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Wikipedia authors list highlights inequality

Ben Taylor, Contributing Writer
May 13, 2013 • 1,013 views

Recently, Wikipedia came under fire for segregating women from its list of “Great American Novelists.” Wikipedia crowd-sources its content in order to fulfill founder Jimmy Wale’s dream of providing information to all for free.

Wikipedia has run into problems from this public process multiple times throughout its history when “editors” used the medium to lash out at specific individuals such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Jonas Brothers. These past “hacks” were overtly aggressive and derogatory. This time though, the motives were less clear.

It’s possible that the editor did take women off the list of “Great American Novelists” as a malicious statement that female authors are inferior to their male counterparts.

More likely, it was one or a small group of content editors who realized they needed to create subcategories to prevent the “Great American Novelists” page from growing too large. The editors were probably not trying to be malicious.

However, due to the apparent lack of consideration, the insult was worse this time.

Perhaps the editors thought they were making a legitimate distinction between male and female American novelists. The editor, or editors, probably felt it made sense to divide the list by gender because that is how society raised us.

We even divide our colors by gender: pink for girls and blue for boys. We also have very strict gender-based restrictions on what toys children may use.

These restrictions are society’s way of telling people what is acceptable behavior  for each gender. For example, when a boy wants to play with a doll, we hand him an action figure and pretend there is a difference between the two.

Of course, there is a difference between dolls and action figures; one teaches girls the value of domesticity and the other comes with detachable weapons so that boys can learn to be big, strong and brave.

Such “innocent” factors bleed through into other aspects of society, as in the case of Cricket rifles. Before a 5-year-old child killed his 2-year-old sister with one this past week, Cricket’s manufacturer marketed its “My First Rifle” as something “girls and even Mom will love.”

It’s great that Cricket’s manufacturer recognizes that both girls and boys are equally capable of shooting their guns, but it seems that selling the “girl” gun with a hot pink stock is still reinforcing that supposed inherent distinction between boys and girls.

Despite the problems with arming individuals we don’t trust to safely use scissors or the oven, these youth will eventually survive childhood and become adults oblivious to these socially engineered divides.

For these Wikipedia editors, it did not make sense to create sub-categories based on qualities such as “American novelists over 5’6” or “American novelists with liver failure.” They grew up in a society that endorses gender differences, and until that changes, we will keep suffering from what Amanda Flipacchi, an American novelist, describes as, “small and easily fixable things…that make it harder and slower for women to gain equality.”

We live in a society that is more egalitarian toward women than probably any other time in our nation’s history. Yet, just because everything looks better than it did 50 or even 10 years ago does not mean that sexism is vanquished. The Wikipedia article was probably not a deliberate attempt to degrade the work of female novelists. The “American Women Novelists” subcategory was just one more symptom of our society, which is still not as equal as most of us pretend to believe.

 

Ben Taylor ’13 (taylorb@stolaf.edu) is from Hoosick Falls, N.Y. He majors in sociology/anthropology and environmental studies.

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