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.

J.S. Wayne

I find this particularly interesting because the same thing happens in the romance world routinely to male authors, especially those who don't resort to "gender-neutral" or female pen names to make their work more "palatable" to the predominantly female reading public. Oh, the times are changing, but if you're a man who writes openly AS a man and don't limit yourself to homoerotic romance (I write some of it, for reasons that have nothing to do with my own personal orientation, but it is far from the only thing I write), you are far more likely to read comments like this one:

message 4: by Rachel (new)
May 14, 2012 09:33am

Rachel I hate to admit this but...I won't read a romance written by a man. I don't know why! It's terrible of me isn't it?

I think it's because I feel as though a man won't be able to capture the feelings of a woman. It also feels icky to read a sex scene written by a man. I know it's silly. lol"
(Taken from

The fact is, it shouldn't matter what gender the author is; the real question is, Does that author have something to say? If the answer is yes, then the author's gender should be a question of no real import, and that applies whether the author has XX chromosomes, XY chromosomes, or some Plutonian variant science on this planet hasn't gotten wind of yet.

But, in the absence of a real solution for this one, let's break everything down to the last possible pigeonhole: ethnicity, gender, religion, orientation, point of origin, point of current location. There comes a point where no two people can fit in the same pigeonhole because this one may be categorically identical to that one in all respects except for height or hair color. Oops! Oh, dear...someone has to go.

How about this: Instead of worrying about exclusive behavior, let's try to be as inclusive as possible. Can this even be done?

Sadly, I'm coming to doubt it. As long as the prevailing wisdom remains "It's okay as long as it's not happening to me or the particular pigeonholes into which I happen to fit," stories like this will continue to be commonplace. So our choices then become to deal with it as it is, or try to change it. Folks, marginalization and segregation are never okay, no matter to whom they're happening or why. It's not okay on Wikipedia, it's not okay on bookshelves, it's just flatly not acceptable. But the way to combat it is to do something about it, not to sit around complaining about how unfair it is.



There's no reason to categorize books by the sex, religion or ethnicity of the author but in many other respects books are a product and the consumer should be given as much information as possible to make his choice. Where is the line between legitimate classification and sub-classification and ghettoization? 4 out of 5 women authors write in a distinct dialect clearly different from the typical male writer which does not appeal to me , should I have to sift through reams of unappealing stuff. Why? To whom do I owe this waste of my time?

Discrimination exists because it serves a purpose, it has useful as well as negative aspects and a balance is needed. Life without categorization and discrimination would be hopelessly inefficient and frustrating.


This is likely a logistics thing and not a conspiracy. Women need to relax, not everyone is out to screw them over or tarnish women's legacy.

WikiPedia is a volunteer effort largely, you can't expect them to get these kind of things done immediately. I bet when it's all finished you have a list of Male and Female authors.


A good rule of thumb when trying to decide if something is sexist: Replace the word "Woman" with "Black" or "Hispanic" or "Muslim". If the resulting phrase or paragraph makes you uncomfortable, then the original is sexist.