In 2011, survey data revealed that only 13 percent of Wikipedia contributors were women, while the vast majority of Wikipedia editors were white, middle-class men. This notable disparity has resulted not only in a silencing of women’s voices, but also in gaping content holes where traditionally “feminine” topics or knowledge have been excluded from the Wikipedia corpus.
In the wake of this revelation, a number of activist groups have organized initiatives to encourage writing by and about women for Wikipedia. Last week, Dr. Adeline Koh, at Richard Stockton College, and Dr. Roopika Risam, at Salem State University, hosted the third Global Women Write-In event, which encouraged writers from around the world to contribute content about women to Wikipedia. The event included face-to-face nodes, but was primarily a digital event, cataloged and organized on a Wikipedia Meetup page and via Twitter under #GWWI.
The primary goal of the #GWWI, which was supported by the Postcolonial Digital Humanities Rewriting Wikipedia Project and the
Global Outlook on Digital Humanities Special Interest Group, is to broaden the scope of Wikipedia to more readily include women and women of color by developing new content or improving existing content as a direct response to the hegemony of current Wikipedian authorship and editorial trends. As indicated on the Rewriting Wikipedia Project website, “The privileges–and blind spots–of this demographic’s worldview also mean that marginalized groups and their histories (people outside of the United States and Europe, people of color, poor people, women, LGBT people, and disabled people) are less represented (or less well represented) on Wikipedia.”
During the four day event, #GWWI participants created 29 new entries, including a page for literacy scholar Deborah Brandt, and made improvements to 13 other pages. Since the event started in 2013, 54 new entries have been added to Wikipedia.
#GWWI and events like it (for example HASTAC’s #tooFew, which called for more feminist activity on Wikipedia and Carlton University Women in Science and Engineering Edit-A-thon, which aimed to bring more attention to women’s contributions in STEM fields) represent an important step forward for expanding the kinds of knowledge represented in Wikipedia as well as an opportunity to make different kinds of knowledge in these collaborative spaces. These events are successful not only because they bring to light information, biographies, and stories that have otherwise been obscured, but because a diversity of contributors may have the power to change the editorial standards that privilege certain worldviews and epistemologies over others.
These movements also help demonstrate that no knowledge, no platform, no tool or technology is neutral by highlighting what gets left out of the knowledge base. This may be particularly important as some platforms, like wikis, have become so familiar to users that their interfaces and value systems become invisible. The DRC Wiki is no exception to this rule; the information and knowledge there is certainly bound to and shaped by the platforms and tools we use to represent it. Our mission, though, is to support a variety of voices for a variety of purposes. We imagine the DRC Wiki as a space for exchanging and sharing ideas where all voices are welcome. Like a traditional wiki, we invite anyone to register for an account and contribute. At the DRC wiki, we welcome innovation in terms of publications, including entries that bend conventions and expectations for wikis. We’re interested in building an archive for the computers and writing community that’s as diverse as its members and the work they do. We’re hoping that by engaging with the platforms we critique, we might also look for better ways to utilize them. In this case, we’re learning to make and share knowledge that values diversity, so we might teach others how to do the same.