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Anorak | Is Wikipedia anti-women? No. But the OED and Encyclopædia Britannica might be…

Is Wikipedia anti-women? No. But the OED and Encyclopædia Britannica might be…

by | 27th, April 2013

Internet Protest

WHO writes the stuff on Wikipedia? Men mostly? Is that good or bad? Is Wikipedia a place where women are held back? Is is sexist?

Jim Giles says its Westerners:

The most active editors live in the US and Europe … and this means the supposedly global project is skewed towards Western interests. According to a 2011 study by Mark Graham at the University of Oxford and colleagues, the snowy wastes of Antarctica have more articles dedicated to them than all but one of the countries in Africa. In fact, many African nations have fewer articles than the fictional realm of Middle Earth. These regions, notes Graham, are “virtual terra incognita”.

Then there is the gender issue. Around 90 per cent of Wikipedia editors are men, and it shows. In 2011, Shyong Lam of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and colleagues measured the length of around 6000 Wikipedia articles about movies. This is a good proxy for quality, since longer articles tend to be more thorough. Lam found that movies aimed at a more female audience tended to get short shrift. Relatively threadbare coverage of When Harry Met Sally is not a big issue, but Lam believes the problem is a wider one. Female editors tend to work on topics like the arts and philosophy, but their lower participation may be making these articles shorter than others….

Wikipedia was the place where the radical rethinking of the encyclopedia began. Yet its future may now be threatened by a strain of conservatism and parochialism that its early supporters frowned on in traditional publishing.

In 2011, the New York Times said 13% of Wikipedia editors and contributors are women.

Maya made her point:

The Times article generally suggests that the problem when it comes to Wikipedia is the same one that plagues the real world: women often aren’t as assertive about putting forth their views. On the other hand, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones argues that men are simply more likely to have the obsessive personalities required to spend hours writing and editing a Wikipedia post and Anna North at Jezebel thinks that a male-dominated “nerd culture” may provide a “web-specific reason” for the disparity. Meanwhile, the anti-feminist blogosphere offers the simplest explanation yet: women just don’t care and are too busy “chatting with [their] friends about all the various boyfriends drifting in and out of their lives.” 

Of course, is any of it important? The chief editors of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1837 to know are:

James Murray
Henry Bradley
William Craigie
C. T. Onions (Mr)
Robert Burchfield
Edmund Weiner
John Simpson

Do we trust the OED less because men are in control of the contents?

The Encyclopædia Britannica’s current board is made up of:

Wendy Doniger
Richard Fishman
Benjamin M. Friedman
Leslie H. Gelb (Mr)
David Gelernter
Murray Gell-Mann
Vartan Gregorian
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood
Lord Weidenfeld of Chelsea

Wikipedia isn’t holding women back. It’s bucking the trend. It’s a veritable feminist fest…

Photo: Mallory Whitt works at her desk at the offices of the Wikipedia Foundation in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. 



Posted: 27th, April 2013 | In: Reviews, The Consumer Comment | TrackBack | Permalink