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Grants:IEG/Women and Wikipedia/Midpoint

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Welcome to this project's midpoint report! This report shares progress and learnings from the Individual Engagement Grantee's first 3 months.


Wikimania 2014 Learning Day Women and Wikipedia

Note: In the following report, the researcher, Amanda Menking, has chosen to use first person pronouns because the work described below is largely ethnographic and she acknowledges herself, her perspectives, and her lived experiences as a part of the research lens and methodology.

For this IEG Women and Wikipedia, I proposed "to collect and then provide the Wikimedia community with aggregate qualitative and quantitative data that can be used to assess existing efforts to address the gender gap. This data may also be used to guide the design of future interventions or technology enhancements that seek to address the gap."

I've spent the past three months collecting data and trying to better understand the gender gap. The report below presents what I've done and learned thus far, what I intend to do in the next few months, and the challenges I'm currently facing.

Early findings suggest:

  • Many long-time Wikipedians of all genders find the current framing of the gender gap insulting.
  • Women editors who self-identify on-Wiki as female and engage in contentious areas of work (e.g., gender specific articles, fighting vandalism, Wikimedia Commons) encounter more gender-based hostility and are more likely to take Wikibreaks and/or stop working in certain areas as a result.
  • Women who edit only the English language Wikipedia and believe the gender gap is a problem that needs to be addressed tend to believe WMF does not do enough to address trolling and harassment.
  • Stand-alone, one-time events to address the gap do not result in a significant increase in new editors or assist in retention of existing editors. Additionally, events like Art and Feminism that excite and encouragemp women to participate but don't adequately prepare them for the cultural norms and practices of the Wikipedia community may actually dissuade them from becoming new editors.

Methods and activities[edit]

Poster created for Wikimania 2014 Idea Labs Mixer

My project differs from several other IEG projects as it's solely research focussed. Thus far, I have:

  • Secured University of Washington Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for this project
  • Conducted and transcribed/had transcribed 30 interviews
  • Attended gender gap and diversity related sessions and workshops at Wikimania 2014
  • Conducted observations and noted informal conversations re: the gender gap
  • Reviewed existing WikiProjects, documented efforts to address the gap, and on-Wiki lists of resources
  • Participated in Learning Day and the Idea Labs Mixer at Wikimania 2014
  • Written a post for the WMF blog to 1) engage the community 2) recruit additional interviewees 3) share progress
  • Submitted a note to CHI 2015 (acceptance decisions will not be announced until December).

Midpoint outcomes[edit]

Community based[edit]

Research based[edit]

  • I've begun coding 20 of the 30 interviews. I'm beginning to see patterns and themes emerge from the interview data I've collected thus far. Here, I focus on themes of emotion work and emotional labor. I've included some relevant user data and quotes below.

Early interview data[edit]

  • 20 participants who 1) self-identify as women 2) have edited EN Wikipedia for 18 months or more
  • 15 of the 20 participants have edited for 7+ years
  • Live edits on EN range from 112 to 122,828 (as of 19 September 2014)
  • Participants' permissions range from user only to sysop (and all user groups in between)
  • Ages range from 19 to late 60s
  • Represented countries include Australia, France, India, Spain, and the United States
  • Participants represent a range of gender identities, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds, and relationship statuses

Emotion work and emotional labor[edit]

  • 10 of 20 participants have taken a Wikibreak due to Wikistress
  • 6 participants have taken a Wikibreak due to Wikistress caused by gender-based hostility
  • 6 participants have contacted the police, local authorities, and/or WMF due to threats received on-Wiki
Quotes re: sexism and emotional labor[edit]

Some Wikipedia policies and guidelines (and/or the community's interpretation of them) may act as 'feeling rules'--encouraging women (and, potentially, others) to mask their true feelings and experiences to participate in the community.

My personal point of view is that, on Wikipedia, if you’re harassed, there’s an expectation that you will behave like a saint. You cannot give into any of the provocation because if you give into the provocation, you can be blocked. And, if somehow on Wikipedia you manage to successfully deal with the harasser, which one of my harassers I pretty successfully dealt with—it’s still an ongoing problem but other people are taking care of it—the problem is that you cannot talk about success stories. Because in talking about success stories dealing with women’s harassment on Wikipedia, you empower the harassers. And that’s the view that’s being consistently said again and again and again.

— Interview participant

We’re girls on the Internet. We’ve got to be manly. It’s because that’s criticizing something I actually give a fuck about, whereas the background noise of people telling me I have nice tits is like, okay. But I feel like it should be the other way around. I feel like people criticizing my work should be less hurtful.

— Interview participant

I've been called a whore on Wikipedia, I've been called a 'Feminazi' to my face at conferences, and you let it go. 'OK, honey. That's good. That's good. You don't know anything about it. I'm going to give you a pat you on the head. I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing,' and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If Gloria Steinem collapsed every single time somebody called her a bitch and a whore, she wouldn't have gotten anything done.

— Interview participant

Women editors—you get told again and again, even on Wikipedia, Stop behaving like a woman; start behaving like a human. When you’re told Man up, you’re reinforced with the idea that the only acceptable model for behavior on Wikipedia is to behave like a man, which is to ignore all the bullshit.

— Interview participant

I also don’t want to drag other women down into what has become a cesspool. I mean, I keep talking about how awful Wikipedia is—and there are bright spots and I have plunged myself into those bright spots.

— Interview participant
Quotes re: emotional gains[edit]

Despite the emotion work and/or emotional labor in which many women engage, they also express many emotional gains--feelings of empowerment and fulfillment that motivate them to continue to participate in the community. These are, what one participant calls, "bright spots."

Then when you get an email from someone's granddaughter saying, 'I saw that you wrote the Wikipedia article about my grandmother. Thank you so much,' you're like, How can I stop? It's pretty awesome. […] It's like having children. It's weird, I guess. It's incredibly meaningful when someone comes up to me and says, 'The reason I started editing Wikipedia, and I'm still doing it, is because of you.' It sounds so simple, but it's really cool.

— Interview participant

I really just love the process of learning about a topic in depth. […] To create a Feature Article, you really have to read a great deal of what's been written on a topic to create an in depth readable article. I just started creating Featured Article, after Feature Article, after Feature Article. […] But, it gave me this great excuse to buy wonderful books about topics that I loved. […] Part of it was that I just loved reading about all of this material, but part of it was that I got this feedback from actual people, who really wanted to learn about the things that I knew about.

— Interview participant

What I really love to do is I like to take a history book off my shelf and sit here at my desk and read. Whenever I find a factoid that seems like it would be significant enough or interesting enough, dial up the appropriate Wikipedia page, and add it. […] The one thing that I really like doing is I really like learning about stuff that I had no clue at all about before I start working on a page. If I go to a page and it says, 'This page has citations but they're not in the right places and we don't know where to put them, somebody please help,' that's a red flag in front of my bull.

— Interview participant

For me, it is personally very satisfying to know that I am a contributing force to the sum of all human knowledge. […] It's not that I romanticize the concept of Wikipedia, but I find it very fascinating that I am a contributing force to something that aims to be the sum of all human knowledge.

— Interview participant

I feel so much more connected to my local place [...] I've suddenly got a reputation as a local historian.

— Interview participant


I've spent the majority of my funds as according to plan thus far. However, there are two exceptions:

  • I haven't paid myself the full stipend as the IEG funds were dispersed in two amounts, and I chose to prioritize spending. I applied almost the entire amount of the first dispersement to transcription services and costs associated with attending Wikimania. Therefore, I worked without pay for the majority of the summer months. I've tracked my hours and will reimburse myself as needed/appropriate.
  • I will not be using the allocated funds for survey development as the Grants team has given me access to Qualtrics so that I can design and implement my own survey.

I may re-purpose funds previously allocated for researcher stipend and survey development to incentivize independent coders to complete a qualitative analysis of the Gendergap mailing list archives, or to compensate a graduate student for creating a script to scrape data from the mailing list archive, Wikipedia talk pages, and/or WikiProjects.


What are the challenges[edit]

The most significant challenge of this IEG is the scope. It's difficult to do a comprehensive mixed methods study in six months without either working full-time or having a team. Thankfully, several members of the community have provided assistance.

What is working well[edit]

Next steps and opportunities[edit]

During the next few months, I will be:

I've also reached out to other researchers in the Wikipedia community who are interested in issues related to the gender gap specifically and diversity in general. I'd like to continue my work in this area and learn from others moving forward.

Request for help from the community[edit]

I've struggled to find Wikipedians who are willing to talk to me and who 1) believe the gender gap doesn't exist 2) believe the gender gap exists but isn't a problem 3) have been accused of being misogynistic or sexist 4) are trolls. I could use help from the community in this area.

Also, if any one would like to help improve https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Gender_gap, I'd love that, too.

Grantee reflection[edit]

Being an IEGrantee has allowed me access to the community that I otherwise would not have had. As a new Wikipedian and a fairly new Wikipedia researcher, I've been surprised by how small the community is in many ways (e.g., how few power editors there are and how well people know each other IRL). I particularly enjoyed attending Wikimania--interviewing participants in person, taking part in sessions, observing interactions, and meeting new people--some of whom were supportive of my IEG and some of whom were not. I learned a great deal, especially from those who were not supportive of this project.

The gender gap is a difficult problem "to solve" because it is a complex issue. One of the primary goals of my research and of this project is to better understand the issue, and to tease apart which contributing factors can--and cannot--be addressed by the community. I am beginning to believe that although design interventions (e.g., making it more difficult to troll and/or harass users) and technological enhancements (e.g., the Visual Editor) may mitigate some aspects of the gap, the underlying issues that need to be addressed have more to do with policies, guidelines (e.g., "Assume good faith," "Don't feed the trolls," etc.), and community norms/culture.


Many, many thanks to my participants--who shared their time and their stories--and to the community members who have helped and encouraged me.