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Researcher exposes Wikipedia’s gendered editing

Santiago Ortiz says 2,999 of the 3,000 articles analyzed were predominantly male-edited. The exception? Cloth menstrual pad.


Lauren Rae Orsini


Posted on Sep 13, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 11:12 am CDT

There are no limits on who can edit Wikipedia, but just 13 percent of its contributors are women, The New York Times reported earlier this year. Now a researcher has developed a way to show how that affects the site at the article level.

Santiago Ortiz used Wikipedia’s own gender API to develop Wikipedia Gender, an interactive visualization that shows which articles have more male or female editors. Two thousand and ninety-nine of the 3,000 articles shown are predominantly edited by men.

“And then you have the Cloth Menstrual Pad, the single article among the 3,000 I’ve analyzed that having more than 10 editors, has a female majority,” he told the Daily Dot.

The cofounder of visualization studio Bestiario, Ortiz said he developed the project in just four days. It was partly out of curiosity—he wanted to confirm the reported dramatic gender gap.

“The first aim of this graph is to confirm what was already very well-known, which is that the Wikipedia is mainly edited by men,” he said. “That was known and widely commented, but the graph depicts this situation brutally.”

Ortiz also had a second, lighter motive. He wanted to see if gender stereotypes rang true when it came to which subjects women and men chose to edit.

“[T]he answer, or my feeling, is yes in most of the cases, but there are surprises and I think that makes this project playful,” he said. “I won’t comment about this because that would reveal my own preconceptions, but I invite readers to play. A nice starting point is visualizing only films.”

Other gender differences Ortiz’s graphic reveals: articles about technology, math, science, and snowkiting are masculine. TV, films, and books are feminine. And surprisingly to some, “Street racing is extremely feminine,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz said he has yet to hear from the teams at Wikipedia or Wikimedia, but he’s observed members tweeting out his project. He said he hopes they don’t take it the wrong way.

“I understand that this project could be interpreted as bad publicity because the message is, basically, sad. But Wikipedia is about transparency and openness, and as far as I’ve seen that’s how they have been, even when it comes to … facts that show Wikipedia is not perfect—why it should be?—that is not completely objective, that it doesn’t represent necessarily all the layers of knowledge and society—that’s just impossible!—and that it contains a lot of bias both in terms of the contents and editors.

“The more these biases are well-known, the more are the chances to start fixing them. And I believe that’s the way most of the people working at Wikipedia think.”

Photo via @moebio/Twitter

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*First Published: Sep 13, 2012, 9:16 am CDT