Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

An Epic Feminist Edit-a-Thon Takes Aim at Wikipedia's Gender Gap

a photo by krystal south shows a woman wearing a shirt that says "never log off"

A photo from multidisciplinary artist Krystal South's internet-exploration project Identify Yourself.

It's well known that female artists are underrepresented in art museums, but what about in our more modern and malleable institutions?  

Next week, groups of artists and tech-savvy folks around the country are taking aim at gender imbalance in representation of female artists on Wikipedia. The "Art + Feminism Edit-a-Thon" being held in New York on February 1st has inspired simultaneous editing marathons in 17 other cities, all focused on adding more female artists to the public encyclopedia and fleshing out the meager entries of existing women artists. 

The exciting thing about Wikipedia is that it's a cultural institution with very few gatekeepers. Artists don't have to impress a curator or strike it big at a fancy gallery show in order to get their work on the site. Instead, they or one of their fans just has to have the tech skills to create a Wikipedia entry. The huge number of people adding information to Wikipedia should theoretically mean that the ever-changing encyclopedia can present a more accurate and diverse portrait of American art than, say, the Met. But while anyone can edit Wikipedia pages, surveys show that the vast majority of people who actually do edit the site are men: less than 13 percent of people who create or change Wikipedia entries are women. 

"How the site is written has a political impact, I think," says multimedia artist and digital designer Krystal South, who is helping run an edit-a-thon on February 1st in Portland, Oregon.  "Doing searches for contemporary female artists on Wikipedia, you find there are giant gaps." 

While there are hundreds of female artists with entries in the encyclopedia, there should be many more. As a recent New York Times story on Wikipedia's gender gap succinctly pointed out, "Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in The Simpsons?" 

Since over half of internet users say they have used Wikipedia to find information, the absence of women artists from the site is the equivalent of leaving them out of the history books. Luckily, unlike a history book, Wikipedia is easy to change. 

art and feminism wiki edit-a-thon

The edit-a-thon has posted a list of female artists that it hopes to add to Wikipedia by the end of the big day. But Krystal South is making her own list of favorite artists who are poorly represented on the site.  At the top of her to-do list is improving the entry on video artist Joan Jonas. When you Google Joan Jonas's name, her Wikipedia entry is the first result to pop up—even above her biography at the Museum of Modern Art. But unlike the museum's biography, Jonas's Wiki entry has zero photos of her work. 

The reasons behind Wikipedia's lack of representation of female artists are complicated. The low rate of female editors on Wikipedia fits into depressing industry-wide trends: women comprise only 25 percent of the workforce in computing industries. Long-time Wikipedia editor Sarah Stierch also pointed to the design on the site. "It's aesthetically very masculine in its design," Stierch said in an interview with The Daily Dot. "Its community, like so much of the early Internet, has been male dominated, and I think when a lot of people—men or women—look at Wikipedia these days, they see it as a source for information but have little interest or excitement in contributing to it." Plus, the way Wikipedia works is that the strongest articles cite facts and information in existing sources—in that way, the historic lack of attention to female artists in books, museums, and galleries perpetuates their continued erasure in an age of crowdsourcing. 

The goal of the upcoming "Feminism and Art Edit-a-Thon" is both to raise awareness about the need to intentionally create and improve Wikipedia pages for female artists, as well as to equip hundreds of new people with the concrete skills to edit Wiki pages on their own. 

"It's not like my life passion to make Wikipedia feminist, but it's been really surprising, there's this whole underground world that I wasn't aware of of people who are dedicated to editing Wikipedia," says South. "The beauty of Wikipedia is it's a public institution, people have the ability to go change it."  

Related listening: Our podcast episode "Wired" talked about feminism issues in tech with programmers Ashe Dryden and Serena Wales.  


Want the best of Bitch in your inbox? Sign up for our free weekly reader!

Read and buy Bitch magazine's current print issue!

Want more from Bitch? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

9 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Feminist Edit-a-Thon

Just make sure not to do what they did with the female authors: they took them out of the general category and segregated them into a category of their own. The point is that female creators are also human creators. We want to be included.

This is great -

This is great - thanks!
Women's wikipedia posts are also deleted and corrected more than men's; see http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2013/08/19/women-contributors-still-face-hur... and also http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/opinion/sunday/wikipedias-sexism.html.

I found the barrier for entry

I found the barrier for entry to Wikipedia to be surprisingly high when the editors on there are of the mindset of "revert now, argue later, listen never" insisting that anything posted pass their arbitrary and ever changing threshold of "notability".

Barrier for entry

In my experience, the problem is not with the contributors to Wikipedia, but the rude people who show up there with demands and angry rants, who refuse to read the instructions, or listen to the tips given to them by the helpful editors, and who refuse to supply newspaper articles or other published sources to back up the assertions that they wish to insert into Wikipedia.

If you give a citation or even just a link to a good source, your suggested changes will stick.

Thankyou, bitch media, once

Thankyou, bitch media, once again! It is so awesome to have a mainstream media and information source bring these woeful inadequacies to light; a refreshing change from magazines informing the populace exactly how to style their hair, and what to wear to "impress". LOVE YOU!

Why doesn't anyone do anything for model Audrey Munson?

Audrey Munson was America's greatest model.

I see that the University of Wisconsin (Madison) is participating in editing Wikipedia. Audrey Munson is on the capitol building as Miss Wisconsin. I see that the Brooklyn Museum is participating in editing Wikipedia. Audrey Munson is in front of that museum as Miss Manhattan. Munson also posed for "Civic Fame" on the Municipal Building. In 1915, she was the "World's Fair Girl" of San Francisco's Panama-Pacific Exposition. She can still be seen in San Francisco today as the star maiden statue.

Audrey Munson died in 1996, at age 104, in complete obscurity. She lived the last 60 years of her life (sadly) in a mental institution. For 20 years, I've been telling people that America's greatest model (and the first person to pose nude in film) must be honored on a U.S. postage stamp.

All you need is a letter writing campaign to the cities and institutions where she graces -- such as New York City and San Francisco. Get everyone to write to the U.S. Postal Service. Tell San Francisco that the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition was important to that city, and Audrey Munson was the most memorable part of that. Suggesting a postal service honor for Audrey Munson costs everyone nothing.

Anyone concerned with female artists underrepresented in art museums--anyone interested in American history--would support this campaign. Good luck with the Wikipedia campaign, but please, someone do something for poor Audrey after all these years.

"Artists don't have to

"Artists don't have to impress a curator or strike it big at a fancy gallery show in order to get their work on the site. Instead, they or one of their fans just has to have the tech skills to create a Wikipedia entry."

This is entirely untrue, I'm afraid. There is a rather high barrier for noteworthiness on wikipedia ESPECIALLY when related to the arts. If you try and submit an article without proper citations and on an individual or group that doesn't meet their qualifications, it will be promptly deleted.

There is an update to your article

I'm with you on most of this,

I'm with you on most of this, but the assertion that the visual design of Wikipedia is "masculine" leaves me cold. Can we not buy into the gender binary with symbols and visual representations, please? Even most flowers have both male and female parts. (And some flowers are entirely male!) Pink should not just be a female color. Etc.