March 21, 2015
Wikipedia is an accessible resource for all kinds of information, but it has a big problem. Although the site promotes a seemingly democratic model that permits anyone to contribute, female voices are severely underrepresented. Since 2011, Wikipedia executives, like Sue Gardner and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, have issued public calls for more women to contribute, and their opinions seem entirely justified.
The Numbers Behind Wikipedia’s Slant
Is Wikipedia biased against women? While its policies are relatively even-handed as compared to other media outlets and websites, the Wikipedia model may not be as much at fault as its user base is.
According to Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates and hosts Wikipedia and other Wiki websites, women only accounted for 9 percent of all editors in 2011. It’d be great if the huge male majority of Wikipedia edited in a non-biased manner, but history has shown that this simply doesn’t occur.
How Does the Lack of Women Editors Impact Content?
Observer bias is a well-established phenomenon; no matter how impartial they attempt to be, people reveal their own prejudices and preconceptions in their work and their writing. Strict regulations exist for any sort of editing which has opened up the space for Wikipedia consultants and other related services, but women are still struggling to get through. For Wikipedia’s consensus-driven edit scheme to combat this reality, it needs to get more diverse editors on board.
Lest you think Wikipedia has things under control, take note of the fact that its biases are already exhaustively documented by the Foundation itself. The monolithic nature of the editing community has drawn criticism for only representing one side of many issues or neglecting articles its editors didn’t deem worth the effort.
It can be argued that there are instances where the misrepresentation of women overlaps with outright misogyny and toxic behavior. In a discussion of why the gender gap exists, for instance, Gardner and other female contributors noted multiple articles where references to rape scenes in movies and media were changed to use terms like “sex” instead of the word “rape.” While editors often claim these changes are made in order to conform with Wikipedia’s desired neutral point of view, or NPOV, it’s impossible to obtain real neutrality when one side of any potential argument is drowned out by default or automatically silenced.
Changing Wikipedia Culture
Complaints from female editors also include the fact that their edits have been removed for being deemed as lacking in significance without adequate justification. Some editors were also banned from gender related article. Some women who complained about hot-topic issues, like women’s rights articles, faced immediate backlash from the community and even disparaging remarks.
It seems evident that the largely male community doesn’t want to admit it has a problem. If you’re still unconvinced, just look at the fact that editors who identify as women are more likely to be indefinitely blocked from editing following a dispute and more likely to have their edits reverted.
Wikipedia’s gender gap has been the source of much outside discussion. While issues like the fact that the men of most nations have more free time to edit certainly plays a role, the solution may come from changes within Wikipedia instead of broader social transformations. The most effective fix could simply be for current editors to become more accommodating of people from all backgrounds and foster the growth of a more inclusive culture.
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