Thursday, August 11, 2016

This is what sexism looks like: Wikipedia

We've all heard that there are gender problems on Wikipedia. Honestly there are a lot of problems on Wikipedia, but gender disparity is one of them. Like other areas of online life, on Wikipedia there are thinly disguised and not-so thinly disguised attacks on women. I am at the moment the victim of one of those attacks.

Wikipedia runs on a set of policies that are used to help make decisions about content and to govern behavior. In a sense, this is already a very male approach, as we know from studies of boys and girls at play: boys like a sturdy set of rules, and will spend considerable time arguing whether or not rules are being followed; girls begin play without establishing a set of rules, develop agreed rules as play goes on if needed, but spend little time on discussion of rules.

If you've been on Wikipedia and have read discussions around various articles, you know that there are members of the community that like to "wiki-lawyer" - who will spend hours arguing whether something is or is not within the rules. Clearly, coming to a conclusion is not what matters; this is blunt force, nearly content-less arguing. It eats up hours of time, and yet that is how some folks choose to spend their time. There are huge screaming fights that have virtually no real meaning; it's a kind of fantasy sport.

Wiki-lawyering is frequently used to harass. It is currently going on to an amazing extent in harassment of me, although since I'm not participating, it's even emptier. The trigger was that I sent back for editing two articles about men that two wikipedians thought should not have been sent back. Given that I have reviewed nearly 4000 articles, sending back 75% of those for more work, these two are obviously not significant. What is significant, of course, is that a woman has looked at an article about a man and said: "this doesn't cut it". And that is the crux of the matter, although the only person to see that is me. It is all being discussed as violations of policy, although there are none. But sexism, as with racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., is almost never direct (and even when it is, it is often denied). Regulating what bathrooms a person can use, or denying same sex couples marriage, is a kind of lawyering around what the real problem is. The haters don't say "I hate transexuals" they just try to make them as miserable as possible by denying them basic comforts. In the past, and even the present, no one said "I don't want to hire women because I consider them inferior" they said "I can't hire women because they just get pregnant and leave."

Because wiki-lawyering is allowed, this kind of harassment is allowed. It's now gone on for two days and the level of discourse has gotten increasingly hysterical. Other than one statement in which I said I would not engage because the issue is not policy but sexism (which no one can engage with), it has all been between the wiki-lawyers, who are working up to a lynch mob. This is gamer-gate, in action, on Wikipedia.

It's too bad. I had hopes for Wikipedia. I may have to leave. But that means one less woman editing, and we were starting to gain some ground.

The best read on this topic, mainly about how hard it is to get information that is threatening to men (aka about women) into Wikipedia: WP:THREATENING2MEN: Misogynist Infopolitics and the Hegemony of the Asshole Consensus on English Wikipedia

I have left Wikipedia, and I also had to delete my Twitter account because they started up there. I may not be very responsive on other media for a while. Thanks to everyone who has shown support, but if by any chance you come across a kinder, gentler planet available for habitation, do let me know. This one's desirability quotient is dropping fast.


Tod Robbins said...


Is there anything I can do to help your cause?


Karen Coyle said...

Tod, if you Wiki, then you should be able to find the event. If you cannot, send me an email. Once there, tho', you may want to think twice or thrice about entering the fray -- there's nothing rational about it, so there's really no way to participate rationally. Still, support is most welcome, and keep an eye out in the future for similar attacks. Vigilance is the best thing. Thanks.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen said...

I'm sorry that you, like so many marginalized people, have experienced harassment on Wikipedia. Good analogy to the trans restroom issue too (I'm trans so that's something I have to deal with myself). Online harassment, marginalization and exclusion really need to be taken more seriously.

Gregory Kohs said...

You may be interested in hearing about my experiment to test Wikipedia's self-correcting quality. (I'd say Wikipedia failed miserably: )

Further, I was then banned from attending an open event where "anyone is welcome", held on federal property: