Grants:IEG/Ask Women to Upload to Commons
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The “Gender Gap”
The mission of Wikipedia is to ensure that “every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” Given the fact that English Wikipedia celebrated the creation of its five-millionth article in November of 2015, it would seem as though the organization is well on their way to achieving this goal. However, despite the staggering amount of content provided by Wikipedia and the steadily increasing reliance on the site for scholarly research and everyday reference, what has become more and more apparent in the past five years is that there are serious gaps in the topics covered on Wikipedia due to a disparity in participation of men and women as editors.
In theory, the free-access, free content internet encyclopedia can be edited by anyone. In practice, however, the information contained on the site is provided by a very specific subset of the population. Research on what is popularly referred to as Wikipedia’s “gender gap” indicates that, despite the fact that women read Wikipedia just as much as men do, potentially more than 90 percent of Wikipedia editors -- the people who create, revise, and organize the site’s content -- are male. For nearly a decade after the site’s launch in January 2001, little was known about the characteristics of Wikipedia’s editor base. However, once the results of United National University’s landmark survey of Wikipedia editors was published in March 2010, the severity of the gender gap was quantified for the first time and made a matter of public record.
In the five years since the UNU findings were originally shared, potential root causes of Wikipedia’s gender gap have been studied and reported on extensively by media outlets and scholars alike. One such underlying issue that has been suggested by these channels is the conception -- held by men and women alike -- that the areas of expertise associated specifically with women (what I'll refer to here as “girly stuff” -- that is, information about women, or else information about things created explicitly for women) do not actually constitute valid forms of knowledge worthy of sharing. The articles and papers described below examine how this conception is perpetuated and reinforced by various parties, structures, and cultures, and how this conception contributes to the Wikimedia gender gap in editorship.
The Confidence Gap
Another “gap” that is referenced frequently in discussions related to Wikipedia’s gender gap is the disparity in the levels of self-confidence held by men and women. Lim and Kwon (2010) studied the different levels of confidence exhibited by men and women with respect to evaluating the quality of pre-existing Wikipedia articles. The researchers developed a concept they termed “information evaluation self-efficacy,” defined as self-confidence in evaluating information. Data was collected using an online survey of 134 undergraduate students at a large public university in the Midwest during the spring of 2008. The study showed that male students produced higher ratings of information evaluation self-efficacy than their female counterparts, despite presumably no differences in their actual credentials. The researchers interpreted this finding as a confirmation of gender differences related to self-expectancies for success in completing unfamiliar tasks.
Lim and Kwon (2010) concluded with a call for further research to examine gender differences in confidence in evaluating specific articles on topics that are familiar to respondents. However, Collier and Bear (2012)’s study on gender differences in self-conception of personal expertise suggests that women demonstrate similar levels of self-doubt in evaluating articles written on topics on which they are knowledgeable. Collier and Bear (2012) hypothesized that female Wikipedia readers would be less likely than males to contribute to the site as editors due to gender differences in confidence in personal expertise and in the value of any contribution they might make. In analyzing the UNU survey results related to English Wikipedia (with 40,699 participants whose responses were collected during the fall of 2008), the researchers found that when asked why they didn’t contribute to Wikipedia, women survey respondents were 43% more likely to select “I don't have enough knowledge or expertise,” 22% more likely to select “I don't have enough information” to contribute, and 10% more likely to believe their edits would not be valuable (i.e. they would be reverted or overwritten), despite presumably equal levels of qualifications between the genders.
The Wikimedia Foundation itself identified confidence (or, rather, a lack thereof) as a contributor to the site’s gender gap in editorship in the form of a 2011 blog post written by its then-executive director, Sue Gardner, titled “Nine Reasons Women Don’t Edit Wikipedia (in their own words).” The post includes quotations from message boards aggregated from a variety of locations across the internet in which women provided first-hand accounts of their negative experiences with Wikipedia. The third reason Gardner lists as an explanation for the gender gap in Wikipedia’s editorship is “Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because they aren’t sufficiently self-confident, and editing Wikipedia requires a lot of self-confidence.” This statement is illustrated in the blog post with quotations from anonymous women describing how their desire to edit Wikipedia is impeded by uncertainty of their personal expertise.
The Devaluation of “Girly Stuff”
Other research suggests that Wikipedia’s gender gap may be symptomatic of not only a crisis of women’s confidence in the depth of the knowledge they might impart, but moreover a crisis of women’s confidence over the worthiness of the topics of their personal expertise. Overt dismissal by those in positions of power (i.e. outspoken Wikipedia editors) and more subtle forms of systemic bias rampant on the site may contribute to a widely held conception that expertise in “girly stuff” (areas of expertise associated primarily with women -- that is, information about women, as well as information about things created for women or else important to women) does not represent a valid form of knowledge. This, in turn, may result in women’s insecurity and reluctance to share knowledge on Wikipedia related to these subject areas.
Steiner and Eckert (“Wikipedia’s Gender Gap,” 2013) assert the fact that women, historically, are have been much more likely to write about “women’s issues” than men, fingering Wikipedia as the heir to a centuries’ old prejudice against “girly stuff.” The researchers map the lineage of this social issue within the structural and historical asymmetries of knowledge production, from the nineteenth-century condemnation by men historians of ‘amateur’ history written by women investigating topics considered to be “trivial, emotional, and feminine,” to more contemporary cases of men journalists’ avoidance of ‘pink ghettos.’ While acknowledging that topics are not inherently gendered, Steiner and Eckert (“Wikipedia’s Gender Gap,” 2013) observe that the relative dearth of articles related to “girly stuff” on Wikipedia appears to correspond with the deficiency of women Wikipedia editors. Writing for The Atlantic in October 2015, Emma Paling also situates the contemporary issue of the Wikipedia gender gap within a centuries-old disregard for “girly stuff” in the production of encyclopedias. Paling quotes Gina Luria Walker, an intellectual historian and associate professor of women’s studies at The New School, who notes that the first Encyclopaedia Britannica (written between 1768 and 1771) included 39 pages on curing disease in horses, while on the topic of women only three words were written: “female of man.”
Steiner and Eckert (“(Re)triggering Backlash,” 2013)’s analysis of opinions expressed by 1,336 online comments posted online by readers of U.S. new organizations’ coverage of the Wikipedia gender gap between 2009 and 2013 provides further evidence of this trend of “girly panic,” which I will define here as a fear or distrust of the feminization of reference works. The difference between the topical interests of men and women was frequently cited by commenters, who accused women of being preoccupied with fashion, celebrity, and gossip, and other subject areas which the commenters did not count as knowledge. One message in particular quoted by Steiner and Eckert (“(Re)triggering Backlash,” 2013) illustrates the general sentiment expressed by these individuals: “Women can always go and create their own version of Wikipedia. It can contain articles on puppies, kittens, handbags, man-hating, Lady Gaga ... etc., and it can be completely free of any of that boring logic stuff.”
The Impact of “Girly Panic” on Individual Wikipedia Articles
The effect of “girly panic” on individual Wikipedia articles has been noted anecdotally by a variety of media outlets. Noam Cohen from The New York Times in January 2011 wrote that while “most everything has an article on Wikipedia, the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis.” Topics Cohen describes as of interest to young girls, such as friendship bracelets, are budgeted only a few paragraphs on the site, while topics related to boys’ interests, such as toy soldiers or baseball cards, are awarded voluminous entries. The same is true for adult interests, as Cohen notes that the entry for the television show “Sex and the City” (typically considered a “women’s show”) pales in comparison to the detailed articles composed by Wikipedia editors for each episode of “The Sopranos” (a “men’s show”). Torie Bosch, writing for Slate in July 2012, reported on Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’ own defense of the inclusion of an article on Kate Middleton’s wedding gown on the site due to its significant cultural impact, despite its being flagged for deletion by Wikipedia editors for its perceived triviality.
In May 2015, Jenny Kleeman, writing for New Statesman, illustrated how women themselves are covered by Wikipedia -- that is, how the quality and exhaustivity of articles written about women are skewed by the interests and values of the editors, which is in turn skewed by the gender disparity among these editors. Kleeman compared Wikipedia’s meticulously organized and cited “List of Pornographic Actresses,” to which over 1,000 editors had contributed content, to the “sprawling dumping ground” of Wikipedia’s “List of Female Poets,” which had been tended to by less than 300 editors. Kleeman includes a first-hand account from a woman Wikipedia editor who faced opposition from fellow editors when she attempted to revise the biography for the 1940s Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr’s entry originally made scant reference to her considerable achievements as an inventor in favor of emphasizing the Lamarr’s physical appearance and nude scene on film. When the woman editor sought to rectify the inadequate coverage included in Lamarr’s biography, fellow editors opposed the inclusion of Lamarr’s role as an inventor, pointing to the fact that this aspect of the actress’s life was not as well sourced as references to the actress’s beauty. Kleeman identified this instance as systematic bias, symptomatic of male mid-century writers' greater concern with recording Lamarr’s physical characteristics than her scientific accomplishments. Kleeman summarizes the importance of providing adequate, robust entries for women’s biographies: “If there is not a decent biography of a given woman on Wikipedia, users will assume she cannot be notable because she doesn’t have a proper Wikipedia page, so the marginalization becomes circular and self-perpetuating.”
Further evidence of the systemic bias present in Wikipedia’s editor base was provided in an April 2013 New York Times article penned by Amanda Filipacchi, in which Filipacchi shared her discovery that Wikipedia editors had been gradually but methodically removing women from the “American Novelists” category and reassigning them to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory. The effect of this process of segregating female authors would be to ultimately create a list of “American Novelists” on Wikipedia that would consist solely of men, implying that “male” is the standard gender from which “female” deviates. It was not seen fit by the editors, Filipacchi noted, to create a subcategory labeled “American Men Novelists.”
The Impact of “Girly Panic” on Larger Structural Systems Within Wikipedia
The publication of think pieces such as those described above inspired Lam, Uduwage, et al. (2011) to study more systematically the disparity in Wikipedia’s quality in coverage of “male” and “female” topics. The researchers hypothesized first that men and women editors did, indeed, gravitate toward discrete content areas, and second, that coverage of topics of particular interest to women was inferior to that of interest to men. Analyzing Wikipedia’s January 2008 data dump, the researchers found that women editors were concentrated in the “People” and “Arts” categories on Wikipedia, while men focused more on “Science” and “Geography.” Next, using article length to measure quality of articles and tabulating the self-reported genders of articles’ editors to determine whether a given article’s topic was of interest to men or women, the researchers found that articles of interest to males are significantly longer than articles of interest to females, and thus, it was surmised, of higher quality. In a study currently underway, Adams and Brückner (2015) have set out to analyze the ways in which male and female academics are represented on Wikipedia. Some of their preliminary findings in studying the entries for living “American Sociologists” listed on the site reveal that women sociologists are relatively underrepresented. It is germane to note that Adams and Brückner (2015)’s project, which received funding from the National Science Foundation, has drawn a great deal of criticism from those who question the relevance of the study of gender on Wikipedia to the tax-payers whose money supports it.
In another study that examines the relationship between Wikipedia’s gender gap and systemic bias present on the site, Wagner, Garcia, Jadidi & Strohmaier (2015), in reviewing articles of notable individuals listed on Wikipedia in November 2014, found that subtle forms of gender inequality are present in terms of the visibility of articles written about women. Articles about women are more likely to be linked to articles about men than articles about men are to be linked to articles about women, the result of which is that articles written about women are less findable within the overall network of Wikipedia articles. The researchers also conducted a lexical analysis of biographical articles on notable men and women, which revealed that content related to romantic relationships and family-related issues (as measured by the presence of terms such as “married," “divorced," “children," or “family”) appeared much more frequently in articles written about women than in articles written about men. Additionally, the researchers found that articles written about women disproportionately emphasized the gender of the subject (as measured by the inclusion of words such as “lady,” “female,” or “woman”) when compared to the inclusion of masculine descriptors in articles written about men. Wagner, Garcia, Jadidi & Strohmaier (2015) attribute the inconsistency between the way men and women are portrayed on Wikipedia to the lack of gender diversity present in the editor base and, like Filipacchi, suggest that “male” is widely conceived of as the “standard” gender on Wikipedia.
Navigating Conflict as a Woman Wikipedia Editor
In a recently published study, Menking and Erikson (2015) analyzed a set of 20 interviews with women Wikipedia editors conducted in 2014 on their experiences with and motivations for contributing to the site. Their responses suggest that women’s Wikipedia participation is predicated on engagement in “emotional labor” -- a strategic process of modulating their actions and feelings in order to armor themselves against gender-based hostility from fellow editors. A necessary ingredient for the willingness to undertake the personal negotiation that “emotional labor” entails appears to be the conviction, in a sort of costs/benefits analysis, that the contributions one makes to the site are valuable enough to warrant one’s decision to weather the discrimination one faces as a woman. However, if women aren’t secure in the value of their knowledge, they won’t necessarily be prepared to defend the validity of their contributions on Wikipedia when challenged by fellow editors. As Justine Cassell explained in The New York Times in February 2011, “it is not enough to ‘know something’ about friendship bracelets or ‘Sex and the City.’ To have one’s words listened to on Wikipedia, often one must have to debate, defend, and insist that one’s point of view is the only valid one.”
The literature discussed above enumerates the ways in which women’s contributions to Wikipedia are hampered by a lack of confidence in themselves as imparters of knowledge and in the value of their contributions -- particularly those contributions related to “girly stuff.” These insecurities are reinforced overtly by comments made by detractors who dismiss the importance of topics related to areas of expertise that are associated with femininity. The result of this is the lack of prominence of “girly stuff” on Wikipedia. Articles about women, or about topics important to women, are inferior in quality, coded in gendered language, buried on the site, or absent altogether as a result of the site’s systemic biases. Even if women are able to make the jump from reader to contributor and provide content related to “girly stuff” to Wikipedia, if they aren’t secure in the validity of the status of their knowledge as knowledge, then they won’t be armed to defend it against revisions, they will not be retained as editors, they won’t rise through the ranks to the upper echelons of Wikipedia editorship, and they will not be posed to champion the inclusion of more “girly stuff” on the site. As the sources above imply, remedying this issue represents the kind of top-down, pervasive change Wikipedia needs to maintain its relevancy as an informational resource. As the future of the informational internet is dependent on crowdsourced knowledge and volunteer stewardship, it is imperative that women contribute to resources like Wikipedia, so that their knowledge is not missing from the sum of all information online. Despite a concerted multi-year effort to decrease the size of the gender gap, its persistence suggests that if Wikipedia seeks more women contributors, new initiatives need convince them that their knowledge is valid and worthy of sharing.
What is your solution?
The research project I propose would study the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve women’s confidence in themselves as editors and in the value of “girly stuff” as knowledge that they can, and should, share. It would specifically pursue women who are active content creators on social media platforms and in the blogosphere in the form of posting original media related to fashion and beauty. Wikipedia’s poor coverage of these content areas (representative of the “girly stuff” detailed above) has motivated previous and ongoing initiatives such as WikiProject Fashion, yet the underrepresentation of fashion and beauty-related topics persists. Articles detailing key terminology and practices are either absent from the site altogether, or else are extant in the form of imageless stubs. As fashion and beauty do not exist outside of the visual realm, Wikipedia articles related to these topics are essentially useless to an information-seeker if they lack media that adequately illustrate the concepts or objects described. By encouraging women to upload original images related to fashion and beauty to Commons, this project will simultaneously augment the site’s content and diversify its editorship by drawing on a heretofore untapped well of bloggers and social media enthusiasts to contribute their skills and resources to Wikipedia.
1.) Identify women bloggers and social networking enthusiasts who might contribute original media related to fashion and beauty
- Fashion and beauty blogging communities
- Social Networks (Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest)
- Are there particular hashtags titles that are indicative of original media related to fashion or beauty?
2.) Determine what kinds of images are needed to bolster Wikipedia’s fashion and beauty content
- Develop a list of “watch words” related to fashion and beauty for which related visual content on Wikipedia is lacking
- Contact women content creators to solicit Commons contributions
- Table at events geared toward fashion/beauty bloggers
- Crawl social networks and fashion blogs for indicators of original content related fashion and beauty
- Develop messaging that fosters women’s confidence in the validity of their areas of expertise.
- Ask participants to include a project-specific tag in any contributions they make to Commons in order to track project's success
- Interview/survey participants about their experiences/challenges uploading to Commons
4.) Develop tools to facilitate future contributions
- Create an audience-specific on-boarding guide for uploading to Commons.
- Create a mobile app or bookmarklet that enables users to cross-post images on Commons and other sites (e.g. Instagram) simultaneously
Measures of success
Need target-setting tips? Note: in addition to your project-specific measures of success, you will also be asked to report on some Global Metrics at the end of your final report. Please keep this in mind as you plan, and we'll support you as you begin your project.
Please paste links below to where relevant communities have been notified of your proposal, and to any other relevant community discussions. Need notification tips?
Do you think this project should be selected for an Individual Engagement Grant? Please add your name and rationale for endorsing this project in the list below. (Other constructive feedback is welcome on the talk page of this proposal).
- Community member: add your name and rationale here.
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- Torie Bosch, “How Kate Middleton’s wedding gown demonstrates Wikipedia’s women problem,” Slate, July 13, 2012, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/07/13/kate_middleton_s_wedding_gown_and_wikipedia_s_gender_gap_.html.
- Jenny Kleeman, “The Wikipedia wars: does it matter if our biggest source of knowledge is written by men?”, New Statesman, May 26, 2015, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2015/05/wikipedia-has-colossal-problem-women-dont-edit-it.
- Amanda Filipacchi, “Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists,” The New York Times, April 24, 2013, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/opinion/sunday/wikipedias-sexism-toward-female-novelists.html?_r=0.
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