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.


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.

Mike B

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.


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.


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.


Jimmy Wales responded to this on Quora:


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

Seminymous Coward

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


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


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.


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.

Mike B

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.

Alan T

Thanks to those who raised this issue, it is being actively debated on Wikipedia. There is a subcategory for American Men Novelists, but it has far fewer entries than the subcategory for women.

Seminymous Coward

No, that's thanks to people who read about the issue and then acted to fix it.


Couldn't the objective just as easily be to remove all the female authors then turn the "main" list into "American Men Novelists?" I do this sorting laundry all the time; pull out all of my wife's clothes from the main pile. I start out with a "laundry pile" and a "wife's laundry pile," but end up with a "husband's laundry pile" and a "wife's laundry pile."


It is unfair. A regulatory commission is needed to ensure the desired balance.


I was on Twitter when this broke. I think this article is deliberately omitting two pieces of information that are fairly import.

1. The women that were (at least initially) moved were not just moved out of American Novelists, as the article suggested. They were the ones that were crosslisted in 'American novelists' and 'woman novelists'. One could argue that this consolidation made (or did not make) sense in the same way that creating an 'American deciduous trees' category for those crosslisted between 'American trees' and 'Deciduous trees'.

2. The editor that did this had previous consolidated and sorted lists of artists and actors by sex (male and female) and location. This seems to be their preferred method of categorization and this act was not (necessarily) a "women are not real authors" protest.

Now, these two points are really consistent with both viewpoints. They may have had a sex-based agenda and wanted to segregate women away from men. Or they may have a view on simplicity of categorization and simply combined the 'American novelists' and 'woman novelists' as they had done for actors by nationality before.

I haven't dug into the Wikipedia Talks to try to discern their motives, but it bothers me that the article was written as just "They were moved out of American novelists" when it's really more of a "Two categories were combined into one mutually exclusive category."

(For the record, I think segregating by sex is bad policy in part because it leads to things like this. Keep everyone under novelist and let the sorting be solely by genre (but still keep everyone cross-listed, even if no one uses the 'American Novelist' category due to its size.)

(As a side note, lambasting someone as a sexist pig across the internet and then lambasting them again for not responding to the angry letters soon enough is kind of at odds. When you attack someone publicly and have a larger microphone than them, you've giving them an incentive to turtle up.)



Couldn't she of just let them finish and then asked them to rename, American novelists to American men novelist. Knowing that both men and women would be finished as soon as the women are separated out killing two birds with one stone sort of. At the same time if they had jumped the gun and named it men with women still in the category, clearly there'd be a problem of identification. Maybe give them transitional time?


Possibly, but I can see why it might happen.

I listen to audio books while I work so there is a limited selection. At the library for example the shelves are about 1/2 romance novels, the converse, male-oriented big-chin action novels are about 1/8 and the other 3/8 is everything else. Since the romance category is by women for women and is so large I cans see how in might get ghettoized and undeserving female authors get sucked into it.

I have gotten to the point where if I see a woman's name on the spine and the title is in any way suggestive of romance I pass it without further consideration.


On the subject of "ghettoizing", I had to wonder just what it is that makes a person (whether male, female, or of unknown gender) a "novelist" and not just a writer of fiction. There are writers whose books take up the best part of whole shelves at the library or bookstore who don't appear on either of those lists, and likewise many names whose works you'd be hard pressed to find in either place.