Wikipedia struggles to close the gender gap

Ninety-one percent of the active editors on Wikipedia are male, which might explain why porn stars are sometimes more highly ranked than female scientists. 


Lauren Rae Orsini


Published Mar 22, 2012   Updated Mar 3, 2020, 7:36 am CST

Anyone with Web access can edit Wikipedia. However, only a small percentage of women take advantage of that privilege.

A look at the encyclopedia’s demographics shows that 91 percent of its active editors are men, meaning just nine percent are women.

In commemoration of Women’s History Month, a group of Wikipedia editors—both male and female—had a frank, round-table discussion about how to make steps toward closing that gender gap. The chat was organized and written up by Sarah Stierch, a Wikimedia Community Fellow who aims to bring more women and women’s content to Wikipedia.

To the group, it was obvious that a mostly male editing team will make Wikipedia content biased. Kippelboy, a Wikipedia editor from Barcelona, said an equally gendered staff would better adhere to the site’s fundamental principles.

“One of the five pillars of Wikipedia says “Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view,” he said. “If we strive for articles that document and explain the major points of view in a balanced and impartial manner, we need women to be represented in this project.

The editors already noticed extreme examples of bias on English Wikipedia. Valerie Aurora, cofounder of the Ada Initiative, said it was “absurd” that Wikipedia’s male editing team ranks pornstars as more notable than accomplished female scientists.

“Right now on English Wikipedia, about 90 percent of the people writing and voting on articles are men,” she said. “This is how you end up with the absurdity of arguing whether a woman scientist is notable enough to deserve a Wikipedia article at the same time that women starring in pornography [who win a pornographic award] are automatically considered notable.”

Notably absent from the chat was any discussion of why the editors think more women don’t currently edit Wikipedia. Not one of the participants suggested a theory.

According to Wikipedia’s latest editor demographics, “very few editors feel like they’ve been harassed, and very few feel Wikipedia is a sexualized environment.” That might be hard to believe for those who haven’t forgotten about Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales’ sexual escapades, in which he’s been accused of trading sex for edits.

“[A]n edits-for-sex accusation-cloud is going to follow Jimmy Wales around forever,” blogged Guardian reporter Seth Finkelstein.

If Wikipedia is really going to close the gender gap, the editors are going to need more balanced and impartial reporting on the issues at hand.

Photo by Wikipedia

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*First Published: Mar 22, 2012, 11:25 am CDT