Edit-a-thons aim to erase Wikipedia’s gender gap

Participants in the Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon in Los Angeles. Photo by Avishay Artsy.
Participants in the Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon in Los Angeles. Photos by Avishay Artsy.

Wikipedia, that free online repository of information that’s made old-school print encyclopedias obsolete, has more than 30 million articles, written by thousands of authors. But most of those authors are men. A 2010 study found that fewer than 13 percent of Wikipedia editors were female.

In response, cities and college campuses across the world are holding Wikipedia edit-a-thons to close the gender gap. One was held on Sunday, Feb, 9th at The Public School, a community education and workshop space in LA’s Chinatown neighborhood. Most of the participants read Wikipedia regularly, but are newcomers to editing.

“I’m going through and I’m reading Wikipedia’s guidelines, because I want to make sure I’m doing it properly, even just trying to maintain the neutral voice, and trying to include reputable sources takes a bit of thought,” said Heather Courtney, a graduate intern at the Getty Research Institute. “But even just through this one article I’m starting to gain some speed and a better idea of how it actually works. More confidence for the next time.”

Others here are seasoned pros. Jennifer Cardelús is a corporate attorney, and said she’s created thousands of entries in the seven or eight years that she’s been a Wikipedia editor.

“Generally you can’t necessarily see whether someone’s male or female by their user name, although in general people are mostly male, people refer to me as male even though my username includes the word Jen,” she said.

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This workshop is focused on adding or expanding entries for important Los Angeles-based female artists. Some of the participants came with specific subjects in mind, but there’s also a list of female subjects who don’t already have entries.

One of the posts under construction was about a feminist arts journal, Chrysalis, published from 1977 to 1981.

“It had a pretty short life, but they published 10 issues. And you know, Arlene Raven and Judy Chicago and a lot of artists that people would recognize were part of that and contributed,” said Cindy Rehm. “So to have a Wikipedia page on there and to connect it to a lot of other things is really important.”

Rehm is an adjunct art teacher, and many of the participants work in classrooms.

“I tell my students that they can’t use Wikipedia for writing their papers because there are so many weird gaps in the information. Because it is edited by so many different people and the perspectives are a bit skewed because of that,” said Rosalind Helfand, who teaches a high school class on writing research papers. But she said her students still begin their research with Wikipedia and branch out from there, so filling those gaps is important.

More than 30 Art + Feminism edit-a-thons were held around the world earlier this month. An event at Brown University last year focused on creating entries for female scientists. The challenge, organizers say, will be getting participants of these one-off events to become regular Wikipedia contributors.