open her laptop. To her left, stacks of books. To her right, dozens of people doing the exact same thing.

 

COLON 1

I am trying to create a Wikipedia entry. I’m trying to figure out what person I’m interested in and knowledgeable about enough.

 

Colon and her peers are spending the day, poring through Wikipedia entries in the Museum of Modern Art’s library. They’re armed with computers, tablets, power cords, reference materials and a lot of coffee. Their goal? To improve coverage of women on Wikipedia.

 

COLON 1.5

Our stories aren’t told as often as men’s stories are.

 

Colon grabs her mouse, clicks and opens a new tab. The Wikipedia entry for Judy Woodruff, the anchor of PBS Newshour, pops up.

 

COLON 2

Woodruff has written several books and they only list one. So I thought maybe I could find out what the others ones are and list those.

 

So she does, under her brand new Wikipedia username, Lebambelle. Art+Feminism was just one of hundreds of dedicated edit-a-thons unfolding across the globe this month. Attendees created, fixed and fleshed out Wikipedia pages of women. Last year, the gathering resulted in the creation of 2,000 new pages and improvements to 1,500 articles on Wikipedia.

 

That may sound like a lot. But it’s really just a drop in the bucket. Wikipedia has over 40 million articles in more than 250 languages. And 90 percent of that content is written by men. Wikipedia knows that’s a problem. There’s even an article page about it, called quote “Gender bias on Wikipedia.”

 

WANG 1

I don’t think it’s realistic at all to think we’ll be getting to parity at some point in the near future, but I do think there’s been a lot of progress.

 

That’s Alex Wang (WONG) with the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit behind Wikipedia. In her role, she supports initiatives aimed at improving the gender gap on the site. She says how Wikipedia defines “notability” is probably the biggest barrier to diversifying the content.

 

WANG 2

Understanding who is notable, what does notable mean, what are sources that make someone notable can be a subjective thing.

 

On Wikipedia, notability is a test used by editors to determine whether or not a topic warrants its own article. The site relies on the quantity and quality of secondary sources to signify a subject’s “notability.” And that can be problematic.

 

 

REAGLE 1

Hello this is Joseph.

 

Joseph Reagle (REE-GAL) is the author of Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia. He says notability criteria are important on Wikipedia, but…

 

REAGLE 2

The problem is that it reflects the biases of the outside real world and then they have their own particular biases.

 

Since the majority of editors are men, the content reflects that. For example, Reagle says women have not been subjects of biographies as much as men. Just 15 percent of biographies on English Wikipedia are about women. And the few articles that do exist are written in a gendered way. A woman’s biography is more likely to mention her status as a wife, mother or daughter in the first paragraph, sometimes before her notable achievements.

 

Still, Reagle hesitates about relaxing the notability guidelines for women.

 

REAGLE 3

I don’t know exactly what that would look like. And then my concern would be people would say Oh that’s political correctness and it could just be a very unproductive conversation.

 

In theory, Wikipedia is run by and for the people. Which means the people are the ones who have to correct it. The Wikimedia Foundation can’t do too much to solve the gender gap. Wang says that’s up to the volunteer editors.

 

WANG 3

Like all changes on Wikipedia, it’s really crowdsourced.

 

 

Back at the MoMA, beginner Wikipedian Mabel Colon is on to another entry. Before today, she never thought about contributing to the site.

 

COLON 3

DALTON: Do you think you’re going to continue editing after today?

COLON: I hope I will, I hope I don’t get lazy.

You can’t solve Wikipedia’s gender gap in one day. But you can encourage women like Colon to continue editing outside the museum walls.

 

Meg Dalton, Columbia Radio News.    

 

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