Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Back to the Future, Part 14: More Good News for Women--We're Still Missing!!

Back to the Future, Part 14: Women and Wikipedia

I rarely refer to Wikipedia in my posts. It's not that I'm a research snob (well, okay, I'm a research snob), it's just that I hope to include information in these entries on women that wouldn't necessarily appear at the top of the page after a quick Google search. 

Logo of WikiProject Women in Red
But here's the thing, which should surprise no one: women are vastly under-represented in Wikipedia. Despite many efforts to redress the balance, the "pages" of Wikipedia are heavily skewed toward men--male historical figures, artists, writers, musicians, politicians, athletes, even goddamn video game characters. Etc., etc. Ad nauseam. 

And now a bit of happy news about just how bad it is. 

According to an April 2019 report released by Wikimedia, of the 1,618,509 biographies in the English Wikipedia, only 287,852 of them are biographies of women!!! Just 17.79%!! (This is reported by WikiProject Women in Red.)*

This number--17.9%--is up from 15%, reported in 2014. Yay????

A similar number is reported by Le project les sans pagEs: "en octobre 2018, Wikipédia en français compte 547 599 biographies d'hommes, contre 94 021 de femmes, soit seulement 17,3%" (in October, French Wikipedia includes 547,599 biographies of men, compared to 94,021 of women, only 17.3 percent).

Logo of Le project les sans pagEs

Why the disparity? A recent story in the New York Times suggests that it's not because women don't care. Rather there are continued barriers to women writers and editors--Wikipedia is a place of "relentless harassment" for women. According to a report by the Wikimedia Foundation, the Foundation itself is "seriously concerned about the idea that cisgender women and transgender editors could be repelled from Wikipedia by online abuse."

It's not only the online abuse: there is a "systemic bias in policies," "implicit bias within the [Wikipedia] community," and "poor community health"--which includes, in addition to harassment, a lack of support for "gender equity work" and a "lack of diversity in leadership."

Banner posted by Wotancito,
Spanish "Women Love Wiki" project
("making women invisible in history is also violence")

I've filled this blog with complaints about women written out of history, women written out of the literature, women written out of art, the lack of public monuments for women's achievements, and, especially, the terrible treatment of women by "reliable" sources like the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica. I'm always bitching about something, I guess . . .

Update, 16 April 2019, afternoon: And, then, there's this--
The man charged with throwing a 5-year-old boy off a third-floor balcony at the Mall of America told police he was angry at being rejected by women at the Minnesota mall and was "looking for someone to kill" when he went there last week, according to a criminal complaint Monday.
But, hey, he wasn't murdering his wife, his girlfriend, or his own child . . .

Update, 19 July 2019: For Jessica Wade's efforts to write women into Wikipedia, see Maya Salam's New York Times column, "Most Wikipedia Profiles Are of Men. This Scientist Is Changing That" (click here).

Update, 11 April 2020: For a profile of Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, the co-founder of Women in Red, see Rachael Allen's "Wikipedia Is a World Built by and for Men--Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight Is Changing That," published as part of The Lily in The Washington Post (click here).

*Update, 13 February 2024: The figures quoted on the Women in Red Project have recently been updated—as of 5 February 2024, a whole 19.74% of Wikipedia’s biography’s are about women. Woohoo!