Where Are the Women? Wikipedia Edition

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This blog (i.e., Bridget and Ann) has (have) done a great job of calling attention to the underrepresentation of women in law reviews and symposia (for example, here and here). An article in the New York Times has now called attention to the underrepresentation of women in a more informal forum–that is, among the contributors to Wikipedia. A study revealed that “barely 13%” of Wikipedia’s hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.

A couple of things that I would like to highlight in the article and ask our readers to comment on: First, take a read of this paragraph from the story:

Sue Gardner, the executive director of the foundation, has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, but she is running up against the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.

(The foundation they refer to is the Wikimedia Foundation, which is the organization that runs Wikipedia). Increasing the participation of women is a laudable goal. But do women really not “love” facts as much as men? Is this playing into stereotypes about women and emotion? Would women lawyers, legal academics, and law students say that they feel uncomfortable dealing with facts?

Continuing in the vein of questioning the extent to which this article is trading in/playing off of stereotypes, take a look at this passage:

With so many subjects represented — most everything has an article on Wikipedia — the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.

Even the most famous fashion designers — Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo — get but a handful of paragraphs. And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on “Sex and the City” includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on “The Sopranos” includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode.

Gender disparity among contributors might very well lead to some differences in what is emphasized in articles, but are the only examples available friendship bracelets, fashion designers, and “Sex and the City”?

I would be interested in hearing what our readers think about this article.

-Tony Infanti

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3 Responses to Where Are the Women? Wikipedia Edition

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Where Are the Women? Wikipedia Edition | Feminist Law Professors -- Topsy.com

  2. Tony,
    In my own post about the Gender Gap on Wikipedia, I used Colin Firth and the politics of hair as examples of women-specific topics… I hope that doesn’t disqualify me from making a comment here.

    While I’d have preferred the NYT to have a more feminist/less stereotypic approach to the gender divide issue, it seems that the Wikipedia organization itself is low on the enlightenment scale. The idea that gender parity isn’t valuable for its own sake was more problematic to me. Must we play into the stereotype that gender parity is only valuable when/if it influences the ‘product’? I think not. And, I think its a shame that the social justice issues weren’t raised in the article.

    “Her effort is not diversity for diversity’s sake, she says. “This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be,” Ms. Gardner said in an interview on Thursday.”

    Another absence was conversation about what could be done, versus what wasn’t going to be done.

    “Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas. ”

    That subtle persuasion will change things, sure, bu how much?
    I’m recommending a different approach: The Womens Wikipedia Hackathon, aka “WWHACKathon”
    If folks are interested they can read more about it here : http://bit.ly/eMtNr7

    CV Harquail

  3. thebewilderness says:

    Couldn’t possibly be the misogyny that rears it’s ugly head every time a woman tries to add factual information to a subject the boys have ownership of now could it?
    Reading the editing discussion page clearly demonstrates the reason for the disparity.

    Obviously girls aren’t interested in facts or they would write lots of paragraphs about a fictional teevee show and designer fashions they can’t afford. Hello?

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