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For A More Civilized Age

Wikipedia, Your Gender Bias is Showing

Women of the Internet, start your editing engines. If it’s one thing we’ve learned recently from go-to Web info source Wikipedia, it’s that what the user-edited encyclopedia could use more of is you.

Researcher Santiago Oritz has developed Wikipedia Gender, “an interactive visualization that shows which articles have more male or female editors”. The graph matrix runs the spectrum of user ratio against female-to-male, with scrollover dots and a color key that help identify specific subjects. Two things immediately become clear: First, that the number of male editors far outweighs female editors (as reported by the New York Times earlier this year, women make up just 13% of total contributors). Two, that, apparently, the only subjects where the ratio almost levels out are on drastically female-body-oriented subjects like menstruation, or, for reasons that could perhaps merit their own article, gender identity. In fact, of the 3,000 articles analyzed by Ortiz, the only article that has a female majority is the one for the Cloth Menstrual Pad. Understandable, but….yikes.

Unlike the Daily Dot, however, we at TMS don’t consider Oritz’s motivation of wondering about gender stereotypes and editing to be a “second, lighter motive”. There’s nothing frivolous about looking at what posts and subjects women tend to gravitate towards editing (or, conversely, that men don’t gravitate towards). Ortiz’s findings are interesting, but could also inform an important, ongoing dialogue about identity, culturally-ingrained comfort, and user culture online. While there are larger (but still not equal) measures of female participants in entertainment, TV, and book articles, the traditionally masculine (but not actually female-absent) arenas of technology, math, and science are overwhelmingly dominated by male users. User-edited content creation is less indicative of overall interest, remember, than it is of the comfort level some users might feel participating in a particular area of knowledge, due either to cultural mores or to the behavior of other users.

As Ortiz has said of his study, “The more these biases are well-known, the more are the chances to start fixing them. And I believe that’s the way most of the people working at Wikipedia think.” Encouraging female participation is a complicated endeavor, one that requires changes inside and out. Wikipedia, and its dedicated user base, could make greater strides towards equality by more heavily moderating divisive areas of the site. But, just as important, is for women to get in there and write! A site that strives for a universally-created body of subjects needs a more representative base. The only people who can help it get there are us.

Do play around with Ortiz’s visualization, it’s very interesting.

(via The Daily Dot)

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  • Anonymous

    Holy crap, I had no idea that female input was so low! 13%?? TO THE WIKI…!!!

  • Doctor Oddfellow

    I’ll admit its been a while since I’ve played with Wikipedia but they ask you your gender when you sign up as an editor now? Why is that information necessary?

  • Nihiltres

    If anyone’s interested in editing Wikipedia, I’d be happy (as a Wikipedian) to answer any questions you might have. We’d love to have *you* around the place.

    Good help resources for newbies include the Teahouse (shortcut: search for “WP:TH”), the help channel on Freenode IRC ( ), the help desk (“WP:HD”), or you can ask me questions directly on my talk page over at “User talk:Nihiltres” (likely to be slower than some of the others, though).

    Writing on Wikipedia is a surprisingly academic process: you will probably get asked for sources, for more sources, for *better* sources. People will challenge and rewrite and improve what you do. Always remember that everyone on Wikipedia has the same goal: to make a better free encyclopedia. Skim the rules, get a sense of the place, and don’t panic. ;)

  • Nihiltres

    I don’t believe it’s asked-for when you sign up, but you can, if you want, set a publicly-visible gender in your user preferences later.

    This is most useful for languages other than English, where gender is more explicit in usage, but even in English it’s occasionally used by the software to generate pronouns and such in templates (see, for example, ).

    It does, of course, also help track how many female editors there are for things like the subject of this article.

  • Invisible_Jester89

    I occasionally edit Wikipedia, but not often. I usually go edit whatever needs it, but not a lot.

    I regardless do not thing “heavily moderating” how many male and female users are editing each article will help. There’s some articles that, I’m sorry, guys are not gonna touch, and there’s some articles that I, as a woman, am not going anywhere near. That’s just me, and everyone has the right to make that choice. Rather than moderating a ratio of female to male users on each article, why not just encourage more female users to edit science-based articles? This way, we could get both genders who actually know stuff about what they’re writing on those articles. What good is it to have more females or males on an article if none of those people know what they’re talking about? I mean, I often go in and add some detail to the chemistry articles, because I actually know what I’m doing there. I do NOT edit the differential calculus articles, though, because I know zilch about differential calculus.

  • Stephanie Chan

    I used to edit Wikipedia on occasion. I found the “community” to be rather unhelpful and snobby. I will take up Nihiltres on the offer to help improve, because I had a rally hard time wanting to be involved with something where people are just generally assholes to me instead of being helpful.

  • Anonymous

    Back when I was an undergrad (circa 2002-2006) I was actively involved in editing articles, writing articles, the whole kit and kaboodle, as were many of my friends (male and female). I stopped participating because it stopped being worth it- too many territorial page-squatters, too much lawyering. (I’m not sure what the real term is, but basically people who’d troll via the “rules”), to many asshats in general along with the notability wars and etc etc etc.

  • Anonymous
  • Emma Harcourt

    I have to say, I’m a little concerned about the problem with moderation that the article mentions, and the sort of situation described by novium “I stopped participating because it stopped being worth it- too many
    territorial page-squatters, too much lawyering. (I’m not sure what the
    real term is, but basically people who’d troll via the “rules”), to many
    asshats in general along with the notability wars and etc etc etc”.

    I know too well that it can be hard to be heard as a woman in a male dominated space, and it would be reassuring to know what the moderators policies are on sexual harassment of users and on bullying in general.

  • Doctor Oddfellow

    So the average user may in fact not have a gender listed. Which makes this data set largely irrelevant. Female participation may be far higher than this but not represented for reasons including 1) why is gender relevant?) or 2, more seriously) not wanting to be harassed due to their gender.

  • electrasteph

    This. I gave up when I couldn’t get anything approved to due to the rule trolls bending pages to their bias. arguing against the mansplaining that went on was beyond my level of interest in any given topic.

  • Little Huitzil

    I’ve been editing on Wikipedia on and off for a few years now, and I definitely don’t have my gender listed as female as a safeguard against potential harassment. Maybe I’m being paranoid, though.

  • pokeymcgee

    Hey, why not, since you’re there, use wikipedia to look up what the word gender means? Instead of using it as a synonym for sex in 2012, which I am honestly amazed is something that people with access to the internet and therefore electricity still do!

    You might… idunno, LEARN something! :D

  • Amadi

    This has been my experience as well, in addition to a dude who disliked some edit I made so much that he took it upon himself to monitor my activity on the site and revert or amend everything I edited, down to where I changed obvious typos, like living people whose dates of birth were accidentally entered as 1873 instead of 1973. Without any obvious mechanism to deal with something like that (akin to digital stalking) getting new people, especially women, into the space is going to be tough.

  • Amadi

    What are these articles that guys aren’t gonna touch? Men represent the majority of editors on every topic including menstruation, childbirth, breastfeeding, endometriosis, PCOS, abortion, contraception, even the articles on the vulva and vagina. Would that there actually were topics that they weren’t touching.

  • JW

    “Cloth menstrual pad”, apparently.

  • JW

    Actually, the article does nothing of the sort, from what I can see. While some of the topics imply of course that the editors are physically female as well, technically that isn’t part of this study.

    The people who are even capable of being tracked by this study, are ones who have set their GENDER as being viewable publicly – the author of the study appears to ignored non-gendered Wiki accounts. It’s self-identified; thus, it is indeed “gender” and not just sex, because it is self-identified and technically therefore accounts for transwomen and transmen as well; they’re included in the same groups with the ciswomen and cismen, respectively, depending on which GENDER they publicly identify with one their user pages.

    The Mary Sue did not actually at any point indicate otherwise, though if anything, it should be made more clear in the article how the “gender” of Wiki participants was determined (namely, by self-identification). Other than that, they’re fine.

    So you know, you can calm down and stop being so snobby now.

  • Anonymous

    I think Wikipedia’s insistence on not documenting first-hand experience affects this as well. I can’t cite a scholarly work that tells what a batik is, I can tell you what my art teacher said. If I see Matt Morris in concert and go home and discover Matt Morris leads to a baseball player and make a disambiguation page, I don’t want to argue with you about that. If I rediscover Nancy Springer on my Mom’s bookshelf and go an add a page for her don’t tell me that only winning an Edgar award for her writing isn’t enough.

  • Anonymous

    Also, I’ve had far more negative experiences with editors when I write under my female login name. When I edit anonymously the experience is much more pleasant.

  • Nihiltres

    We have a harassment policy (shortcut: search for “WP:HAR”) but it’s limited; simply following someone’s edits and making changes according to the rules isn’t strictly harassment. There’s also a policy against any sort of personal attack (“WP:NPA”) which can be more clearly enforced. Usually harassment or personal attacks are dealt with first with a warning, then with a block if it’s repeated; egregious behaviour can result in an immediate block.

    A lot of the stuff in the area of harassment is stuck in a grey zone. The line between “following someone’s edits and fixing their mistakes” (reasonable) and “stalking every edit they do” (unreasonable) isn’t all that sharply delineated. If you read the harassment policy, you’ll realize that there’s often a fair amount of judgement involved for admins.

    Of course, as a community harassment or personal attacks are not something we’re cool with at all. The corollary to being “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit” is that anyone’s level of expertise, sex, gender, race, religion, et cetera is irrelevant. First of all: don’t be scared to go into Wikipedia because you *might* be harassed. Second: if you do experience any sort of harassment, be open about it. Ask any user or admin for help (hint: I’m an admin, and the help resources in one of my other comments here will often include admins or other helpful users). Stress that it makes you uncomfortable, and ask for a way out. The solution might be as simple as having your helper communicate with the editor in question—it could be that that editor might not even realize that their behaviour comes across as creepy.

    Also try to remember that one of Wikipedia’s guidelines is to assume good faith (“WP:AGF”). If someone has gone through all your edits and fixed all your typos, gone over your grammar, and perhaps affixed the occasional [citation needed], that’s just collaborative editing: be happy that someone is trying to make your good stuff great. If someone has tagged your new article as needing some sort of cleanup, they’re not commenting on you personally, just issuing you a challenge to raise your content to our (rather high) standards.

  • Heather Rh

    i guess there is always something to be unhappy about