Wikipedia – Gendered Space, Gendered Knowledge

I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.
–Donna Haraway

Google just about anything these days and Wikipedia’s answer is sure to be high on the list of results.  New technology brings with it new expectations and many of us have grown accustomed to instant access to answers to just about any question we can imagine.  Have you ever have a conversation with someone and been unsure about a date, a name, or the title of a movie?  It’s fun.  You rack your brains and sometimes come up with the right answer or sometimes agree to move on without the information.  Ever had a similar conversation with an iPhone owner?  Less fun.

Part of the attractiveness of the internet and internet search engines and wiki’s is that they feel like they ought to be more democratic.  The reason that Google works is based on the collective wisdom of internet users (though certainly people have found ways of attempting to exploit it).  Wikipedia is similar.  It’s basically an online, evolving encyclopedia.  Anyone can contribute, edit posts, add new information, or even new items currently lacking a post.  The interesting finding, however, is that although anyone can participate, it’s not just anyone that does participate.

Wikipedia has a huge gender gap in contributors to the site.  The results from Wikipedia’s survey of users found that less than 15% of contributors to the site are women.  Less than 15%?!??!  This gap in contribution is compounded by the fact that Wikipedian women, on average, post on fewer topics such that women’s overall contribution to Wikipedia in terms of actual material is less than 10%.  Seen from a different angle, men produce more than 90% of the material on Wikipedia!

Rather than having a democratizing effect, this online search engine appears to be exacerbating gender inequalities rather than alleviating them.  Wikipedia has a goal of increasing women’s participation on the site to 25% by 2015.

But what does this mean?  We know that women outnumber men as users of both Facebook and Twitter.  Why not Wikipedia too?  And what are the consequences of this gender gap in contributions?

A couple of findings shed light on some of the consequences.  Two interesting findings from further research on Wikipedia’s gender gap at Berkeley’s School of Information found that among new users, men’s and women’s contributions are a bit different.  Among the group of contributors who produce the most material on the site, women tend to write twice as much as men.  Additionally, Wikipedia’s own survey found women twice as likely to post on controversial subjects as men.

Beyond what they contribute, the gap in contribution affects upper-level management at Wikipedia.  The individuals who set policies and arbitrate disputes for Wikipedia are drawn from the site’s most active contributors–a group dominated by men.  Perhaps Wikipedia ought to change how it selects users for management positions.

2 thoughts on “Wikipedia – Gendered Space, Gendered Knowledge

    • One thing that I think is important is to recognize that there is more than one way. For instance, volume of contributions is one way to measure who ought to be in management positions. But, quality of posts (even if they are few) might be another way. Certainly this would be more challenging to measure – but might help produce better content on the site. It’s just an example of another way of considering the same issue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s