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Wikipedia – Men and children first

By Nathalie Collida and friends

It’s no secret that Wikipedia has a shortage of female editors. According to a survey commissioned by the Wikimedia Foundation in 2011, a mere 8.5 per cent of the people contributing to the online encyclopaedia identify as women. In a recent op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, Sue Gardner – who became the figurehead of Wikipedia when she signed up as Executive Director with the Wikimedia Foundation 5 years ago – tried to explain this by focusing on what she perceives as the “geeky, tech-centric, intellectually confident, thick-skinned and argumentative” nature of the average Wikipedian. Outside observers, among them Web2.0 expert Joseph Reagle, add another component to the mix: good old-fashioned sexism. His latest study, “’Free as in sexist’ Free culture and the gender gap” examines how the combative locker-room culture of Wikipedia’s male contributors – a good portion of whom are teens and pre-teens – makes women less likely to participate. While Reagle’s journal article relies heavily on previously published analyses and interviews with Wikipedians, we’ve decided to take a look under the bonnet of Ms Gardner’s million-dollar on-line empire, with examples taken not just from articles but also from areas of the encyclopaedia and its sister projects often overlooked by its readers: the talk pages of articles and editors as well as various discussion boards.

Wikimedia Commons and the art of masturbating in public

Natka Brown is a Russian-born language teacher who not only contributes to Wikipedia but also uses the site and its picture library Wikimedia Commons with her 8-year-old granddaughter by her side. During an unrelated search on Commons, she came across one of the thousands of pictures of male masturbation hosted on the project. Surprised and offended, she started a conversation on the Mediawiki IRC channel and was immediately trolled by two male Wikipedians, Funfood and Nickname1 riffing on the much-abused policy which states that “Wikipedia is not censored”. Unfazed, Natka took to the talk page of Jimbo Wales, one of the most popular venues for the Wikipedia in-crowd, where things quickly went from bad to worse. Natka had made the mistake of adding the following comment to her question as to whether hosting a video of a masturbating Wikipedia contributor was compatible with the project’s educational mission: “I fail to see any public benefit in public mastrubation. It hurts. Please do something about it!” A male Wikipedia user who also holds the prestigious positions of Bureaucrat and Administrator on the porn repository that is Wikimedia Commons was quick to respond: “When I masturbate in public, I don’t really feel any different than when I do it in private; can you possibly tell us why when you masturbate in public, it hurts?” A few minutes later, he added another puerile remark: “Additionally Natbrown, funny that you were looking for Russian words for “motion”. Tatu have a song called “Простые движения”, which translates as “Simple Motions”. There’s even a music video for it. Take a look; it’s got simulated masturbation, although by looking how good she seems to be feeling, perhaps it is real, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be hurting her. Not at all.” Wikipedia user Ian Thomson joined the all-male choir by stating “But guys, simply avoiding sexual topics, or using a simple software plug-in to block images, or maybe monitoring one’s child’s internet activity, instead of insisting that no one else can use educational resources on the matter would require not being a prude. That’s just an unreasonable demand.”

Natka Brown went on to launch the Facebook group “Stop Pornography on Wikipedia”. One of the first people she invited was the Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner. At the time of writing, Ms Gardner has yet to join.

Donkey see, donkey do

In January 2012, the on-line world’s attention focused on Wikipedia’s article on the violent urban myth that is the donkey punch, in reaction to an answer given by a contestant on the US show Jeopardy. Within a matter of days, the write-up received record views and brought attention to the crudely drawn animated file used to illustrate this particularly puerile piece of crowd-sourcing. Not for the first time, mind you. Feminist blogger Carmen aka Penny Sociologist describes her reaction when she came across the Wikipedia article in November 2011:

There I was greeted, at the top of the short entry, with a cartoon of a man in doggie-style/anal position over a woman with his fist drawn back. To my shock, the cartoon started to move, and I watched in horror as the man punched the woman in the back of the head. Her neck snapped back, a couple of little black marks shot out to illustrate impact, and she grimaced painfully. […] This animated how-to gif on the Wikipedia page impacted me so deeply that I burst into tears and slammed the lid of my laptop. It’s not that I haven’t seen uglier things. I have. It’s that sexualized violence against women is now so normalized that somehow, it’s deemed appropriate to graphically illustrate it on fucking Wikipedia. […] I’ve never edited on Wikipedia before, because frankly I have lots of other shit to do. But I quickly learned how and within minutes I had successfully removed the image. […]
An hour or so later, it was back. I removed it again, at which point the dedicated misogynist (one “cptnono”, a 40-something death metal drummer in Florida) who had put it back sent me a message telling me to “stop edit warring” and go air my opinions on the Discussion page if I didn’t like it. […] The Discussion page didn’t leave me with much hope that a lone feminist stood a chance of removing hate speech against a dedicated team of misogynists who undoubtedly sit around in their mum’s basements wanking to violent porn all day in between monitoring Wikipedia pages, so I decided to send my protest to Wikipedia. […]
The email back, from one Wikipedia misogynist and hate speech supporter who I will call “PK”, told me that this type of content has been the subject of much “serious discussion” and that of course, it’s all decided by “consensus”. Let’s revisit the serious, consensus-building Discussion page for donkey punching:
Misogynist: “Just want to say that the picture with this article is HILARIOUS!!!
Another Misogynist: “Same here. It made me laugh for a good 10 minutes.”
Voice of Reason: “As this act is probably apocryphal and possibly lethal, I would suggest the current picture is unnecessary and inappropriate and should therefore be removed.”
Another Misogynist: “And I would suggest that ur a fag who has a stick up the butt.”
Somewhere later down the page, while misogynists coldly discuss the merits of an earlier illustration that wasn’t animated, one says: “Preferably the image shouldn’t be a cartoon, but actually showing a real couple.”
So there you have Wikipedia’s “serious discussion” and “consensus” building.

When two established Wikipedia contributors and critics, Delicious carbuncle and Jayen466, finally removed the animation and the worst of the unsourced prose from the article in early February, their actions triggered a month-long tug-of-war, with the proponents of “Wikipedia is not censored” re-inserting the animation and the mature editors usually labelled as “prudes” by the former group removing it again. SlimVirgin, the lone female Wikipedia editor involved in the ensuing talk page discussion, was faced with comments such as “If you would prefer an actual photograph instead of a drawing then let me know.” A male Wikipedian named Wnt, who comes with a well-documented history of leaving inflammatory remarks all over Wikipedia’s drama boards, even suggested using a clip from a pornographic film based on the violent urban myth as an alternative illustration. The reason why the original animation was finally deleted from Wikimedia Commons after an equally heated debate? It turned out to be one of Wikipedia’s many instances of copyright infringement.

Sue Gardner had been made aware of the issue by female Wikipedia contributors, both on the Gendergap mailing list and on her talk page. Once again, she chose not to get involved.

CC-BY-2.0 (from http://www.flickr.com/photos/denisecarbonell/3697612505/

Woman, know thy place

The presence of misogynists goes right back to the dark prehistory of Wikipedia. The article on “men’s rights” dates from 2003, and has been constantly editwarred ever since. Wikipedia’s male-dominated culture becomes especially apparent in articles dealing with gender-specific topics. But don’t expect to see any mention of that in the entry on Androcentrism, which, at the time of writing, features this helpful reminder to women as to their rightful place in the Christian faith: “In churches today, women are more often allowed to be leaders and to preach[dubious – discuss][citation needed] which is clearly stated in the Bible as wrong. The man should be and is the head of the home just as Christ is the head of the Church and gave himself up for it […].” Many women readers of the article on Femininity will turn away in disgust when they come across a statement which asserts that female politicians will “use their femininity to appeal to ordinary people and gain strategic advantage over their male opponents” (from the current “In politics” section). The Wikipedia entry on Breast has 17 illustrations. A whopping eight of them are before-and-after pictures of breast enhancement surgery patients. Self-conscious teenage girls will be pleased to learn that “Breast reduction surgery is a common procedure that involves removing excess breast tissue, fat, and skin, and the repositioning of the nipple-areola complex.” Mothers-to-be, on the other hand, will look in vain for pictures showing how pregnancy may affect their bodies. Stretch marks is illustrated with a photograph of a bloated male abdomen, while the entry on Striae gravidarum has no images whatsoever.

Articles on notable women are particularly at risk of receiving the wrong kind of attention from male Wikipedians. A best-selling female author (name withheld for privacy reasons) may find that a Wikipedia administrator added a link to a streaming pornographic video to her biography, an outspoken feminist blogger will see her Wikipedia entry adorned with sexist and racist slurs and pictures of sexual acts, and a Taiwanese activist forced into sex slavery will be labelled a prostitute by a male Wikipedian with a penchant for penis jokes. The Geek Feminism collective maintains a list of issues that crop up disproportionately in biographies of women, as well as examples of the everyday sexism faced by female Wikipedia editors.

Yes, Ms Gardner, many of your unpaid male volunteers regularly show that they are “the smartest kids in the class” by calling their female counterparts “devious creatures”, “feminazis” and “senseless cunts”. And while glossing over this ugly reality in a ridiculously upbeat op-ed propaganda piece is certainly in your best interest, you should have found out by now that the only way to make Wikipedia more attractive to women contributors is by cracking down hard on its deeply misogynistic culture. We here at Wikipediocracy are not holding our collective breath. Meanwhile, Wikipedia’s female readership has narrowly escaped having the article on the Icelandic Phallological Museum featured on the encyclopaedia’s main page on Valentine’s Day. For a while, the “ridiculously smart” people who determine what appears on the most-visited page of Wikipedia had decided that “dicks are most relevant to that day”. But in the end, they were pipped at the post by Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”. Maybe there is hope yet.

Image Credit: Flickr/denise carbonell — licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Many thanks to Erika Kwaffeur, Pierrette Maçon, Dwina Damiano, Joan Ti’Brulée, Andrée Lavictoire and Compé Anansi, all of whom contributed important research and editorial input



27 comments to Wikipedia – Men and children first

  • Sterling Ericsson (Silver seren)

    Wow, you all are turning into Fox News, are you proud?

    First off, Carmen isn’t the best person to use as a quote. Sure, the trolls that jumped in to be involved in the discussion could be labeled misogynists. However, as can be seen from the very quote you use, she has the habit of calling anyone that disagrees with her at all a misogynist, which is a hyperbolic response at best.

    I could go on about you cherry-picking the information you choose to include, such as using an IP edit on Androcentrism as somehow being an example for everyone on the site, but there’s no point.

    You all know that you are purposefully presenting a biased, one-sided viewpoint on the issue. You always have. You all always take things out of context to help your agenda. It’s sad, but not surprising.

    However, this is why Wikipediocracy (and Wikipedia Review before it) lacks relevance. Because you’ve turned into just another fringe squawking mouthpiece that no one listens to or cares about what you have to say.

    • For those visiting Wikipediocracy and have no knowledge of who Sterling Ericsson is, it is worth noting that he is a young man who publicly fantasizes about himself being a “Siberian white wolf” (http://en.wikifur.com/wiki/User:Silver_seren ), and he engages in some of the worst-written homoerotic “furry” literature you might ever encounter (http://twokinds.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=9285&p=323514 ). Not that there’s anything inherently wrong about this; but, if he’s going to weigh in on the “relevance” of Wikipediocracy, one should first consider his own juvenile and strangely-developed perspective of what is relevant in his own (fantasy) life.

      • Sterling Ericsson (Silver seren)

        See, you don’t have a proper response to my comment that you have to revert to personal attacks. At least when I bring up MyWikiBiz, it’s because it’s relevant to the subject of you criticizing Wikipedia.

        But it’s not like I expect any betters of you at this point.

        (And, dear god, did you actually go through all of my posts on TwoKinds to find that? It’s been years since that thread. Thanks for the memories, but you really need to get a life.)

        • Mr. Ericsson, you want a “proper response”? You say, “You all know that you are purposefully presenting a biased, one-sided viewpoint on the issue. You always have. You all always take things out of context to help your agenda. It’s sad, but not surprising.”

          If Wikipediocracy occasionally presents a biased, one-sided viewpoint on an issue, it is typically to present the bias of truth unvarnished, which is one-sided, just like your Wikipedia community’s viewpoint is one-sided. Of course, the Wikipedia community “side” is that which defends Wikipedia, regardless of truth. I can see how this makes you uncomfortable, to be confronted with the truth, since it’s such an unfamiliar principle over there on Wikipedia’s talk pages, IRC chats, and WMF board meetings.

          • Sterling Ericsson (Silver seren)

            I think Wikipediocracy’s version of “Truth” is just as truthful as the junk put out by Conservapedia.

            The issue with blog posts like this is that it makes sweeping claims that aren’t substantiated and it presents links that are proven to be either cherry-picked or just unimportant if investigated.

            Such as trying to use an IP edit on the Androcentrism article as somehow being indicative of Wikipedia being misogynistic, when it is only indicative of the misogynistic tendencies of a single individual.

            And then this is tried to be backed up further by comments from “Feminist blogger Carmen”, who calls anyone who disagrees with her opinion a misogynist.

          • John Lilburne

            The issue here is that te anonymous edit stayed on the page for 2 weeks and was only removed after this blog post was published. For two weeks wikipedia thought that the edit to the article was fine. Silver seren claims that anonymous edits do not reflect the wikipedia community yet most of the edits from that article are anonymous, and Seren would certainly NOT suggest that the entire article should be dismissed. Wikipedia is so mysoginist that the bulk of the editors are simply blind to the issue. So much so that the MILF article contained for several months a photo of a well known actress, despite administrators and members of the arbitration committee editing the article. An article BTW that Seren edited to disambiguate MILF from other acronyms as wikipedia turns itself into a compendium of adolescent sexual slang.

          • Sterling Ericsson (Silver seren)

            It’s not that Wikipedia thought it was fine, it’s that no one noticed the edit. As i’m sure you know, i’ve always been on board for required registration of accounts and for more heavy-handed use of things like Pending Changes. But don’t try to claim that an unnoticed edit is somehow being endorsed by everyone else just because it’s unnoticed.

            As for the MILF article, slang, sexual or not, is still real. And MILF especially is extremely well talked about, with a number of books having been written about the history of the term (and other sexual slang or just other slang in general) and its use in popular culture. In truth, i’m not sure if I would call it slang anymore.

          • Sterling, do you really think “MILF” is not slang any more, but a term in general neutral use, that can be applied to any particular woman without concern? Such that it would be okay to use any living woman’s photograph to illustrate the article on the term in Wikipedia? Really?

          • John Lilburne

            It wasn’t some edit, it was a damn picture slap on the top right hand side of the page. That the arbitrators, and administrators didn’t notice and think “Hey what is that doing here?” that it didn’t raise an eyebrow is indicative of the problem, that you are still trying to find excuses just illustrates the point. If the Nigger article sported an image of Eddie Murphy and an arbitrator happened on the page they would, quite rightly, remove it forthwith. That they didn’t see a similar problem with the MILF article illustration is what this blog post is all about.

    • John Lilburne

      “just another fringe squawking mouthpiece”

      Is this something to do with Fur vs Feathers again?

      • Sterling Ericsson (Silver seren)

        Huh, I would have expected you to be one of the people to actually respond to the comment itself, but I guess not.

        And, no, it refers to squawking being a discordant sound that annoys people.

        • John Lilburne

          To annoy people the squawking has to be heard. If this is indeed ‘squawking’ then it appears that the head honcho at WMF heard. In any case ‘squawking’ is an interesting word for you to use in the circumstances, because it is usually used to refer to the sound of ‘birds’, ‘hens’ or ‘chicks’.

  • I thank you very much for the article. I very much hope that something will change on Wikipedia, because women and children need this change. The image doesn’t hurt only me, but it would hurt any women and child.

    The image that I am against is a “how to mastrubate” guide as well. I don’t think that it does contribute to education of anyone, but it has quite opposite effect.

    It’s only perverts who teach children how to mastrubate “your circumcised cock the first time” (the instructions on the Wikipedia image). It’s not easy to teach how not to mastrubate but it’s not in the scope of Wikipedia 🙁

    Click on “Show” after “Discussion winding down” on the pink line to see the discussion on Jimmy Walles’s page.

    I don’t want to give the direct link to the image, but it is not easy not to find it. Is it the kind of education we want give to our children?

  • DanMurphy

    “No influence?” Ah, young Sterling, Sue Gardner appears to disagree. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Contributions&limit=100&target=Sue%20Gardner Bad press is the only way to stir those folks from their torpor of denial and avoidance.

    • Sterling Ericsson (Silver seren)

      Fixing articles is fixing articles and that IP nonsense that was added did need to be removed. So, thanks for pointing those out, you guys, only real thing you’re useful for.

  • Volunteer Marek

    You mean the “IP nonsense” (the idiotic, offensive, crudely made drawing) that was then restored by non-IP editors like Mattbuck, Cptnono, Wnt and Ohnoitsjaime, among others?

    (and folks, Seren is right about one thing – don’t let him derail the discussion by changing the subject or troll the thread. The furry stuff is irrelevant)

  • What is really significant about the “When I masturbate in public …” comment on Jimmy Wales’ talk page and all the other nonsense that followed it there is that there was not a peep out of Jimmy Wales, nor anyone else, about the way Natka was spoken to by these Wikimedia administrators. It was considered completely normal.

    Jimmy Wales’ only response to Natka’s complaint was to hide the discussion behind a coloured bar.


  • Rachel

    Sterling: “no one listens or cares what you have to say”. Rubbish! I care. I actually donated to Wikipedia and tweeted to encourage others to do so as well, oblivious as I was to the internal politics and workings of the organisation. Eyes wide open now – won’t make that mistake again in the near future.

    • Sterling Ericsson (Silver seren)

      I don’t know who you are or how truthful your statement is. But if you’re the type of person who would immediately believe the stuff in this blog post without actually looking closer at the claims, then I wouldn’t exactly call your eyes wide open.

      • Sterling, you may have a point when you say that not every page on Wikipedia is riddled with sexism – pages on dinosaurs and asteroids are probably fine, and many others too I’m sure, even some pages related to gender studies – but the problem is nevertheless widespread. Even committed Wikimedians say so – see http://www.dailydot.com/society/wikipedia-gender-gap-sarah-stierch/ – as does Gardner herself.

        There are dozens of similar examples that might have been added; plastic surgeons trying to ply their trade in articles on women’s anatomy alone would have made a rich study.

        Picking cherries is a very appropriate activity when you’re standing in an orchard that’s full of ’em.

  • Note that the Anita Sarkeesian-bashing is still going on in Wikipedia even now.

    There is a thread on the administrators’ noticeboard as we speak:


  • Cla68

    Guys, please don’t use ad hominem attacks on people who post comments here that you don’t agree with. It reflects poorly on you and poorly on this forum.

  • […] d’un extrait d’article de Nathalie COLLIDA (avec des amis) publié sur Wikipediocracy : "Wikipedia – Men and children first" ("Wikipédia – Les hommes et les enfants […]

  • […] succeeded by Lila Tretikov. Media coverage continues to testify to the sometimes dire effects the gender gap has on the curation of the site’s content, the most recent example being a Guardian editorial […]

  • girlpower

    Not surprised.

  • […] l’extrait d’un article de Nathalie COLLIDA (avec des amis) publié sur Wikipediocracy : « Wikipedia – Men and children first » (« Wikipedia – Les hommes et les enfants […]