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Sat Apr 27, 2013, 09:16 AM

Yes, Wikipedia is sexist--That's Why it needs You

In a New York Times op-ed, writer Amanda Filipacchi shared her discovery that sexism on Wikipedia is intrusively shaping how women are represented, and in this case, how women are sometimes categorized as a special subset within a broader occupation. [Disclaimer: one of the services my agency offers is teaching webinars and workshops on the principles of Wikipedia editing.] While the veracity of this claim is being debated and questioned within the Wikipedia community (many are pointing out that the edits Filipacchi describes were rejected strongly, and that there are more structural problems with the entries discussed), thereís no doubt that gender and other biases, both conscious/intentional and unconscious, are common on Wikipedia. Over the years, any number of flare-ups around gender have occurred, ranging from harassment via vandalism of womenís pages, to using language and informational structures that marginalize or even erase entire genders, and more.

But saying that ďWikipedia is sexistĒ and hoping its users change their ways misses the mark on the bigger opportunity we have culturally to shift how we represent our information and stories on Wikipedia. Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but over 80% of Wikipediaís editors are young, white, child-free men, which means that their perspective is what largely dominates how information is organized, framed and written. Thereís nothing inherently wrong with a young, white, child-free manís perspective, of courseĖ itís just that there are tons of other perspectives in the world that should influence how a story gets told. Think about how many Americans, for example, learned about white colonistsí relationships with the indigenous peoples that lived on the continent. The purely-Manifest-Destiny version of the events thatís often given to children in school definitely isnít how people whoíve been nearly eradicated would tell that story.

Thus, itís critical that we have as many perspectives as we can find creating the information that we share with one another, and this is a driving force behind one of Wikipediaís main principles: neutral point of view. One personís take can never be completely neutral, but Wikipediaís guidelines hope that with many people participating, the most neutral version of a story will arise.

Which is why itís not enough to sit back and hope for the best when finding sexist, racist, homophobic, trans*phobic, etc., language or information on Wikipedia. In order to fix it, we need lots of different kinds of people to jump in and start editing Wikipedia, too. Thatís a scary prospect, but there are tons of resources available for beginners to get started.


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Reply Yes, Wikipedia is sexist--That's Why it needs You (Original post)
ismnotwasm Apr 2013 OP
redqueen Apr 2013 #1

Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 11:17 AM

1. I read about the separate women novelists thing from another source.

I wonder if it makes more sense to just change the name of the 'main' entry to men novelists and leave it at that. If the logic is that the list is too long, then at least make the titles fair and not sexist. It's pretty fucking shitty to 'other' women that way. It's the twenty first century, FFS. What kind of idiot doesn't get that 101 level stuff, still?

Correcting the sexism at Wikipedia is a big job. Several people have brought it up here over the years and also in some other feminist groups I'm in, trying to get people to help with the editing. I haven't done so yet but I should. Writing letters, raising awareness, going to meetings, making calls, protesting... those are all familiar forms of activism. Editing web pages is a new one. Guess we all have to change with the times.

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