Thursday, April 25, 2013

A couple more links-- for the outrage

Amanda Filipacchi, in an op-ed for the New York Times, "Wikipedia's Sexism Toward Female Novelists," writes:
I JUST noticed something strange on Wikipedia. It appears that gradually, over time, editors have begun the process of moving women, one by one, alphabetically, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory. So far, female authors whose last names begin with A or B have been most affected, although many others have, too. 

The intention appears to be to create a list of “American Novelists” on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men. The category lists 3,837 authors, and the first few hundred of them are mainly men. The explanation at the top of the page is that the list of “American Novelists” is too long, and therefore the novelists have to be put in subcategories whenever possible. 

Too bad there isn’t a subcategory for “American Men Novelists.” 

People who go to Wikipedia to get ideas for whom to hire, or honor, or read, and look at that list of “American Novelists” for inspiration, might not even notice that the first page of it includes far more men than women. They might simply use that list without thinking twice about it. It’s probably small, easily fixable things like this that make it harder and slower for women to gain equality in the literary world. 
Read the whole piece here.

Allison Flood, at the Guardian, follows up with an update, noting:
Their observations sparked a widespread condemnation of the policy on social media. "Women writers are consistently underrepresented, their work receiving much less attention than that of their male counterparts. In 2012 the New York Review of Books reviewed only 40 female authors, as opposed to 215 male authors," wrote Abigail Grace Murdy on the publisher Melville House's blog. "The subcategory 'American women novelists' "simply reflects a widespread and belittling perception of women writers that already exists. But in reflecting that perception, Wikipedia perpetuates it, and the sexism marches on."
Wikipedia editors have now begun the task of adding the female writers back into the wider category, while debating the situation among themselves. "This is embarrassing us on a global basis. If you don't segregate males and gender unknowns, then don't segregate women (and that's how it's being perceived)," wrote one.
Another said: "Removing women from the list of novelists is like removing black or foreign-born novelists. Its effect is inherently biased. For those who want to find women novelists, a sublist is acceptable, but it cannot fairly involve removal from the main list. The effect is too discriminatory and drastic. The same applies to all women-nationality lists (not only novelists). I think this kind of category, based on the characteristics of the novelist, is very different from a subcategory based on the characteristics of the novels, eg, mystery novelists or science-fiction novelists."
Read her entire piece here.


Nancy Jane Moore said...

Filipacchi followed up a couple of days later with a post noting that Wikipedia editors had screwed with her Wikipedia page after her op-ed was published. That's inexcusable.

I posted about the original article on Facebook and immediately got a polite version of the standard response: This is Wikipedia, so just go fix the page and don't complain about it. The implication is that no one should criticize Wikipedia because they, too, can go in and edit.

First of all, similar issues pop up regularly on Wikipedia. The organization needs to look at why it's so vulnerable to sexist actions like this and to put into place a policy that stops it. The volunteer editor excuse only goes so far. Wikipedia is an established nonprofit that can afford to locate offices in San Francisco. Surely it has some resources to address sexism. Obviously it could have blocked edits to Filipacchi's page after her op-ed came out, just as an example. That was clearly retaliation, something the organization should prevent.

Secondly, even if I had time to volunteer edit on Wikipedia, I don't have any burning desire to use such time teaching feminism 101 to the other editors. Women shouldn't have to devote their energy to fixing these stupid mistakes any more than people of color should have to spend all their time correcting blatant racism. Wikipedia needs to come up with policies that rein this stuff in. I'm pretty sure they have policies on similar issues. I suspect no editor would get away with inserting creationist nonsense into the evolution page, just as an example.

Ethan Robinson said...

"The volunteer editor excuse only goes so far."

Seriously. They pull that with a lot of things--trans issues, e.g. And yet they have like a gazillion policies that they do manage, by and large, to enforce!