Wikipedia Will Never Close the Gender Gap

I think it’s wonderful that women are organizing to close Wikipedia’s gender gap:

They had gathered for the first-ever Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. At Eyebeam, and satellite marathons across New York and in more than twenty cities internationally, women were researching and writing, an effort with the twofold goal of bolstering Wikipedia’s entries on women artists and of encouraging more women to edit Wikipedia.

Wikipedia famously bears one of the starkest gender gaps in contemporary culture — less than fifteen percent of its editors are women. As a result, the Internet encyclopedia is a lopsided, Axe-scented version of the world, onewhere Sex and the City has fewer citations than a single character from Grand Theft Auto. But unlike other spaces where women are underrepresented, Wikipedia doesn’t have any official gatekeeper excluding us. No one hires you to edit Wikipedia. Which means it’s the kind of thing you can’t really complain about unless you do your part.

That being said, I think the chances of ever getting to parity are extremely slim.  The article points out that women may have less leisure time than men due to greater expectations of housework, childcare, and so on.  The ideal wikipedia editor is one with endless patience, thorough diligence, obsessive attention to detail, and a tendency towards hyper-verbose pedantry.  This could apply equally well to men or women, but it applies very well to individuals with high-functioning autism and/or Asperger syndrome.  Both conditions are far more common among men than women.

A small number of Wikipedia editors are responsible for the vast majority of the content and editing. I would guess this high-profile population contains a very high proportion of individuals with autism-spectrum disorders, much like the ranks of the very top software programmers.  Very few neurotypical people have the drive necessary to become one of the top editors, because it requires literally obsessive behavior.  Organizing efforts to improve the representation of women on Wikipedia is a great step, but this just isn’t likely to move the needle.  Wikipedia editing is a pastime tailor-made for high-functioning people on the autism spectrum, and those people are overwhelmingly male.

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One response to “Wikipedia Will Never Close the Gender Gap”

  1. Nihiltres says :

    I’m not sure whether I find this post *offensive* or not, but it’s certainly misguided.

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