Gender Gap at Wikipedia

Henry Percy
Uh oh! What's a prog to do? According to the New York Times, "surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of its [Wikipedia's] hundreds of thousands of contributors are women." But what portion are transgendered? Do surveys suggest anything about that?

Sue Gardner, the executive director [of the Wikimedia Foundation] ... is running up against the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.

That's right, authors "obsessed" with facts are "an intractable obstacle" for a reference work. And what are the malign results of this rampant male chauvinism? "Even the most famous fashion designers -- Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo -- get but a handful of paragraphs." And "a topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs." Oh, the horror!

To buttress the Times' case, Noam Cohen interviewed a Harvard fellow:

But because of its early contributors Wikipedia shares many characteristics with the hard-driving hacker crowd, says Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. This includes an ideology that resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity, as well as a culture that may discourage women.

"It is ironic," he said, "because I like these things -- freedom, openness, egalitarian ideas -- but I think to some extent they are compounding and hiding problems you might find in the real world."

Adopting openness means being "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists," he said, "so you have to have a huge argument about whether there is the problem."

"Even misogynists"! Yikes. Yes, "it is ironic" that "these things -- freedom, openness, egalitarian ideas" can cause such problems. Please save us, Fellow Reagle, please! Can you just strangle "these things" in the name of access and fairness and gender neutrality?

Even more distressing, this gender imbalance is symptomatic of a larger problem:

According to the OpEd Project, an organization based in New York that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to "public thought-leadership forums," a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common -- whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.

What, the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post practicing male chauvinism? Say it isn't so!

And what proactive, affirmative steps is Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, taking to address this horrific gender gap?

Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas.

For now. So tell us, Ms. Gardner, are "freedom, openness, [and] egalitarian ideas" Good Things or Bad Things? What's next for the Wikimedia Foundation?

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.
Uh oh! What's a prog to do? According to the New York Times, "surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of its [Wikipedia's] hundreds of thousands of contributors are women." But what portion are transgendered? Do surveys suggest anything about that?

Sue Gardner, the executive director [of the Wikimedia Foundation] ... is running up against the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.

That's right, authors "obsessed" with facts are "an intractable obstacle" for a reference work. And what are the malign results of this rampant male chauvinism? "Even the most famous fashion designers -- Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo -- get but a handful of paragraphs." And "a topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs." Oh, the horror!

To buttress the Times' case, Noam Cohen interviewed a Harvard fellow:

But because of its early contributors Wikipedia shares many characteristics with the hard-driving hacker crowd, says Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. This includes an ideology that resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity, as well as a culture that may discourage women.

"It is ironic," he said, "because I like these things -- freedom, openness, egalitarian ideas -- but I think to some extent they are compounding and hiding problems you might find in the real world."

Adopting openness means being "open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists," he said, "so you have to have a huge argument about whether there is the problem."

"Even misogynists"! Yikes. Yes, "it is ironic" that "these things -- freedom, openness, egalitarian ideas" can cause such problems. Please save us, Fellow Reagle, please! Can you just strangle "these things" in the name of access and fairness and gender neutrality?

Even more distressing, this gender imbalance is symptomatic of a larger problem:

According to the OpEd Project, an organization based in New York that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to "public thought-leadership forums," a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common -- whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.

What, the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post practicing male chauvinism? Say it isn't so!

And what proactive, affirmative steps is Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, taking to address this horrific gender gap?

Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas.

For now. So tell us, Ms. Gardner, are "freedom, openness, [and] egalitarian ideas" Good Things or Bad Things? What's next for the Wikimedia Foundation?

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.