Upping the Female Quotient: Berkeley Edit-a-thon Recruits and Trains New Wikipedians

The online world continues to suffer from a severe shortage of WikiWomen—roughly 8 or 9 out of 10 Wikipedia editors are male. But the number of female contributors will grow as a result of the latest free WikiWomen Edit-a-thon, held Saturday in Moffitt Library at UC Berkeley.

Wikipedia, for anyone who is still operating a Radio Shack Tandy from his or her yurt in Mongolia,  is the free internet encyclopedia that is “collaboratively edited,” and contains more than 30 million articles worldwide.

The host of the edit-a-thon—the most recent in a global series loosely tied to Women’s History Month— was Sarah Stierch, an experienced Wikipedia editor herself and a fellow at the Berkeley Center for New Media. The goal: to teach women about Wikipedia’s policies and then encourage them to plunge into the online site, removing some of its inherent gender bias either by writing new articles or adding more information to existing ones. By the end of the afternoon, organizers promised that everyone would have created “edits that stick.”

On the to-do list: One participant intended to focus on entries for African American suffrage activists; someone else suggested enhancing articles about influential women including Marie Curie, Rachel Carson and Hedy Lamarr; and others proffered the names of worthy women who are not household names, such as Violet Virginia “Pinky” Smith, the first woman jockey to race against men. (As of Friday afternoon, Smith’s Wikipedia entry contained a puny one-sentence acknowledgement that she was the sixth woman in the country to obtain a jockey’s license.)

Stierch, who helped create the edit-a-thons in 2012, told the East Bay Express that this years’ events have thus far produced 331 new articles focused on women. The paper reported that she was initially stunned by the statistics revealing how much Wikipedia’s editors constituted a “boys’ club,” and then propelled to act after discovering that Wikipedia’s link to “hair stylists” redirected her to an article on barbers.

Wikipedia has endured occasional public shaming for its gender bias. The ridicule got particularly intense when its volunteer editors began methodically striking female  American novelists from the “American Novelists” category and depositing them into a separate “American Women Novelists” category. “Wikipedia bias an accurate reflection of universal bias,” tweeted Joyce Carol Oates. “All (male) writers are writers; a (woman) writer is a woman writer.”

The forces in charge of Wikipedia have been proactively trying to reverse the damage ever since, including supporting female-oriented edit-a-thons.

Research has shown that women use Wikipedia as much as men, but that Wikipedia’s content creators and editors are disproportionately male, college educated, in their 30s, and based in the United States or Europe. Women themselves offer various explanations for their anemic participation compared to men, including a lack of free time to spend online, a preference for face-to-face social engagement, and frustration over certain approaches to editing. In particular, women get discouraged when other editors delete their contributions, while men will stick around and just pummel one another with their deletions and insertions.

For more information, go the event’s Wikipedia page.

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Comments

It’s time to Fight for Women’s Rights harder than ever before. Especially since this has been a week that started with the gravest IPCC warnings, and continued with the SCOTUS overthrow of American Democracy. If we had ratified the ERA, we could have prevented our current decline and fall.
It seems like a journalistic flub that there’s no mention at all in this article that Sarah Stierch was let go from her job at the Wikimedia Foundation in January 2014 (for what I feel was a rather silly reason). You’ll have to do some investigating to learn why she was fired.
I must add to my previous comment, relative to something I just read in the new April 7 – 13 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek where there is a Feature story “Take Back the Campus Students are changing how colleges deal with rape” that includes a statement that “One of the biggest complaints has been the one at Berkeley.” I now recommend most strongly that leading Berkeley professors and scholars that post on the Berkeley Blog such as Rosemary Joyce, Alison Gopnik, Robert Reich and Dan Farber join together to fight for human rights in a way that will change the course of history from our current path of self-destruction to protecting quality of life for all before we lose complete control of our future.
Just to maintain an accurate record, your statement about “Violet Virginia “Pinky” Smith, the first woman jockey to race against men” is incorrect. My friend Jim Price, the noted thoroughbred historian and correspondent, summed up the matter up two years ago in an article about female riders in the Northwest: “On Jan. 15, 1969, Barbara Jo Rubin secured a mount at Tropical Park in Florida. But she was replaced after the male riders went on strike. Diane Crump made it to the post at Hialeah on Feb. 7. Then, on Feb. 22, at Charles Town, W. Va., Rubin became the first modern-day woman jockey to ride a winner. Violet “Pinkie” Smith broke the ice in this region by finishing sixth at Portland Meadows on Saturday, April 19. The next day, she became the fifth woman in the country to win a race when Sandy Way carried her to victory at Yakima Meadows.” I moonlighted at Portland Meadows in those days and remember well the resistance she met from racing officials in getting a license in Oregon. And the press labeled her a “jockette” and not a “jockey.”

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