In an article in The Atlantic titled "Wikipedia's hostility to women", Emma Paling reports (October 21) on Wikipedia's gender bias, a recurring topic in media discussions of Wikipedia.
Leading with a detailed account of the gender-based and sexual harassment Lightbreather experienced prior to being site-banned in an arbitration case (see previous Signpost coverage), Paling goes on to say,
||Wales said when he created the site it would be based on a "culture of thoughtful, diplomatic honesty" and a "neutral point of view" – but over time, that point of view came to be dominated by whoever joined Wikipedia first and wrote the most. As a result, Wikipedia has become a kind of Internet oligarchy, where those who have been around the longest have the most control.
"Most people look at Wikipedia, and see the text, and assume that it's unproblematically produced by volunteers and always on a trajectory to improvement," said Julia Adams, a sociologist at Yale University who's studying how academic knowledge is portrayed on Wikipedia. "But that is simply not the case."
ArbCom is a prime example. Because ArbCom members are mostly male, biases appear in the committee's decision-making, said Molly White, an editor who goes by GorillaWarfare on Wikipedia and is one of ArbCom's two female members. ArbCom members also tend to be white, formally educated, and from the global north, she added. "I don't think anyone on the Arbitration Committee is intentionally trying to keep women and other minorities out of Wikipedia, but I do think that the decisions sometimes have that effect," White said.
Paling notes, correctly, that the Wikimedia Foundation has come nowhere near realising its 2011 goal to increase female participation to 25 percent; even in the Foundation's Inspire campaign, specifically designed to look for proposals to address Wikipedia's gender gap, only 34 per cent of those who submitted ideas identified as female, according to Paling. The imbalance affects content as well as the editing climate, Paling says, quoting again Julia Adams:
||When institutions like Wikipedia "involve systematic distortion, then we get farther and farther away from accurate understandings of the world," said Adams. "And that presents all kinds of problems – some of them trivial, some of them quite big."
Paling cites "Categorygate" (see previous Signpost coverage) as one example of this, and describes efforts led by editors like Emily Temple-Wood to address gender-related gaps in Wikipedia's coverage.
However, challenging the status quo on Wikipedia is no easy task, Paling notes.
||All the Wikipedia contributors interviewed said that if a woman wants to last as an editor on the site, there are certain fights she just doesn't pick.
"When you put 'feminism' in anything on Wikipedia, all hell breaks loose," said [Sarah] Stierch. "I've been called a Feminazi more times than I can count."
"The lunatics are running the asylum," she added. "And the non-profit that operates it can't even control them. What do you do when you don't have a principal to tell all the kids to behave?"
Paling's article sparked voluminous discussions on the Gender Gap mailing list, on Jimmy Wales' talk page and in the "Wikipedia Weekly" group on Facebook. These discussions among Wikipedians identified a number of errors of fact that were subsequently corrected in the article.