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Feminist edit-a-thons work to close Wikipedia’s big gender gap

by Elyssa Dudley | The Frame

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Seasoned editors and first-timers alike work to bridge Wikipedia's gender gap at LACMA's Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon Shawn Harris Ahmed

A quick Google search of Boyfriend, a New Orleans-based rapper and performance artist, turns up tons of articles and videos — but no Wikipedia page. It's one of the many holes in the site's vast repository of knowledge. 

Music writer Julie Farman wants to fix that. 

A seasoned Wikipedia editor, Farman has been fact-checking and adding to the site since about 2012. Rather than ignore mistakes, she learned how to edit and began making corrections herself.

Only 13 percent of Wikipedia's editors identify as female. That may explain some of the site's knowledge gaps, which are more frequent and pronounced when it comes to female musicians and artists.

Seasoned editors and first-timers alike work to bridge Wikipedia's gender gap at LACMA's Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon
Seasoned editors and first-timers alike work to bridge Wikipedia's gender gap at LACMA's Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon Shawn Harris Ahmed

So Farman is creating a Wikipedia article for Boyfriend.

“She’s really fascinating,” says Julie. “She has this great big history and I’m always excited when I find a subject that hasn’t been written about. Especially when it’s someone like this woman who has reams and reams of press, and it’s like, ‘Wait. Why isn’t she in here?’”

Julie’s not working alone. She’s at a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, which is exactly what it sounds like — a group of people who come together create Wikipedia articles or add to existing ones. Some are veteran editors; others are here to learn.

This edit-a-thon is co-hosted by LACMA and the Art + Feminism initiative, and these editors are here to increase the representation of female artists on Wikipedia.

Longtime Wikipedia editor Stacey Allan, the organizer of this event, is excited about helping others learn. She’s been organizing edit-a-thons since 2013 through a series called Unforgetting L.A., which focuses on Los Angeles art history, especially on overlooked artists including women and people of color.

“It’s a mix of people, but they usually come with the goal of righting a wrong. They will come with someone in mind that they were shocked to find didn’t already exist on Wikipedia, and they want to make sure they correct that today,” Allan says.

Seasoned editors and first-timers alike work to bridge Wikipedia's gender gap at LACMA's Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon
Seasoned editors and first-timers alike work to bridge Wikipedia's gender gap at LACMA's Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon Shawn Harris Ahmed

That describes first-time editor Tracey Payne.

“One of my good friends from a long time ago, her name is Judy Brubaker," she says. "Wonderful actress back in the '50s. She’s mentioned but there’s nothing about her. So I’d like to maybe create a page about her.”

Omissions like this one aren’t uncommon. “Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but the studies show that not everyone does. Fewer than 13 percent of editors identify as female,” Allan says.

Wikipedia runs on an army of volunteer editors for whom it’s a hobby or a passion project. People work on the subjects they're personally interested in. More female editors should mean greater representation.

“There are a lot of things that determine how histories get written,” Allan says. “We don’t always have the opportunity to participate in that writing. If you can find information about [female artists] online, then they truly exist in the world and can’t be ignored. It’s a way of remembering.”

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