Is Wikipedia Ghettoizing Female Writers?

The novelist Amanda Filipacchi (a very good writer; I happen to have gone to grad school with her) writes in the Times that female novelists seem to be getting ghettoized on Wikipedia:

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.”

Further details are welcome. This piece brings to mind a section of our recent “Women Are Not Men” podcast, reported by Bourree Lam, about the relative scarcity of female editors on Wikipedia — and this followup post about females posing as males online to avoid harassment.

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  1. Michael says:

    Her inference for intention is not well founded.

    Wikipedia is free to edit. Why doesn’t she start a category for “American Men Novelists”? This would solve both Wikipedia’s and her problems.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 37 Thumb down 10
    • Mike B says:

      Wikipedia categories have always been problematic due to inconsistent sub-categorization, overlapping sub-categorization and and people just plain not knowing which is the correct bin to look in. I rarely use Category pages as an index due to this problem and prefer to use dedicated List pages which are not only better maintained, but tend to be searchable.

      BTW going back to the old debate between the lack of female Wikipedia editors in this case men were trying to do something about a problem while women, when confronted with a problem, decided to go off and complain. If one doesn’t like being stereotyped then don’t conform to it.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 21
      • Sabrynne McLain says:

        And so helpful of you to stereotype women as “those who complain” rather than “those who try to do something about the problem.”

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 10
    • Enter your name... says:

      A “Male novelists” category is likely to be deleted. The rules are at,_gender,_religion_and_sexuality#Gender and discourage the creation of gendered categories unless gender is relevant (most sports, for example, since men and women don’t compete against each other). “American women novelists” is borderline under the rules, but “American men novelists” would never fly.

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  2. nemof says:

    these two talk pages give more info and discussion people can participate in:

    it’s just a shame that the way wikipedia works is so fucking opaque to outsiders.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4
  3. nXXt says:

    Obviously they have made a mistake in this operation. Clearly, the best way to go about shortening the list would be to segregate the list: one would need a new category for ‘Coloured American Novelists’. This is not to diminish the great work they have contributed to literature. They are equal, but separate.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 10
  4. Ryan says:

    Jimmy Wales responded to this on Quora:

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0
  5. Rachael says:

    Apparently it’s just one guy with a bot and an agenda, not “editors”; and Jimmy Wales has expressed disapproval of him.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3
  6. Seminymous Coward says:

    Adding the category “American Men Novelists” would have been a more direct solution than writing an article about its absence.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 5
    • milowent says:

      but it wouldn’t result in a high profile NYT op-ed, would it?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 4
    • Sabrynne McLain says:

      As was mentioned above, no one can just “add” a category. The gatekeepers will just delete it and tell you not to do it again. I realize many people think that anyone is free to edit the site but this is not the case.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6
      • Seminymous Coward says:

        Then try and fail before calling it sexist in an outside public forum. For one thing, it would make a better story than “I found out Wikipedia has segregated American women novelists into a asymmetric subcategory, so I told my female-novelists-only mailing list to spread accusations before I so much as mentioned it to the organization I’m criticizing or investigated their other categories or their policies for creating them.” For another, politely drawing a potential problem to someone’s attention is a lot more civil than labeling a massive group as bigots in front of tens of millions based on one corner of their behavior without so much as investigating their reasoning.

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3
  7. Josh says:

    It would be inappropriate for someone who is not on the pulse of Wikipedia to go in and start changing things on this page. Look at the talk pages!! The editors are all over this, and most of the women have already been restored to the main list.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
  8. milowent says:

    Someone did create an “American Men Novelists” category since the NYT piece went live, presumably in jest. I do think the lack of females participating in the discussions linked in other comments here is a problem. Wikipedia males are disproportionately geeks who lack common sense and “people skills”. I lovingly say this as a wikipedia contributor.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6
    • Mike B says:

      It’s not about common sense, its about people not understanding how Wikipedia is supported to work. If there is a problem you try to fix it without resorting to drama. If someone makes a female author category then others might try being helpful and make a female author category.

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2