In late 2013, a reporter at the New York Times made a startling observation: that Wikipedia had gradually started removing women authors from its "American Novelists" list—and, instead, siloing them in a new category: "American Women Novelists."
The intention appears to be to create a list of "American Novelists" on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men," Amanda Filipacchi wrote. "The explanation at the top of the page is that the list of 'American Novelists' is too long, and therefore the novelists have to be put in subcategories whenever possible." Apparently, Wikipedia editors decided that "woman" is a subcategory.
How did this happen? Easy. "About 90 percent of Wikipedia editors are men," Wired points out.
Theories abound for why Wikipedia's diversity problem exists. For starters, [Katherine Maher, chief communications officer for the Wikimedia Foundation] says, Wikipedia grew out of the open source technology community, which, has long been predominantly male. She also points out that content on Wikipedia has to be backed up by secondary sources, sources that she says throughout history have contained a bias toward white men.
Just think of how often you and your friends use Wikipedia—I use it on a near-daily basis. Even more disturbing, think of how often young women use Wikipedia—and how a sexist (whether intentional or unintentional) entry can skew a student's perspective and knowledge base for a lifetime.
"Wikipedia reflects society as a whole, and historically, women and people of color have not been represented in mainstream knowledge creation or inclusion in that knowledge," Maher told Wired. And that's why the powers that be at the Wikimedia Foundation are working hard to get women more involved in the Wikipedia editing process.
This Saturday, right before International Women's Day, Wikimedia is hosting an Art and Feminism meetup at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It'll be an edit-a-thon (like a hack-a-thon, but with editing). If you're in New York this weekend, here's the info:
Join us at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Education and Research Building at the Museum of Modern Art, 4 West 54 Street, on Saturday, March 7, 2015 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for an all day communal updating of Wikipedia entries on subjects related to art and feminism. We will provide tutorials for the beginner Wikipedian, reference materials, childcare, and refreshments. Bring your laptop, power cord and ideas for entries that need updating or creation. For the editing-averse, we urge you to stop by to show your support.
If you're not able to make it, you can still help influence Wikipedia entries to be more fair to women. The site is run by people just like you and me—and the more you actively participate in editing and contributing the knowledge you have, the better it can be.