Wikipedia, our non-feminist counterpart, is the world’s biggest online encyclopedia. What are encyclopedias supposed to be? Right, collections of knowledge about all branches of life, in A-Z order. In Wikipedia’s huge knowledge base, quite a lot of information is missing though. Information about women, about “female” topics, written by women contributors. This presents a problem because it does not do justice to the many women whose legacies deserve a Wikipedia page (only 18% of all biographies on the English Wikipedia are about women), it denies women access to information about topics of their interest, and biases of male-identifying contributors disproportionally influence Wikipedia content.
To illustrate the latter point: Wikipedia’s overview of female porn actresses has been edited over 3,000 times by more than 100 contributors, whilst the list of female writers used to be full of gaps (this has been fixed after The Guardian reported about it). So, the male gaze is very present on Wikipedia, too. Another example of gender bias in Wikipedia content is that entries about women often cover their family life, relationship status and gender-related topics at length, in contrast to entries about men. Deviations from the ‘white heterosexual cis-male-norm’ thus receive extra attention because they are deemed “deviant” and thus noteworthy. This tendency also explains why entries about non-heterosexual people often explicitly mention their sexual orientation, which doesn’t happen in biographies of heterosexuals.
What explains these biases? An important reason is that by far most Wikipedia contributors identify as men. In most languages, they make up about 90% of all contributors. There are several reasons why women contribute less. One is that some women doubt their expertise on a topic and therefore refrain from writing about it. Another reason is that they have less free time than men – a sad reality demonstrated in many studies, arising from the fact that many women juggle work, household tasks, childrearing, informal care, and so on. Third, some women contributors experience the Wikipedia community as being sexist and misogynistic, which could explain why they see their contributions being frequently edited or deleted.
A lot of work is being done to close Wikipedia’s gender gap. The Wikimedia Gender Gap Project encourages women to share their knowledge on Wikipedia, inter alia via a Telegram channel. Other groups addressing the issue are Women in Red, WikiWomen’s Collaborative, WikiProject Women and the WikiWomen User Group. If you want to start writing for Wikipedia yourself, have a look at this TED contributors guide. Or join an edit-a-thon, an event where a group of people writes entries around a specific topic (like women’s biographies!). Is contributing to Wikipedia not for you? Then consider writing for THIS IS GENDERED!