MIND THE GAP: Wikipedia & Gender

Vielen Dank an Johanna Niesyto für ihr Engagement zu Gender in Wikipedia und das Interview!

Wikipedia ist groß. Wikipedia ist mächtig. Manche nennen die bekannte Online-Enzyklopädie bereits die Wissensreferenz Nr. 1 unserer Zeit. Wenn aber 9 von 10 Wikipedianer_innen in einer Umfrage angeben, Männer zu sein, was bedeutet dies dann für die Präsentation und Repräsentation von Gender? Was bedeutet dies für die Ansprache von Personen verschiedenen sozialen Geschlechts? Und was bedeutet dies für gelebte Inklusivität? Sarah Stierch ist eine Wikipedia-Userin die genau diese Fragen stellt und warnt: „Mind the Gender Gap!“. Im Interview für den Rheinsalon erzählt sie, warum es mehr Frauen braucht, die nicht nur an der Wikipedia mitschreiben, sondern auch deren visuelles Erscheinungsbild und deren Kultur(en) verändern können und müssen.

Wikipedia is big. Wikipedia is powerful. Some call the well-known online encyclopedia the number 1 knowledge reference of our times. But if 9 out of 10 Wikipedians self-report in a survey that they are men, what does this mean in terms of performing gender as well as of gender representation? What does this mean in terms of addressing people of diverse social gender? And what does this mean in terms of the everyday of inclusiveness? Sarah Stierch is one Wikipedia user who is asking precisely these questions and she is warning: “Mind the Gender Gap!” In the interview for Rheinsalon she talks about why more women are needed to contribute to Wikipedia, how they can and should contribute by writing articles, but also by changing the visual appearance as well as the culture(s) of Wikipedia.

Johanna:  Why do you call for more women to contribute to Wikipedia?

Sarah: Wikipedia’s mission is to provide the sum of all of the world’s knowledge, for free, to the world. How can we do that if only a portion of half of the world’s population, women, are contributing?

Johanna:  You are pointing to the survey which states that only 9% of Wikipedians are women. Can you tell us who conducted the survey and if users of all language versions were asked? Are there differences between the language versions?

Sarah: Every year the Wikimedia Foundation does a survey of its editors across languages. The survey is written in English, and then volunteers in the community translate it. The recent 2012 survey stated that across the board, women are approximately (still) 9% editors. That survey shows that language wise, there is little flucuation. Russia has the lowest reporting at approximately 6 percent. In English Wikipedia, it’s 15 percent, higher than any other reporting country. An interesting fact also – more women edit Wikipedia in the US than anywhere else.

Johanna: You are one of only few female so called ‘active’ Wikipedia users. When did you start to contribute to Wikipedia and why?

Sarah: I started contributing in small ways in 2004, as an IP (anonymous user). I really don’t know why I never had an account. Thinking about how many new editors  in the community function and how anonymous editors “work” – perhaps the call to action to create an account was not clear – which is something you still hear from anonymous Wikipedians today! It wasn’t until 2006 when I actually made an account. I had been involved in a car accident and had to hang around home for a while – I started editing Wikipedia as a way to “kill time” while watching television. I did small gnomish tasks and wrote a few stubs. In 2009 I was asked to get more involved in a project which became WikiProject Public Art and that led to me being more involved in the community – GLAM outreach, which led me to then become more involved in the gender gap. 50,000 edits later and I’m still loving my role as a Wikipedian!

Johanna: You also got active on the Gender Gap list. Sue Gardner, the director of the Wikimedia Foundation, created the Gender Gap mailing list in spring 2011 to discuss the gender issue. What is the list  all about? Is it even a project?

Sarah: The gender gap list serves as a space where Wikipedians and non-contributing supporters from around the world can discuss everything from techniques and projects they’re doing to close the gap, and also articles in need of attention, incidents that have taken place, and have conversations about policies. It’s primarily an English list, though contributors participate in numerous different language Wikimedia projects. It isn’t a project, just a place to share thoughts!

Johanna: There is another space,  the Wikichix who created some time ago a wiki space with one aim: “For female wiki editors to discuss issues of gender bias in wikis, to promote wikis to potential female editors, and for general discussion of wikis in a friendly female-only environment.” How does the gender gap project link to them and their actions? And why is the Gender Gap different to the Wikichix?

Sarah: As far as I know, the Wikichix list and wiki are defunct – it is no longer active. One major difference between the gender gap list and Wikichix is that Wikichix is strictly for women only, when the gender gap list is inclusive of any gender. I don’t have much information about Wikichix, as it was inactive when I started to get involved in Wikipedia gender gap discussions.

Johanna:  You personally also interviewed 500 female Wikipedia users. What did you learn from their answers? [

Sarah: I did a non-scientific survey of women (anyone who identifies as a woman, genetically or not) who currently edit Wikipedia (anyone who can read English could participate) to learn more about their motivations and concerns. 329 people responded. The average woman editor is also the same as the male editor, per the Wikimedia Foundation’s editor surveys – around 31 years of age, white, well educated and single. Some standout lessons from the survey include that the majority of respondents participate in the project because they love the idea of spreading knowledge and sharing their knowledge with the world, and that is also the main factor for why they still contribute.  Women also stated that reasons why they might not edit as much as in the past is because they’re busy – often the reason women who don’t edit Wikipedia (yet!) use – whether it’s school, work, or family. The majority of participants also stated that they had never experienced any incidents of assault or conflict on Wikipedia – but 33% stated they did. For me, 33% is too much!

The survey also showed that women believe that outreach and female spokespeople (sorry Jimmy!) would be valuable tools in getting more women into Wikipedia. The survey led me to think about how we could inspire change in the community in regards to friendliness and usability, which led to the creation of the Teahouse. I don’t think the Teahouse would exist without those 329 women!!

Johanna: What is the Teahouse, what is the WikiWomen History Month, what is the call for action space?

Sarah: The Teahouse is an online help space on English Wikipedia that provides friendly, easy to understand answers, by experienced Wikipedians, for new editors. It has an interface unlike any other part of Wikipedia, is easier to navigate and use than any other help space on Wikipedia, and thrives on a friendly social many-to-many support system. We wrapped up a three month pilot period in May which showed that 33% of Teahouse users (new editors) were still editing Wikipedia after visiting, and 28% of Teahouse visitors overall were women! The project is now in phase two, where are improving the space, and we hope it’ll start to appear in other languages too.

WikiWomen’s History Month is a yearly event that is held in March. March, in English countries such as the US and the UK, is women’s history month. The international event takes place on and offline – Wikipedia volunteers from around the world organize offline edit-a-thons to bring more women into editing Wikipedia and also contribute topics about women’s history. Online, Wikipedians from various WikiProjects (projects where Wikipedians come together to edit about a common subject) focused on improving content about women related to their projects. Last year seven events took place in five countries. We hope more next year!

(The action space is in the infant stages. I can’t talk about it yet! But soon there will be information about it.)

Johanna: If the Teahouse is first and foremost for newbees, how do you think this project is going have a sustainable impact on the Wikipedia culture in all? Or do you see the impact in pluralizing cultures within Wikipedia projects?

Sarah: Well, that’s one thing about the Teahouse – while it focuses on new editors, it has also had participation from editors of all experience levels. Even I ask questions there! But, so far it is showing that it is making a difference. As I stated above – 33% of participants in a three month period are still editing Wikipedia. Those editors are also more likely to have their edits kept, and they also make more edits to article spaces and make more edits in general! So far it’s working, and the community is seeing it – people want to help, and Wikipedia is seeing a healthier happier landscape – and I do think the Teahouse has helped! I have not seen any problems with culture change in a negative way thus far.

Johanna: Just recently evolved the discussion about the article on the wedding dress of Kate Middelton which was flagged for deletion on the day of the wedding as not fitting in encyclopaedic categories. There are similar cases, e.g. you organized a “Smithsonian Women in Science Edit-a-Thon”  in order to enrich Wikipedia’s content with articles about women in science who are related to the Smithsonian Institution, some of them have been also flagged for deletion. What is your perspective on these edit wars?

Sarah: I appreciate the good faith edits of all Wikipedians, including those who monitor articles for deletion. I have noticed, on occasion, that editors who are nominating content for deletion sometimes nominate subjects that they know little to nothing about. Or, they have perhaps a personal bias towards. We thrive to have a neutral encyclopedia – there are policies promoting neutrality – however, situations like this – women scientists and fashion articles being nominated for deletion – are possible victims of non-neutral decisions. We are not neutral when we chose to delete a subject, write about a subject, or focus our time on certain tasks on Wikipedia. By nominating the most famous wedding dress on earth, someone is simply saying – I do not believe this is important enough to merit inclusion into the world’s largest free encyclopedia.  While they might not state that – I do believe subconcious personal choice is a cause for selected controversial deletions. And, when you have a majority male editor base, you will most likely have a content bias when it comes to article interests. (i.e. it’s common knowledge that women care about fashion more than men in general.) When it came to the women in science, it’s most likely due to the nominators doing little to no research to justify the deletion. Then they blame the writer of the article for failing to articulate every single fact. Sadly, the editor was a new editor – so they took the deletion even more personal and felt like a failure – to the article subject and as a Wikipedian.

Johanna: On the Wikimania, only some weeks ago, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, stated cases such the Middelton-wedding-dress-article show the problem of a topical bias; e.g. topics on technology and software being better accepted than others like the one stated about the wedding dress. On a somewhat more critical note, the question: Isn’t the answer ‘topical bias’ too easy as it’s reproducing stereotypes and clichés like women being interested in fashion, literature and the like, and men being interested in technology?

Sarah: Absolutely. I really hate that the wedding dress has to be the prime example of what people say is topical bias in Wikipedia related to gender. I think the most active editor I know in WikiProject Fashion is a man. Just because I like fashion doesn’t mean I want to write about it on Wikipedia! And just because a woman can give birth and maybe played with Barbie when she was a child doesn’t mean she wants to edit an encyclopedia about that. For me – while encouraging more content about women and women’s subjects is extremely important – including having interested women contribute to those subjects – I’m more focused, primarily, on getting more women just to contribute – about whatever they want!

Johanna: This summer, on the Wikimedia Academy in Berlin, you made a statement: “Wikipedia is ugly.” You have the opinion that the design is not appealing for women, also not addressing those in general that are non-contributors. What ideas do you have in mind to change Wikipedia visually? Can you give examples of other net projects that speak a visual language you favor?

Sarah: I have to be blunt – I don’t really have the answers. I do think a more aesthetic and streamline – more intuitive – style would be so wonderful. That’s what we aimed to do with the Teahouse and are still working on doing. I’m not a designer, but I’d love to see what designers could come up with utilizing feminist design theory – design for everyone – and sadly, Wikipedia wasn’t designed for and by everyone!   I think a good example is Pinterest [link to: http://pinterest.com/%5D. The majority of editors of Pinterest are women. Imagine if Wikimedia Commons, our free media repository, was organized more like that with a call to action for people to help organize and curate Commons, which desperately needs help. I think something cool could come of that!

Johanna:  What is your idea of a feminist design theory and how does it contribute to the everyday of inclusiveness?

Sarah: Feminism is about inclusivity – it’s about creating a healthy space for all peoples – just like feminists aim to do so in a more tangible manner through the law, workplace, etc.  By having an equal space – design for all, accessibility for all – free knowledge for all – I feel we are helping to meet that goal. Keeping women and men in mind when designing a space is imperative – bringing designers of both genders into the mix, bringing input from participants of both genders into the mix – it’s important to any space. Wikipedia needs more women to help provide a more equal and healthy landscape as participants, and as readers.

As I stated above in another question – being inclusive means more voices which means more coverage of more subjects and more improvement of the encyclopedia as a whole – when more voices are heard, content and coverage becomes more neutral. And more collaboration takes place between people who aim to make it neutral. (i.e. covering all grounds)

Johanna: Beyond Wikipedia you are involved in the Ada Initiative, a project that aims at “increasing the participation and status of women in open technology and culture”. What do you think open net projects have in common in terms of the gender issue and what do you think differs Wikipedia from other open net projects?

Sarah: Wikipedia is different in the way that we’re the fifth most popular website – an open source one at that – and people edit it. Unlike other open source projects online, and open stuff communities – we’re the biggest and we’re the most utilized. This brings us more positive and negative attention about what we are succeeding and failing to do. A powerful aspect of this attention means that by showing Wikipedia has a gender gap, we can shed light on the wider gender gap of women in tech, specifically open source in a broader sense – women make up only 2% of women in open source – and perhaps what takes place in Wikipedia to “close the gap,” can help inspire and create change in those places. Organizations like the Ada Initiative play a critical role in helping create that change, and they have also helped me further examine what needs to take place in Wikipedia to create change and make sense of what is happening in the community.

Johanna: Pseudonymity and identity construction on the net is one more important topic that links in. So as a last question: How does pseudonymity change our perception of gender on projects like Wikipedia? Asked rhetorically: Would it be better to have more women like you that give their real names and/or pictures in order to encourage others?

Sarah: A number of women who edit have told me that they chose to remain anonymous when they edit. Some even identify on Wikipedia as men, just because it’s easier. I do think that number is changing. Women editors are beginning to realize that they are the face of Wikipedia – and by “outing” themselves as editors they are able to inspire other women to participate. I’ve heard theories about how the web is “post gender,” but I disagree – if we were post gender we wouldn’t still have the emotions and reactions we do about gender. Every time another woman editor introduces herself to me, I feel even prouder to be a Wikipedian woman.

Johanna: THANK YOU!

||||/About Sarah Stierch
Sarah Stierch is a Wikipedian since 2004, 2006 she made an account. In 2012 she became a Wikimedia Foundation Community Fellow and some community members call her the „gender gap fellow“. Sarah’s background is in arts, she owns a Master’s in Museum Studies from George Washington University and is a curator by trade.  As Wikimedian in Residence in 2011 and 2012 she helps Wikipedia to collaborate with cultural institutions in order to enrich Wikipedia’s content.

|||||/About Johanna Niesyto
Johanna interviewed Sarah as they met on the Wikimedia Academy 2012. Her key interests cover knowledge production, contentious politics and netcultures. Against this backdrop Johanna is interested in discussing a critical point of view on Wikipedia . She keeps her activities updated here.

||||||/Sarah’s Links:

|||||||/General links about Gender & Wikipedia and beyond, also in de:

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2 Antworten zu MIND THE GAP: Wikipedia & Gender

  1. Pingback: :::: Follow-Up: Wikimedia Academy « TransnationalSpaces.DoingPublic

  2. jojoon schreibt:

    Here’s the link to Sarah’s ‚unscientific survey‘: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Women_and_Wikimedia_Survey_2011

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