Submissions/Wikipedia's Gender Gap and Approaches to Improvement

From Wikimania 2012 • Washington, D.C., USA

This is a rejected submission for Wikimania 2012.

Submission yes


Title of the submission
Wikipedia's Gender Gap and Approaches to Improvement
Type of submission (workshop, tutorial, panel, presentation)
Author of the submission
Stine Eckert and Dr. Linda Steiner
E-mail address
Stine Eckert
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organization, company etc.)
Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

Fifty percent of women and 56 percent of men among all U.S. Internet users now use Wikipedia, one of the most prominent incarnations of user-generated media increasingly used not only by publics but also by courts, media and business. But the fact that women have access and do access Wikipedia, however, does not mean that the playing field is level, especially when a broader understanding of participation is considered. Women constitute only 12.6 percent of Wikipedia’s contributors (Glott & Ghosh, 2010). Wikipedia’s so-called “gender gap” shows that not everyone feels able to contribute to Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” Moreover, while Wikipedia explicitly aims to provide “free access to the sum of all human knowledge,” this paucity of women contributors may significantly limit the kind of “human knowledge” that appears and is available to others. E-mailed interviews with 53 women and men in our study suggest that lack of time and expertise keep women and men from contributing to English Wikipedia. Yet, women already contributing focused on feminism and gender topics; men contributors described a wide topical range. But, more men than women considered contributing in the future, and data suggests that inclusion of women will require special efforts. An interview with Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner supports our argument for particular initiatives to encourage women such as campus ambassadors, especially making diversity the basis of a broader quality emphasis. Recent measures to close the gender gap via outreach, mentoring and better interaction tools (albeit at the risk of taming its tolerance for incivility) show promise. Sandra Harding’s standpoint epistemology emphasizes that because identities are social constructs, identity is relevant to all knowledge projects. Although social identity cannot make any particular knowledge claims true, one’s social location over-determines which aspects of reality become visible. In particular, the experience of subordination make it likely that marginalized people – and this could include women, especially women marginalized by color, class and sexual orientation – will ask different or even better questions, and will challenge received knowledge in ways unlikely through dominant perspectives. Hargittai and Shafer (2006) point out how cultural beliefs about gender affect choices and perceptions of women’s competencies; a medium’s structure may also favor men. Demand theories link gender differences in educational and occupational settings to sexist/discriminatory organizational and cultural factors. The male dominance of the Internet’s roots – the military, the academy, engineering and industry – made online and computer-mediated communications into male-dominated realms. Wikipedia specifically originated in a free-wheeling hacker culture that consistently excludes women. Thus, despite the Internet’s potential to improve women’s lives and to challenge the conception of the “sovereign (male) individual” (Scott, Simmens & Willoughby, 2004), segments remain that reinforce the very inequalities it should combat, or at least require women to adapt to men’s terms. Early and ongoing participation in and control over new technologies seem urgent to sustain an inclusive democratic online environment. Thus, women’s inclusion in Wikipedia is crucial in the light of the wide and increasingly important use of Wikipedia, and as a matter of fairness.

Length of presentation/talk
25 Minutes
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