Where Are All the Wiki-Women?

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Today's disclosure that only 13 percent of Wikipedia articles are written by women had much of media world shaking their digital heads. It's a little surprising, especially given that the option of contributing to Wikipedia's vast cultural database is open to anyone with an idea and a keyboard, with little of the implicit male-dominated infrastructure of more traditional corporate or media organizations. The disparity is evident in the content of the website, as the New York Times reports. "Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in 'The Simpsons,'?" Noam Cohen asks. For something in which anybody can partake, it's worth wondering why the numbers of women who participate would fall so short of their male counterparts. Does Wikipedia's techie-and-hacker appeal discourage women? Or does Wikipedia represent something more fundamental about gender in our society?

  • The Gender Gap at Wikipedia might reflect deeper issues in the real world, reports Noam Cohen at the New York Times. "In almost every space, who are the authorities, the politicians, writers for op-ed pages?" asks Jane Margolis, co-author of a book on sexism in computer science in the article. A New York-based organization called the OpEd Project studies the issue specifically, reports the Times, and found that a participation rate of "roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common" in "'public thought-leadership forums ... whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages."
  • Men Are More Wiki-Centric (Read: Obsessive), counters Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, saying the disparity at Wikipedia is representative of a fundamental difference between male and female pursuits.
The gender disparity is real. But I suspect the reason has less to do with women having trouble asserting their opinions and more to do with the prevalence of obsessive, Aspergers-ish behavior among men. After all, why would anyone spend endless hours researching, writing and editing a Wikipedia post for free about either The Simpsons or Mexican feminist writers? I think that "having an opinion on the subject" is far too pale a description of why people do or don't do this. You need to be obsessed. You need to really care about the minutia of the subject and whether it's presented in exactly the right way. And you need to care about this in a forum with no professional prestige. You're really, truly doing it just for the sake of the thing itself. I've long been convinced that this tendency toward obsession is one of the key differences between men and women. I don't know what causes it. I don't know if it helped primitive men kill more mastodons during the late Pleistocene.
  • It's In the Technology, writes Matt Warman at The Telegraph. "So if it isn't the community that's putting people off, [Wikipedia Founder Jimmy] Wales reasons that it's more likely to be the interface: he says that one of Wikipedia's more important next steps will be to make editing it both easier and more intuitive."
  • Women Needed, writes Discover Blog. "More women Wikepedia contributors would mean a more diverse website–one where formerly terse entries become more nuanced, and past untouched subjects get mentioned–creating, in short, a better and more informed Wikipedia."
  • Not Into Affirmative Action  "The community of Wikipedia contributors is famously independent-minded," says Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at Business Insider, "and might rebel at affirmative action-like initiatives to bring in more female contributors."
  • Wikiquips "Wikipedia hopes to raise its female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, while Wikipedia's current contributors hope to someday have a date. And to learn who Manolo Blahnik is!" Jokes Joe Coscarelli at the Village Voice. They're WikiGeek's implies New York Magazine of the people behind Wikipedia's content. "Possibly relatedly, most people who play World of Warcraft and Dungeons & Dragons are also men." Wikigroans Something Awful has created a humorous site for comparisons in absurd Wikipedia content biases. They compare the entries on both Women's Suffrage and a List of fictional gynoids and female cyborgs and note that both are around the same length.

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