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Women's History Month - Zer Netmouse
March 29th, 2011
11:20 pm

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Women's History Month
March is Women's History Month. I encourage people to celebrate it by contacting your U.S. representatives in support of voting to approve a site for the National Womens History Museum.

Beyond that, a recent post by Cheryl Morgan reminded me of why I edit Wikipedia. Well, there are a few reasons, I guess. One is that I just love synthesizing information from many different sources into a single article. Another is that I like contributing to an influential, shared information resource. Another is that not enough women do write for Wikipedia, so women's history is under-represented there.

Only about 1% of Wikipedia readers edit the wiki, though anyone can. Of that 1%, only about 13% is estimated to be female.

Unlike Cheryl, I am an historian (I have a bachelor's degree in history), and I am trying to help capture both current and past history in Wikipedia. When I look over my User Page, on which I note articles I have created or made a significant contribution to, I see about 20 that are about women. And that's just what I've noted.

It is, of course, impossible to count on having content put into wikipedia stay there. Most of my articles survive, even if they are nominated for speedy deletion (like my article on Bar Keeper's Friend was). But even if an article survives for years, it could still be deleted. I note with sadness, for instance, that my article on A.E. London is tagged as possibly not being notable enough. I'm hoping another editor will remove the tag at some point.

When I was on a strategic task force on reader conversion, one of our task force members created this diagram based on survey information on why people who read wikipedia don't edit wikipedia:




Sue Gardner just posted a blog entry about why women aren't a larger part of the wikipedia editor community, but it's not really a mystery to me. As she notes, women have much less free time, internationally, than men. So when they do something like edit a wiki, they want their time to be well-invested, which means they want it to be effective, useful, and lasting. Wikipedia does not have mechanisms for opting to be notified by email if an article you've worked on or created is changed or nominated for deletion (these tools exist and are turned on for some wikimedia projects, but not for the main wikipedia article space). The "watch" function is not useful for that purpose for anyone who has made a significant number of contributions. Furthermore, there is no obvious recourse to take with regard to editors who are being bullies. Bullies are a problem throughout the U.S. and wikipedia is no exception. What do bullies do? Well, among other things, they delete other people's work.


The preconditions for people getting involved are clearly more of a barrier than how comfortable, pretty, or usable the technical interface is. Unless Wikipedia changes its culture and makes it much more obvious what to do if you feel your work is being unreasonably attacked - and unless it demonstrates a commitment to weeding out the people who are the problem - women's history and women's interest topics are going to continue to be lacking there.

Still, I'm doing what I can to fight that trend, by creating well-referenced, clearly notable articles. If you want to help and need any assistance from an experienced wikipedia editor, let me know.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:matt_arnold
Date:March 30th, 2011 04:57 am (UTC)
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I'm interested in this topic. Reading Cheryl Morgan's post, I'd like to ask for your opinion on something.
I’m not trying to single out Wikipedia here. It is simply that its open nature allows us to see easily the same sorts of conflicts that are played out every day in homes and offices all over the world. Sexism isn’t something that men necessarily choose to do. All too often it is an attitude that they have been raised to believe is natural and right, and which they have adopted without thinking. Getting rid of such attitudes is a project that will take generations, not years.
She doesn't list those attitudes in her post. In fact, it seems that every discussion about Wikipedia, such as yours, (certainly every discussion I've seen of it) discusses the attitudes of women as the obstacle.

Is there anything male, for instance, about deleting articles for lack of notability? If we decide there is, are we then sexist to stigmatize women as lacking the necessary assertiveness?
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From:netmouse
Date:April 1st, 2011 01:39 am (UTC)
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I wrote a long response to this yesterday that got eaten when livejournal servers were not responding. I'll try to get back to it soon. Did you read the post by Sue Gardner that I linked to?

I also encourage you to leaf through the discussion at http://strategy.wikimedia.org/wiki/Talk:Task_force/Reader_Conversion

In short, it's not that women aren't assertive enough. It's not even, necessarily, that there's something "male" about deleting articles for lack of notability, but there is something very male about the dominant *definition* of notability on Wikipedia - defined and enforced on a regular basis through the activity of a community that is 90% male and mostly young with a lot of time on their hands.

Women aren't the only group we don't get enough participation from. But I believe it's one of the groups worth trying to work toward including more of.
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From:matt_arnold
Date:April 1st, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
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That's a really enlightening answer.

Yes, I did read the Sue Gardner post.

I've bookmarked the Reader Conversion discussion to read it soon.
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From:marsgov
Date:March 30th, 2011 11:03 am (UTC)
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Taxpayer money for another special-interest museum?
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From:netmouse
Date:March 30th, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC)
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Nope, just permission to take residence on the national mall, something that's controlled by congress. We have the funding, but not the site. We've been assured multiple times that we have the support if we can get it brought to a vote.
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From:beamjockey
Date:March 31st, 2011 05:39 pm (UTC)
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I'm a lightweight Wikipedia contributor; I've made 99 edits in about four years.

Looking over them in a new light, I note sadly that I almost never contribute anything about women or the history of women. My interests (science fiction, physics, engineering, and the history of all these things) are in subjects which do not preclude feminine participation, but which have been dominated by men, so the nuggets of knowledge I add almost always do nothing to expand Wikipedia's coverage of the feminine.

I have only created two new articles. One is about two men who wrote a lot of stories for a magazine with exclusively male subscribers. No points for that one!

I hope I can find a tiny bit of redemption in the second, more recent, article, biography of a woman who was a notable illustrator and played a role in the social life of multiple literary circles.

You have raised my awareness, though. I don't expect to begin a crusade to put more women's history into Wikipedia, but the question will be in my mind when I spot opportunities to contribute. (It brings to mind how, upon opening an anthology, some of us will now automatically check the table of contents and note the fraction of male contributors-- having seen numerous discussions in the blogosphere about Anthology Bias.)

About the question of how to encourage women to participate more in Wikipedia, I have little to say. The problem of how to encourage women to participate more in physics has been a perennial topic of conversation, and little headway has been made in my years as a physicist. It's hard.

Unless Wikipedia changes its culture and makes it much more obvious what to do if you feel your work is being unreasonably attacked - and unless it demonstrates a commitment to weeding out the people who are the problem - women's history and women's interest topics are going to continue to be lacking there.

Those are not the only topics that would benefit if cultural problems were improved!

If you want to help and need any assistance from an experienced wikipedia editor, let me know.

I do need assistance from time to time. I hope you find the Inga Pratt article satisfactory.

Wikipedia's customs are sometimes murky to a person armed only with common sense and a keyboard. The Time Machine article is tagged with "multiple issues" and, frankly, I have no idea what they're talking about, and am afraid to remove the tags myself.
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From:netmouse
Date:March 31st, 2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
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Hey there! Thanks for your interest in this subject. Which reminds me, are you interested in doing any panels about history that are related to art - either about illustrators like Inga or perhaps something else you have researched - at this year's worldcon?

I've looked at and edited both articles you referred to.

The article about Inga is nicely well-referenced and well-written. Though most articles of that length have more structure to them (separating biography from career), what you list as a demonstration of her notability is related mainly to her social life, which carries throughout the article. I pulled more material out of the text into a more complete bibliography, though it's too bad more is not there about her fashion illustration. Even a list of her most prominent clients would be nice.

Regarding the Time Machine series article, let me see if I can explain some of the issues. It needed more references, and I have changed your article from a link to a reference as well as added another. The line is hard to draw, but generally External links are to related but supplemental material, or officially related sites. Your article, since it is completely about the series, is better as a reference. The second reference I added partly because the author characterized the series in a way that said much more about it.

I condensed the list of links to the stories into the table of the stories, since there's no reason to list them twice - it was redundant. External links like that are allowed within articles, especially in a bibliography if the text of the work is directly available on the web. I left for the moment the reference to the story on google books. I assuming you're using it to confirm that the story was on page 18, though what it does not necessarily prove is that that was the first story. Being on page 18 is not a particularly interesting characteristic.

I retitled your sections. Headers should be capitalized like a sentence, with just a leading capital, and "List of" is redundant and should be left out. That's just the house style. You are not supposed to refer to the subject of the article in section headers; thus "Time Machine stories in Boy's Life" becomes "Stories in Boy's Life."

I removed the issues tag, but the article is still missing academic or professional print references, which would be good. Perhaps you could ask a librarian to look for something?

Hope those comments are helpful. Keep editing!

Edited at 2011-03-31 09:49 pm (UTC)
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From:nwhyte
Date:April 1st, 2011 06:26 am (UTC)
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Unless Wikipedia changes its culture and makes it much more obvious what to do if you feel your work is being unreasonably attacked - and unless it demonstrates a commitment to weeding out the people who are the problem

Amen. I am thoroughly put off Wikipedia because of its cuture of intimidating the faint-hearted.
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