A recent New York Times article reports that only 15% of contributors to Wikipedia are women. As a result, entries on “The Sopranos” or “The Simpsons” are in-depth analyses, while those on “friendship bracelets” and “Sex and the City” are a meagre few paragraphs.
Where’s Camille Paglia when you need her? She writes several possibly ground-breaking essays on Madonna in the 1980s and she is still vilified for her dilettantism (among other flaws, I know). And now there is the call for more women writers beafing up those important entries on Jimmy Choo shoes and the Tantric sex episode. The goal is to have 25% of Wikipedia entries written by women by 2015.
Despite my wee sarcasm, I recognize the need for at least some alarm that women are not participating in one of the most widely read publications on the Internet. Why aren’t we? Do we prefer to give away our writing talents in other forums, such as blogs? Is the gender gap the same for those other encyclopedias that actually pay a nominal, quite nominal, stipend, and praise us with an actual byline?
I’m almost motivated to develop/originate a few of those Wikipedia entries myself. I checked out Louisa May Alcott’s entry, and while it is filled with good links, references, footnotes, etc., it’s rather brief for a woman who has had three biographies written about her in the last few years. (Her contemporary, Mark Twain, has an entry that is more than double the length.) If, as the New York Times article suggests, this is true of many of the entries on women, topics of interest to most women, women’s issues generally, then it’s a notable, if also somewhat amusing, problem.
Not unlike the problem a young colleague had last night. She’s a brilliant psychology professor, in her early 30s, athletic, outgoing, and independent. But when she got a flat tire last night, who did she call? Another colleague/friend, who threw a coat on over her pjs and tried to figure out how to change a tire (undoubtedly Googling instructions), but then gave up in frustration (and, admittedly, lack of a flashlight).
And who did she call? My husband, who, infused with male pride that came upon him despite himself, immediately got off the couch at 8pm, wine glass still half filled, whipped on his shoes, grabbed a flashlight, with extra batteries, and rushed to the young damsels’ aid. Thirty minutes later, he was back on the couch, and the young psychologist texted on Facebook the following confession: “Nothing like a flat tire to take away all that sense of female independence.”
This is a woman who teaches both the Violence and Aggression class and the course on Positive Psychology, so she has a wonderful sense of irony.
FYI: I stayed home, finished my wine, and read blogs on the Internet while hubby was changing my colleague’s tire. You see, I would have called AAA, a service I can now easily afford, which also affords me that sense of female independence.
I rejoined hubby on the sofa when he returned and we both noted the odd connection between the Wikipedia stats and the Feminist Psychologist’s Flat Tire Plight. A woman needs to revise the How to Change a Flat Tire entry, stat!
Added 2/7/11: WikiProject Women’s History is one response to the gender imbalance at Wikipedia! Read all about it at Cliotropic’s place.