|The logo of Wikipedia, a globe featuring glyphs from many different writing systems. A registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation.|
The main page, the face that Wikipedia puts out to the world, is a good starting place for browsing and procrastination. I went to that main page at 1 am on Tuesday the 24th of August to look for a female name for some fiction I've been working on.
But to my dismay, I didn't find a single lady on the entire front page. Not one.
Wikipedia, our Library of Alexandria, considered the accomplishments of women so insignificant that they did not merit any mention. Not in the Featured Article, or In the News, or On This Day (profiling history), or Did You Know (highlighting new articles). To look at Wikipedia's main page on August 24, 2010, you would think that men made and did everything, and women had nothing to do with anything.
Was this lack of representation of the ladies a one-time thing, I wondered? Or is this a pattern, a reflection of institutionalized systematic oppression of women known as the patriarchy and more broadly, the kyriarchy?
To answer this question, I looked at ten Wikipedia main pages from the past year, and counted the number of women and men who were mentioned by name.* I used archive.org's Wayback Machine for eight of these pages (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.) For the final two, I used the August 24 main page that kicked this project off, and today's page. After studying these ten pages, I found:
- 15 women appeared total, an average of 1.5 women per page. There were no women for the May 20 and October 27 page, and no more than three women on any other day.
- 130 men appeared total, an average of 13 men per page.
- That's a proportion of almost 9 men to every 1 woman.
From a systematic point of view, it's not totally Wikipedia's fault: the world has been dominated by men, and that's reflected in the records we keep and the people we commemorate. Men still dominate every aspect of society from culture to news to sports to politics and everything in between, and they have since time immemorial. And that's a big part of why Wikipedia, an organization devoted to preserving records and making information accessible, focuses so heavily on men.
But it's not completely about history. Women make up only 13% of Wikipedians (Wikipedia editors, the people who research, write, edit, and maintain these pages - and full disclosure, I was an editor for a few years) - a proportion strikingly similar to the number of women represented on its main page. Men focus on men - upon promoting and constructing articles about people like them. Thus, the main page editors have less women-focused articles to promote to the main page.
But it's not just about the proportion of male to female volunteers. Wikipedia's main page editors could find more pages about women, could promote more woman-focused articles as in need of construction in their editor portal. They could highlight news about women, and new articles about women.
But they don't. Because they don't care about the representation of women. Because they don't care if they're replicating existing power structures, structures which likely favor them. Because they focus on being objective - and as so often happens, objectivity just means a perpetuation the dominant, male, kyriarchal point of view.
But what should Wikipedia do to remedy its chronic, sexist under-representation?
- First, this isn't a problem that starts with the main page. If Wikipedia wants to make its content less focused on men, it should promote and foster the growth and comfort of female editors like Lise Broer (who contributed several of the featured pictures in my review) .
- Second, they should make sure that there is always a woman on the main page of Wikipedia. Not including any women on any given day is an act of erasure, pure and simple.
- Third, they should focus on promoting articles about women for development and construction in their editor's portal, consistently asking editors to spend their time on articles about women. More good articles about women will make more articles about women suited to the high quality expected for pages on Wikipedia's main page.
- Finally, they should attempt to slowly bring up the proportional representation of women until at least 40% of all the named individuals on the main page on any given day are women.
Wikipedia's Gender Gap
Is Wikipedia A Victim of its Own Success?
*Focusing on just men and women is more than a little bit reductive - and since I'm looking at the main page in English, it's US-centric and Western-centric. Men oppressing women is far from the only form of oppression. But I've got time constraints, so I focused on the under-representation that I first noticed. If this post proves popular, I'll return for another look on other axes.
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