Gender bias on Wikipedia
Gender bias on Wikipedia refers to criticism of the online encyclopedia, and especially its English-language site, that the nature and quantity of its content is biased due to the fact that a dominant majority of volunteer Wikipedia editors are male. It is among the most frequent criticisms of Wikipedia, and part of a more general criticism about systemic bias in Wikipedia. Wikipedia has fewer and less extensive articles about women or topics important to women. The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, agrees with these criticisms and has made an ongoing attempt to increase female editorship of Wikipedia.
Research findings and issues
|Research proves gender imbalance on Wikipedia, 2:45, University of Minnesota|
|Where Are All the Women? Wikipedia’s Gender Gap, 1:12:40, West Virginia University|
The "vast majority of [Wikipedia] editors are young, college-educated males", a demographic which has been described as “a bunch of male geeks who are wealthy enough to afford a $2,000 laptop and a broadband connection.” Surveys have indicated that between 8.5–16 percent of Wikipedia editors are female. Consequently, Wikipedia has been criticized by some academics and journalists for having primarily male contributors, and for having fewer and less extensive articles about women or topics important to women. The New York Times pointed out that Wikipedia's female participation rate may be in line with other "public thought-leadership forums". In 2009, a Wikimedia Foundation survey revealed that 6% of editors who made more than 500 edits were female, with the average male editor having twice as many edits.
In the English Wikipedia and five other language editions that were studied by researchers, the ratio of articles about women to articles about men was higher than in three other databases. However, analysis with computational linguistics concluded that the way women and men are described in articles demonstrates bias, with articles about women more likely to overuse words relating to gender and family. The researchers believe that this is a sign Wikipedia editors consider male the "null gender". An editorial in The Guardian in 2014 noted that women porn stars are better covered in Wikipedia than women writers.
In 2010, United Nations University and UNU-MERIT jointly presented an overview of the results of a global Wikipedia survey. A 30 January 2011, New York Times article cited this Wikimedia Foundation collaboration, which indicated that fewer than 13% of contributors to Wikipedia are women. Sue Gardner, then executive director of the foundation, said that increasing diversity was about making the encyclopedia "as good as it could be." Factors the article cited as possibly discouraging women from editing included the "obsessive fact-loving realm", associations with the "hard-driving hacker crowd," and the necessity to be "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists”. In 2013, the results of the survey were challenged by Hill and Shaw using corrective estimation techniques to suggest upward corrections to the data from the survey and to recommend updates to the statistics being surveyed, giving 22.7% for adult US female editors and 16.1% overall.
In February 2011, The New York Times followed up with a series of opinions on the subject under the banner, "Where Are the Women in Wikipedia?" Susan C. Herring, a professor of information science and linguistics, said that she was not surprised by the Wikipedia contributors gender gap. She said that the often contentious nature of Wikipedia article "talk" pages, where article content is discussed, is unappealing to many women, "if not outright intimidating." Joseph M. Reagle reacted similarly, saying that the combination of a "culture of hacker elitism," combined with the disproportionate effect of high-conflict members (a minority) on the community atmosphere, can make it unappealing. He said, "the ideology and rhetoric of freedom and openness can then be used (a) to suppress concerns about inappropriate or offensive speech as "censorship" and (b) to rationalize low female participation as simply a matter of their personal preference and choice." Justine Cassell said that although women are as knowledgeable as men, and as able to defend their point of view, "it is still the case in American society that debate, contention, and vigorous defense of one’s position is often still seen as a male stance, and women’s use of these speech styles can call forth negative evaluations."
The International Journal of Communication published research by Reagle and Lauren Rhue that examined the coverage, gender representation, and article length of thousands of biographical subjects on the English-language Wikipedia and the online Encyclopædia Britannica. They concluded that Wikipedia provided better coverage and longer articles in general, that Wikipedia typically has more articles on women than Britannica in absolute terms, but Wikipedia articles on women were more likely to be missing than articles on men relative to Britannica. That is, Wikipedia dominated Britannica in biographical coverage, but more so when it comes to men. Similarly, one might say that Britannica is more balanced in whom it neglects to cover than Wikipedia. For both reference works, article length did not consistently differ by gender.
In April 2011, the Wikimedia Foundation conducted its first semi-annual Wikipedia survey. It suggested that 9% of Wikipedia editors are women. It also reported, "Contrary to the perception of some, our data shows that very few women editors feel like they have been harassed, and very few feel Wikipedia is a sexualized environment." However, an October 2011 paper at the International Symposium on Wikis and Open Collaboration found evidence that suggested that Wikipedia may have "a culture that may be resistant to female participation".
A study published in 2014 found that there is also an "Internet skills gap" with regard to Wikipedia editors. The authors found that the most likely Wikipedia contributors are high-skilled men and that there is no gender gap among low-skilled editors, and concluded that the "skills gap" exacerbates the gender gap among editors. During 2010–14, women made up 61% of participants of the college courses arranged by the Wiki Education Foundation program that included editing Wikipedia as part of the curriculum. Their contributions were found to shift the Wikipedia content from pop-culture and STEM towards social sciences and humanities.
In 2016, Wagner et al. found linguistic gender bias manifest in family-, gender-, and relationship-related topics being more present in biographies about women, and in positive terms being more frequent in the biographies of men and negative terms more frequent in the biographies of women. The authors also found structural differences in terms of meta-data and hyperlinks, which have consequences for information-seeking activities.
A 2017 study found that women participating in an experiment by editing a Wikipedia-like site tended to view other editors as male, and to view their responses as more critical than if the other editor was gender-neutral. The study concluded that:
...visible female editors on Wikipedia and broader encouragement of the use of constructive feedback may begin to alleviate the Wikipedia gender gap. Furthermore, the relatively high proportion of anonymous editors may exacerbate the Wikipedia gender gap, as anonymity may often be perceived as male and more critical.
A study by Ford and Wajcman observe that research on the gender bias continues to frame the problem as a deficit in women. In contrast, their central argument states that infrastructure studies in feminist technoscience allows the gender analysis to be taken to a further level. It looks at three issues within the infrastructure: content policies, software and the legalistic framework of operation. It suggests that progress can be made through altering that culture of knowledge production through encouraging alternate knowledge, reducing the technical barriers to editing and addressing the complexity of Wikipedia policies.
Several causes for this gender disparity have been suggested. A 2010 study revealed a Wikipedia female participation rate of 13 percent, observed to be close to the 15 percent overall female participation rate of other "public thought-leadership forums". Wikipedia research fellow Sarah Stierch acknowledged that it is "fairly common" for Wikipedia contributors to remain gender-anonymous. A perceived unwelcoming culture and tolerance of violent and abusive language are also reasons put forth for the gender gap. According to a 2013 study, another cause of the gender gap in Wikipedia is the failure to attract and retain female editors, resulting in a negative impact on Wikipedia's coverage. As well, Wikipedia "...editors that publicly identify as women face harassment" from other Wikipedia editors.
- A lack of user-friendliness in the editing interface
- Not having enough free time
- A lack of self-confidence
- Aversion to conflict and an unwillingness to participate in lengthy edit wars
- Belief that their contributions are too likely to be reverted or deleted
- Some find its overall atmosphere misogynistic
- Wikipedia culture is sexual in ways they find off-putting
- Being addressed as male is off-putting to women whose primary language has grammatical gender
- Fewer opportunities than other sites for social relationships and a welcoming tone
Lam et al. suggest that there may be a culture which is non-inclusive of women on Wikipedia, which may be due to a disparity in male-to-female centric topics represented and edited, the tendency for female users to be more active in the social and community aspects of Wikipedia, an increased likelihood that edits by new female editors are reverted, and/or that articles with high proportions of female editors are more contentious.
In July 2014, the National Science Foundation announced that it would spend $200,000 to study systemic gender bias on Wikipedia. An article by Julia Adams and Hannah Brückner that was supported by the funding was published in 2015.
The Wikimedia Foundation has officially held, since at least 2011 when Gardner was executive director, that gender bias exists in the project. It has made some attempts to address it but Gardner has expressed frustration with the degree of success achieved. She has also noted that "in the very limited leisure time women had, they tended to be more involved in social activities instead of editing Wikipedia. 'Women see technology more as a tool they use to accomplish tasks, rather than something fun in itself.'" In 2011, the Foundation set a target of having 25 percent of its contributors identifying as female by 2015. In August 2013, Gardner said, "I didn't solve it. We didn't solve it. The Wikimedia Foundation didn't solve it. The solution won't come from the Wikimedia Foundation."
Writing for Slate in 2011, Heather Mac Donald called Wikipedia's gender imbalance a "non-problem in search of a misguided solution." Mac Donald asserted, "The most straightforward explanation for the differing rates of participation in Wikipedia—and the one that conforms to everyday experience—is that, on average, males and females have different interests and preferred ways of spending their free time."
In August 2014, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced in a BBC interview the Wikimedia Foundation's plans for "doubling down" on the gender content gap at Wikipedia. Wales said the Foundation would be open to more outreach and more software changes.
Efforts to increase female editorship
Dedicated edit-a-thons have been organized to increase the coverage of women's topics in Wikipedia and to encourage more women to edit Wikipedia. These events are supported by the Wikimedia Foundation, which sometimes provides mentors and technology to help guide newer editors through the process. Recent edit-a-thons have given specific focus to topics such as Australian female neuroscientists and women in Jewish history.
An early-2015 initiative to create a "women-only" space for Wikipedia editors was strongly opposed by Wikipedians.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gender bias on Wikipedia.|
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Research and advice
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- Tripp, Dawn Leonard. "How to Edit Wikipedia: Lessons from a Female Contributor". Anita Borg Institute. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
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- Category:Gender gap at Wikimedia Meta-Wiki