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Monday musings on Australian literature: Boosting women’s entries on Wikipedia

March 27, 2017

Have you heard or read about the large discrepancy in Wikipedia between biographical entries (or “individual profiles”) for women and for men? The actual figure is a bit fluid because, of course, Wikipedia is a dynamic site, but most researchers on the topic come up with a figure of around 15-20% as the percentage of biographical articles on women (versus men) in Wikipedia. Why is this? Well, the point Austen so succinctly made in the early nineteenth century seems as true today, 200 years later:

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.

In other words, men are also the main contributors to Wikipedia (about which I’ve written before). In fact, the percentage of women editors is less than or similar to the percentage of women’s biographical articles. The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reports that Wikipedia had “failed to meet its goal of increasing women’s participation on the website to 25 per cent by 2015”.

Now, it is probably true that men feature more heavily in the public sphere – more politicians, more world leaders, etc etc, are men. Consequently, we might expect some gender imbalance in biographical articles. But, we also know that many women of achievement are under-recognised and under-reported. Feminists have been highlighting this since Feminism’s Second Wave in the 1970s – and yet here, in 2017, we can identify large numbers of women in every field of endeavour who are not in Wikipedia.

Gender symbols


Consequenlty, in recent years women have been taking action, by holding, for example, “edit-a-thons” to support and encourage the creation and upgrading of women’s entries in Wikipedia. On December 8 last year, as reported by SMH (linked above), some 400 new entries were created for women in an international edit-a-thon. Specific events were held, SMH says, in “Istanbul, Cairo, Dhaka, Jerusalem, Delhi, Abuja, London, Cardiff and Washington DC” and individuals also worked “from their own computers across the world”.

But, what about Australia?

Australia has not been missing from this action. In fact, in 2014, as reported by another SMH article, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art hosted an edit-a-thon during which “volunteers gathered to edit and expand the paucity of Wiki pages on Australian female artists”. As well as creating new entries they worked on “improving their academic rigour by providing citations and references”. This is important work, because it enables Wiki’s users to be confident about what they read.

In August 2016, the ABC reports, a group of Australian female scientists took “part in a Wikibomb in an effort to be recognised for their contribution to Antarctic research”. The event took place “at the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research conference in Malaysia, 93 Wikipedia profiles were created and 20 were improved upon.” There was apparently also a Wikibomb-edit-a-thon event held in Melbourne in November last year.

Significant indigenous Australian women (Enlighten 2017)

Some significant indigenous Australian women (Enlighten 2017)

And now, tomorrow, 28 March, Sydney University Press (SUP) and the university’s Fisher Library are holding an edit-a-thon “to improve the representation of Australian women in the world’s favourite reference work.” They’ve chosen March because it’s Women’s History Month. They have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and they are building an accessible document listing “notable” women in a wide variety of fields who need Wikipedia entries or whose entries need upgrading. It’s a wonderful list, including scientists, artists, activists, historians, botanists and even the odd writer! SUP urges people to come, even if they have no experience or training in Wikipedia editing, as they

will have roving helpers and a cheatsheet with everything you need to know to become a Wiki champion in just a few minutes. It’s going to be a collaborative and fun exercise that will involve EVERYONE.

I’d be there in a flash if I lived in Sydney. You do need to RSVP, so if you are in Sydney and are interested, do check the Facebook Page link I’ve given to see whether it is still possible to join. But, if you can’t, there’s nothing to stop you having a go at home. They give advice on how to do that too on their Facebook page, with links to various useful tutorials.

So, I wish them a very successful day and look forward to hearing the results.

Meanwhile, I would love to know if any of you contribute to Wikipedia – and, if so, what your experience has been? (I have written on this blog about one of my early experiences.)

PS: SUP shares on its Facebook page an Inside Story article reporting that the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) is looking for nominations for women to include in its online database, but that’s a topic, perhaps, for another day because the articles raises some interesting issues about “who” to include.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2017 18:04

    What a wonderful – and important – initiative! Like you, if I lived in Sydney I’d be thrilled to participate!

    • March 27, 2017 22:57

      It would be fun too, wouldn’t it Annette. I’d love the camaraderie along with the doing something useful.

  2. March 27, 2017 21:07

    I rely on Wikipedia but I very rarely add to entries. Though I did just the other day remove the odd claim that My Brilliant Career was self published (it was published by Blackwoods in Edinburgh).

    • March 27, 2017 22:58

      Good for you Bill. Just fixing things that are erroneous makes a difference. That’s a weird claim. I’d never heard that claim.

  3. March 27, 2017 22:04

    Well, I’ve mentioned this before: I was quite active until I realised that I was spending more time arguing fruitlessly with WikiNazis about whether the authors I was making pages for were notable enough, than I was actually making the pages. I think I was dealing with someone who (a) did not know where Australia was and (b) did not think anyone outside of the US was or ever could be notable. He also didn’t seem to understand that it takes time to research the subject and upload it and not everyone can spend a whole day online until it’s done. So I think the idea of doing the work as a group is a good one, because it provides support against these disagreeable people who have no netiquette skills and truly deplorable arrogance.
    I used to donate to them too, but not any more!

    • March 27, 2017 23:04

      Yes Lisa, I remember your story. Funnily, I had it happen again two weeks ago when I created an article for the first time in a long time for a significant Australian writer and got it slapped with a not notable banner. However, I have always found that for every poor Wikipedian there are more good ones willing to help you so that was sorted pretty quickly. Mr Gums and I still donate every year – sometimes each of us do, sometimes we discuss it – because we use it a lot.

  4. March 28, 2017 07:18

    This is so interesting! When I was compiling my list of 100 Irish Women Writers, so many of them didn’t have a Wikipedia page. Funny I’ve never thought of adding or amending on it. Perhaps I should!

    • March 28, 2017 07:54

      Oh you should Cathy. Improving Wikipedia was my first big retirement project. I know you work and have a family, so time is limited, but even adding one or two pieces of useful, cited information to a brief existing article is a help.

  5. Meg permalink
    March 28, 2017 09:14

    I do use Wikipedia, and I do see mistakes. It happens. I always consult other information sources for verification. I think a group effort is a great idea, and good luck to those in Sydney today. What a great initiative.

  6. Meg permalink
    March 28, 2017 09:51

    No, not confident enough to do so.

    • March 28, 2017 11:49

      You should Meg. You’re very capable and it’s easy. YOU just hit the edit button at the top of the page (on desktops and laptops) and add or correct. If you have a citation, theres an easy drop down template for that these days too. I love that addition to the editing process.

  7. March 28, 2017 10:20

    I was sorry to read about Lisa’s bad experience with Wikipedia. I found the process of correcting and adding to my author entry pretty trouble-free. I don’t know what would have happened it there’d been nothing there to start with, but someone had put up the bare bones of an article, and I went on from there. I didn’t know about the relative lack of articles about women, so thanks for pointing that out. A most informative post!

    • March 28, 2017 11:54

      Thanks Dorothy. And good for you. Wikipedia can frown on people writing their own articles, but I’m guessing you respected that Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia and added factual info rather than writing a puff piece about yourself! It would be great to see more authors add factual (real ones, not alternative ones) data to their records because sometimes it’s hard to find.

      Yes, it is a great shame about Lisa’s experience. I have had some run-ins myself but have always managed to sort them out. It can be off-putting though I know.

      I’d love it if the people running today’s event wrote a comment here on how it went. I’ll email them and ask them.

  8. Meg permalink
    March 28, 2017 16:55

    Thanks Sue, I will keep it in mind.

    • March 29, 2017 02:13

      Do – and if you are uncertain, just email me. I can step you through it, or do the correction myself if it’s a small one.

  9. March 29, 2017 01:25

    What an informative post, thanks WG! I’ve never heard of anything you mention here, never even thought of the gender discrepancy on Wiki. Again, I blame it on my living in hinterland here. And there are Australian female scientists against gender inequalities in being recognized for Antarctic research? And Antarctic Research conference held in Malaysia? These sound like a Wes Anderson movie that I’d missed! 🙂

    • March 29, 2017 02:15

      Haha, Arti, I loved that bit about the Antarctic scientists doing their wikibomb effort in Malaysia.

      Anyhow, glad you found the post informative. It’s certainly worth knowing I think – the imbalance I mean.

  10. March 30, 2017 06:58

    Very cool! I would love to add to Wikipedia but I just don’t have the spare time to do it. I used to do proofreading for Project Gutenberg and loved it and even thought about working my way up to editor but I had to give it up a few years ago because I couldn’t manage to find the time to keep up with it. Not enough hours in the day!

    • March 30, 2017 13:23

      No, Stefanie, you’re right, there aren’t, but they show that there’s plenty of things to do when you retire don’t they? Wikipedia was my first new retirement hobby!

      • March 31, 2017 01:58

        with all the stuff I think i am going to do “when I retire” I am going to be even busier than I am now! 🙂

  11. buriedinprint permalink
    March 31, 2017 03:51

    Thank you so much for posting about this; I had no idea the discrepancy was so large (but, then, I’ve thought that before about so many other matters along these lines – you think it’s out of balance but you don’t realise HOW much it’s imbalanced)!

    • March 31, 2017 14:55

      Yes, thanks Buried. It can be pretty shocking can’t it. You would have thought we’d have come further than this wouldn’t you?

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