Weekly Round-Up: The Gender Gap Strikes Wikipedia

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

From technophiles to technophobes, the internet was abuzz this week about a Time Magazine report (new window), claiming that women constitute a paltry 13% of Wikipedia editors, while 87% are men.

So much for the Internet being a great equalizer?  Bloggers, scholars, and journalists weigh in on the implications:

Feministing (new window):

“It should go without saying that if women make up 51 percent of the population, 13 percent representation at Wikipedia is a DISGRACE!…It seems odd that women are drastically underrepresented at Wikipedia when women in graduate school outnumber men. This means that there is more to the story, possibly more issues — cough, sexism — which Wikipedia must investigate to figure out what gives when it comes to their lack of women contributors….Wikipedia is increasingly becoming the go-to source for everyday information, and women of all status — and men for that matter — should have a space there. Wikipedia should step up to ensure that.”

Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Technology Advances Collaboratory (HASTAC) blog (new window)

“So let me turn the question around.   Why wouldn’t one expect different kinds of social media to reflect gender norms given that everything else in our society does?   I think we are all over (way, way over) the silly 1990s utopic idea that new media, because it allows anonymous contribution, would be race- and gender-neutral.  Not many human beings succeed, despite effort, to be gender neutral.  Why should we magically become so online?”

Reaching Women Daily (new window)

“I have not used Wikipedia much, even though it is one of the top ten sites on the internet, but I looked at it to see what might cause women not to post contributions.  Technical challenges aside (they say posting is not user friendly), I find the site to be quite dry and uninspiring….Women find satisfaction and purpose in relationship matters, things that are not well defined and structured, so perhaps they are less inclined to post factual information.”

The Advocate Studio (new window)

“Women may be more interested than men in making sure they are right or sitting back rather than speaking when they see the grey area in a particular subject. And maybe women get enough reprisal in other venues, so they may not volunteer to put themselves in such a public limelight solely for altruism or entertainment value.”

What say you, dear readers: A case for despair, or should we have seen this coming? Should Wikipedia respond proactively and propose changes to its interface or its requirements for editors? Should we chalk it up to innate realities of gender difference?  Or is there more here than meets the numbers?