Quick Hit: Only 13% of Wikipedia Contributors Are Women

Thee Wall Street Journal reports on a new study that shows only 13% of Wikipedia contributors are female.

Join the Conversation

  • Hara

    Why is that?

  • FGJ

    Or more practically:
    * Who here has considered contributing to Wikipedia? If you haven’t, why do you think that is?
    * For anyone who has considered it, did anything turn you away? What obstacles did/do you face as a Wikipedia editor?

  • FGJ

    Addendum: my own difficulties with Wikipedia are documented in a community post I did a while back: http://community.feministing.com/2009/01/more-on-acoas-and-wikipedia.html

  • Ista

    I’ve never really felt the desire to. I have so much to do that I wouldn’t want to take the time to add to these things.
    A lot of times, as well, I sort of feel like… considering that you can get edited right away, and some of the articles that I could contribute to you have to have super extra ultra clearance… it feels a bit cliquish as well as just not something that’s long lasting.

  • Ista

    Yeah, that’s pretty much why I don’t contribute, or choose to. Horror stories like that. (Or frustrating stories) Where you get banned for having an opinion or putting up something unnecessary.

  • Flowers

    I posted the date of death for my own great-grandfather, and wikipedia removed it because I didn’t cite a source. Did they want a picture of his tombstone?! I think me and my own family ought to know when he died.
    Yeah, after that, I never posted again. And I never believed anything on it again.

  • Brian

    That it’s open to all is pretty often mistake as welcoming to all. It’s certainly a Byzantine labyrinth where the politics are viscous precisely because the stakes are so small.
    With respect to any gender bias, the Wikichix might be a good place to look for information, but new users almost always encounter a very hostile atmosphere pretty early on. Certainly that’s been the experience of most people I’ve known, male or female.

  • Athenia

    For some reason, I feel like guys are more obssessed with data-collecting and recording than women.
    It’s kinda like how history is considered a “manly” topic because writing your version of history is power.
    Anyway, I have a few male family members and friends who are like this.

  • tomorrowshorizon

    I’ve posted to Wikipedia a couple of times, but I don’t feel like wasting my time and energy arguing with the established wikipedia gods and objectivity trolls on every single comment page.

  • nestra

    I contribute regularly to wikipedia and have not experienced any barriers to participation. They are very rules oriented there and I was reprimanded early on for not signing my edits correctly.
    Mostly I take out statements without proper citations, correct poor grammar, or mark seemingly biased passages now, but I used to be active on two topics. One I left because of an ongoing feud between two posters (both men — it’s a small community and we knew each other vaguely in real life) that made me uncomfortable.
    The other article was a biographical post about a mental health care activist who is a proponent of not treating children with autism, even with behavioral and speech therapy, and instead just letting them be themselves. I added the adjective “controversial” about one of her opinions and cited several articles about her and interviews that painted her theories in a negative light.
    Within an hour, she had blasted me, using my wikipedia username, on her blog and encouraged her readers to change all of my edits, even on completely unrelated topics, and file formal complaints about my edit on her page. It was really ridiculous in hindsight, but it made me uncomfortable about working on any article that I had any real interest in.

  • Brian

    While there are no barriers to participation, there are obstacles to participation, and “hostile work environment” is certainly a big one. An enormous one. And probably one that works towards creating this type of imbalance, even if there’s no specific hostility for women (There probably is gender specific antagonism, at least on occasion, but of course one is free to not divulge their gender. But I don’t think this’s likely to be a driving factor, more than women being socialised moreso than men to avoid environments where everyone is an asshole, all the time.)

  • katemoore

    I used to edit Wikipedia a crapton a few years ago. Like, my edit count was in the thousands, not that stuff like that matters. Most of it was typos and the like, though.

  • ATorres

    There was a discussion about this on a violence against women prevention list-serve I am on. The issue was that the Wikipedia entries on the Violence Against Women Movement and Act were very misleading, incorrect in some cases, and slightly sarcastic and minimizing to the work of women rights advocates. Every time an advocate would try to make corrections and update the entries, it would be removed and edited back to it’s original misleading version. I think many advocates felt like it was pointless to try and change it-or didn’t have the same kind of time and energy around it that these majority male editors have to maintain sexist and incorrect posts.

  • allieb87

    I agree that Wikipedia can seem hostile and cliquish. Quite simply, I am sensitive and the internet is not generally kind to sensitive people. I am not think-skinned enough for Wikipedia.

  • allieb87

    *thick-skinned

  • FGJ

    One of my hypotheses is that, although there’s not much specific hostility towards women, there is a lot of hostility and it’s coming mostly from men who are unfamiliar with women’s perspective. I think that’s enough to make the environment more hostile towards women.

  • Brian

    Wikipedia’s environment is hostile and cliquish. There’s no reason to beat about the bush.

  • allieb87

    Thanks to my aforementioned sensitivity, I usually avoid making concrete statements in comment sections unless I have a very specific point to make. If I say Wikipedia “seems” hostile then no one can attack me for disagreeing with them. Yeah, I know that’s pretty weird.

  • ladybeethoven

    I had an annoying experience a while back with Wikipedia’s obsession with “NPOV.” While I agree it’s generally a good policy, I feel like, with the “notoriety” policy, you get your power-drunk users who take it way too far.
    I’m a graduate of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme and I edit a lot of the related Wikipedia pages, and for a while on the IB page there was a link in the “External Links” section to an article published by some pastor/politician type about how the IB is a communist, un-American, pantheistic, insert-right-wing-diss-here organization designed to recruit American kids for the UN. There was nothing in the article about this as a significant criticism of the IB, it was just provided at the bottom as a “counterpoint.” I got rid of it and posted on the talk page about how the author doesn’t back up their claims, and all it does is spread misinformation about a good program (misinformation that has gotten a few IB programs shut down in recent years because parents gulped it down without questioning). Yet, the link got put back up by one person, claiming there was a lack of “consensus” (even though most of the other posters, except for this one person, agreed with me it didn’t belong here, so if anyone was violating consensus, it was this guy) and stated that we needed it there simply because we needed to “show both sides.” There was plenty of stuff in the article about legitimate criticism of the IB curriculum, so there was no need to provide one guy’s angry paranoid rant as “the other side,” but said poster kept putting it back up every time someone else removed it. Finally, the site this rant was on stopped hosting it, and it was removed for the last time as a broken link.

  • Zailyn

    I think my experience may explain some of it – I’ve never edited anything because I’ve never felt I had the necessary expertise in a subject. It was always “oh, I’m sure there’s someone who knows a lot more than me! Besides, who am I to go change what the person before me has written?” Which, now that I think about it, is a very socialised-female kind of behaviour. Boys don’t tend to be encouraged to doubt themselves and defer to others nearly as much.

  • Nepenthe

    I’m a dedicated Wikipedian, with in the neighborhood of 15,000 edits over the past three years. I’m kind of surprised that so many other women edit; I would have guessed 8% or 5%. I edit under a strictly gender neutral identity, but since I contribute sometimes to articles relating to feminism I have received gendered abuse. Most of the time though, other editors assume that I am a man.
    I’d certainly encourage anyone who is interested in Wikipedia to check out contributing, but I think a lot of contributors come in with a fundamental misunderstanding of our purpose and how the site functions, so everyone has a bad experience. I’m not sure what Wikipedians can do to help. Personally, I try to be as welcoming as possible with new editors, but there are a lot of assholes on Wikipedia and there are no guarantees that anyone besides an asshole will be watching the page that you edit.

  • Shyva

    The thing is, for Wikipedia, if you read some of its guidelines, it explicitly says that it’s not about “Is this information true?” but “Is this information verifiable?” So while you may have had first hand experience with something that YOU know to be true (e.g. death of a family member), no one else knows who you are or whether you’re a reliable source, rather than just making things up. So the standard of quality of information is “Is it verifiable?” as in, has it been published/can you cite a reliable source (e.g. county records, an obituary, etc.). These guidelines are actually in place to prevent people from going “Well Wikipedia isn’t reliable, anyone can add anything to it!” because if everything is sourced to legit channels, the information IS accurate–or at least as accurate as an aggregate of those channels is. If there’s any exception to this, it’s for experts that have been vetted and proven to be such in their fields.
    It’s a very common mistake to make when new to Wikipedia. It’s frustrating at first, but once you understand it, it’s not so bad.

  • Nepenthe

    Additionally, if anyone has any questions about Wikipedia policies or politics or needs any help getting started, I’d be happy to do that.

  • Pharaoh Katt

    I want to know how they know. I mean, anonymous edits are IP logged, and an IP doesn’t have a gender. Not to mention all the gender-neutral nicks, or the people with nicks which imply a different gender than theirs…

  • Nepenthe

    It was a survey of users, for editors and non-editors alike. I remember taking it, I think. They asked basic demographic information and questions about how/if you use Wikipedia. So they’re basing their results on the number of people who said that they edited Wikipedia (I’m not sure what frequency they counted) and identified themselves as female.

  • Nepenthe

    You know who my favorite people are? People who edit their own Wikipedia articles. Except not. I don’t know what it is, but writing about themselves makes even really smart and with-it people go nuts.
    I’ve had a grand total of one good experience with this sort of person, and that’s with a woman who probably should get a Nobel Prize or something. I could deal with an ego problem from her, she’s earned it. But not, like, the dude who invented the handles for paper grocery bags or someone. Especially when the caps lock on his keyboard is apparently broken.
    Umm… in short, I sympathize.