Women on Wikipedia

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Picture of a laptop screen with a Spy Week pamphlet on the keyboard

This week I added a new article to the more than 5,125,000 articles on English language Wikipedia.

A word of warning: I’m kind of a Wikipedia geek. So yes, I am going to try and convince you to edit Wikipedia. If you don’t belong to Wikipedia’s core contributor demographic (white, middle class, male), then I am going to bug you relentlessly until you click that edit button.

Hands holding a 3D printed Wikipedia globeThis week I went to an edit-a-thon that was part of the University of Edinburgh’s Spy Week. An edit-a-thon is pretty much what it sounds like: a bunch of people with laptops, tea and biscuits, all editing Wikipedia articles about a given topic. The topic for this event was Women in Espionage (which is a pretty cool topic to spend an afternoon writing about).

When we started, the facilitator informed us that this event was part of the ongoing project Women in Red, the focus of which is to try and turn red links (to non-existent pages) into blue ones. The basis behind this project is that only 16% of the biographies on Wikipedia are about women, so it’s a nice feeling to know that you’ve helped close that gap, even a tiny bit.

But as nice as that feeling is, it’s not why I want you to edit.

I want you to edit for you.

There is something exhilarating and empowering about writing an article – even a super short stub article! – and seeing it pop up at the top of Google search results. It’s amazing to know that you just shaped the internet.

Wikipedia, with it’s largely white, largely middle class, largely male community, mirrors the computing/STEM community in Europe and North America as a whole. There are countless articles about the importance of getting more women to code, countless initiatives that aim to do just that, and an increasing recognition that the gaps are much bigger than just gender.

Rosie the Riveter poster: We Can [Edit]I love Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani’s TED talk about teaching women and girls to be brave, not perfect. Wikipedia is a powerful platform to do just that. Seeing your edit, however small, go live takes courage. If I had 50p for every time someone – usually a woman – has told me that she was afraid she would ‘break’ Wikipedia, or that she didn’t have the authority to change it, I would be living in luxury. Or at least a bigger flat.

The point of Wikipedia is that E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E has the authority to contribute to it. And, you can’t – I repeat, you cannot break Wikipedia.

You can be imperfect. No one will care if your grammar isn’t perfect or you got the formatting wrong. Someone else will fix it, or show you how. Most importantly, Wikipedia always growing, always changing. It’s never perfect.

For so many women, that’s terrifying. But I promise you that it can also be so freeing.

Because Wikipedia is the world’s largest encyclopaedia. It’s the largest and most popular online reference work in the world. And it is yours to shape as much as anybody’s.

How incredible is that!?


Ally CrockfordAlly Crockford is a digital media officer at YWCA Scotland – The Young Women’s Movement. She is a PhD graduate in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh, and was Scotland’s first Wikimedian in Residence, based at the National Library of Scotland. She is a die-hard intersectional feminist with an interest in Victorian literature, medical humanities, and human bodies. Cheese lover, book lover, and Netflix addict, Ally also has an irrational fear of zombies. Tweet her @AProckford.

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