Where are All the Wiki-Women?

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Less than 15% of Wikipedia editors are women.  How can that be?  No one hires Wikipedia editors, so no one can claim gender bias or favoritism.  I’ve edited Wikipedia myself, and there’s no background check.  No need to prove you’re a credible source.   Anyone with internet access is free to edit almost every Wikipedia entry.  My ten-year-old could edit Wikipedia if he wanted.

So why are so few women contributing?  A recent piece by Kat Stoeffel in  New York Magazine suggested that socialization is to blame.  Women, she says, aren’t raised to consider themselves authorities on anything.   They don’t contribute, because they don’t think they’re qualified.  I don’t buy it.  Women outnumber men in graduate school in this country.   Women are earning more Ph.D.’s than men.  Women are experts , and they know it.

A second proposed explanation for the paucity of female contribution was free time. Greater responsibility for childcare leaves women with less free time than men.  Less free time means less time to edit Wikipedia.  I don’t buy this argument either.  Regardless as to which gender has more free time, women are more likely than men to volunteer, so why not volunteer to edit Wikipedia?   Lack of free time doesn’t seem like it holds up as an explanation –  women are just choosing to put their volunteer efforts into causes other than creating a giant encyclopedia.

Maybe it’s the internet – too scary and technical for women?  Sorry, but about half of all internet bloggers are women and women tend to dominate social networking sites.  Women seem to be able to navigate the internet just fine.

Still others have suggested Wikipedia’s argumentative culture isn’t attractive to women.  A survey of female contributors found a third had been assaulted, attacked, or treated poorly by colleagues on projects.  However, there’s no indication that this abuse is related to gender, and there’s no information on the percentage of men who have been treated poorly on Wikipedia.  I suspect the figure is similar for men.

In reality, we don’t know what’s keeping women from Wikipedia.  My guess is that women prefer to spend their free time doing something more social than editing an on-line encyclopedia.  Whatever the cause, we need women to get over it.  Otherwise, this massive encyclopedia will become completely skewed in its coverage.  According to Stoeffel, a single character from Grand Theft Auto currently has more Wikipedia citations than Sex and the City, and pages covering women tend to be less developed than those covering men.

Like it or not, Wikipedia is becoming the go-to source for many people.  It’s important that women, and topics important to women, are recognized in this encyclopedia.  This time, there’s no one to blame but ourselves, women.  Let’s get out there and contribute.

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